Friday, January 17, 2020

A Night of Yaesu Upgrades

It all started with a programming change. All I wanted to do was add a couple new memory channels into the FTM-400DR. For some unknown reason, the two versions of the radios admin software would not download the current settings from the radio to the PC.

After some browsing online I saw others mentioning that the radios need the latest firmware to work with the latest programming software. I had updated both radios a year ago but since then Yaesu released the C4FM DG-ID features sometime in the last year.

Well if it wasn't a ton of work with lots of steps that took me about 3-4 hours from start to finish.

The FTM-400DR had to have the cover removed and a tiny switch flipped. Two different firmware updates each with their own utility and instructions. The two updates were DSP and main firmware.

The FTM-100DR had three updates. No cover radio disassembly was required this time but two hidden switches had to be uncovered and changed. All three updates also had their own utility and instructions. The three updates were DSP, main, and panel firmware.

The good news after all the radio work the memory changes I wanted to make from the beginning finally worked.

Now I can go to bed.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Personally Hosted Cloud File Solution



I understand that not everyone has the knowledge or equipment to host servers at home. But for those that do this is a great solution that I settled on after testing a few different ones.

Yes, you can get free or paid cloud file storage from DropBox, OneDrive, GoogleDrive, etc. But I often talk to people concerned that these solutions are holding your personal and important data files in exchange for some kind of loss of personal privacy. Well if you are concerned about that you can deploy your own personal cloud storage solution at home.

I used a VMWare appliance for OwnCloud personal edition. This is the free version of the product with fewer features than the Enterprise version that customers must buy or subscribe too.

The appliance is the easiest way to get ownCloud up and running and is best for non-technical users. It is built on UCS ("Univention Corporate Server") and is fully set up and configured with a secure connection and the ownCloud Proxy app. You can install this on VirtualBox or VMWare which are software virtualization platforms that run as an app on your PC or can be installed on a dedicated server like I have at home, you download their OVA file and load it up. Appliance installation instructions are provided in the documentation, it's not that difficult to install.

Once installed you have an Administrator account to login and start configuring the system. The appliance will store your data within as long as your host system has the room accommodate the growth of the virtual machine appliance, but I opted to configure External Storage as I have a Drobo device where most of my home data is already stored. By linking this network storage to the OwnCloud server I now have access to all the files I want to share via my personal cloud. You can and should be selective on what data you share in your personal cloud. I configured certain folders on the Drobo to be seen by ownCloud, but not all of my files and folders.

Keep in mind that one of the true benefits of cloud storage services like DropBox and the others is that your data is located in a cloud location offsite from your home. This can be an excellent backup solution.

If you are hosting your own cloud, you lose this offsite backup. Your data hasn't moved anywhere or been copied to somewhere else. This is just a private was of accessing your data from anywhere using the built-in website or the desktop client software for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. You still need to backup your data at home in some other method.



Tuesday, January 14, 2020

My new SDR - the RSP1A from SDRplay

 

SDRplay is a UK based designer and manufacturer of very well made SDR receivers (IMHO).

The RSP1A is a second generation of their RSP1 entry level model which retails for about $150 in Canada.

The specs

The RSP1A is our new improved entry-level receiver—it is a powerful wideband full featured 14 bit SDR and perfect as an all round general coverage communications receiver plus much much more.  The RSP1A covers the complete radio spectrum from 1kHz (VLF) to 2GHz (Microwaves) with up to a massive 10MHz of visible bandwidth. With the companion SDRuno software which has all the popular ham bands and shortwave broadcast bands as “presets” for instant set-up. 
  • Covers all frequencies from 1kHz through LF, MW, HF, VHF, UHF and L-band to 2GHz, with no gaps
  • Excellent dynamic range for challenging reception conditions 
  • Low levels of spurious responses
  • Works with all the popular SDR software (including HDSDR, SDR Console, Cubic SDR and SDRuno)
  • ExtIO based plugin available
  • Software upgradeable for future standards
  • Strong and growing software support network
  • API provided to allow demodulator or application development
  • Multiplatform driver and API support including Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and Raspberry Pi 2/3 
  • Up to 16 individual receivers in any 10MHz slice of spectrum using SDRuno
  • Calibrated S meter and power measurements with SDRuno 
  • Ideal for monitoring of ISM/ IoT/ Telemetry bands <2ghz span="">
  • Ideal for portable operation 
  • Continuous coverage from 1kHz to 2GHz
  • Up to 10MHz visible bandwidth
  • Powers over the USB cable with a simple type B socket 
  • 4-bit ADC silicon technology (not another 8 bit dongle!)
  • 11 high-selectivity, built in front-end preselection filters
  • Software selectable AM/FM and DAB broadcast band notch filters
  • Software selectable multi-level Low Noise Preamplifier
  • Bias -T power supply for powering antenna-mounted LNA
  • RF shielding layer inside case
  • SDRunoWorld Class SDR software for Windows 
  • Documented API for new apps development 
  • Single SMA antenna socket covering entire frequency range

The most amazing feature in this receiver is that massive range. One receiver that can listen from;
  • LF (2200 meter band)
  • MF (630 and 160 meters)
  • HF (80, 60, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, 10 meters)
  • VHF (6, 4, 2, 1.25 meters, then 70, 33, and 23 centimeters)
  • The only Amateur Radio band this receiver cannot reach (that I might care about) is the 13 centimeter Microwave band which is 2300–2310 MHz (lower segment), 2390–2450 MHz (upper segment)
The unit comes with a very well thought out software package called SDRuno. While this software looks intimidating when you first load it up, I found excellent online tutorial videos from various sources that explained everything I need to get started. After that I figured things out by trial and error over an evening or two.


My antenna of choice getting started with this SDR was a super discone from AOR already mounted high on my small tower. While this is built for the higher frequencies (10m - 13cm), I was amazed to hear low HF transmissions as well. A different and better antenna (or two) may be in the plans for the future.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

No Waterfall on PowerSDR and Flex 5000

PowerSDR in Panafall mode. Panadapter view on top, Waterfall view below.
I had to do some troubleshooting yesterday and nothing I found online fixed the issue. The fix I eventually found would have saved me a lot of time so I thought best to document it.

So my Flex5000a software-defined-radio (SDR) has worked extremely reliably since purchased new about 7 years ago. Yesterday I powered everything on to poke around on the HF bands and the first thing I noticed was that the Waterfall was black, no signals visible at all. The Panadapter above was working in Panafall mode, but the lower waterfall section showed nothing at all.

I Googled the problem and tried all of the above with no fix to the issue.

  • Check all volume levels in PowerSDR.
  • Changing the audio buffer from 2048 to 1024.
  • Powering off Flex 5000a, cutting 12V DC power to the unit for a minute for a complete power cycle.
  • Reset the PowerSDR database, wiping all preferences and starting from scratch.
  • Restoring the PowerSDR database to restore all of my custom settings and preferences.
Overall I spent an hour doing all of this, none of it helped.

The Fix
Finally, I powered off the PC. There was no indication that the PC might be the problem as I had other software running the entire time and I had no issues opening and closing PowerSDR, but I did it anyway. I powered the PC off (not a restart) waited a few seconds then powered it on again, loaded my other 'always-on' software, then loaded PowerSDR and everything was working.

Configuration
  • Intel Quad-Core CPU
  • 16GB Memory
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Windows 10 Professional 64bit
  • Flex 5000a SDR Transceiver
  • Power SDR 2.7.2 Software


Thursday, September 12, 2019

A Black Hole for Web Ad's (Pi-Hole)


Pi-hole is a Linux network advertisement and Internet blocking application which acts as a DNS sinkhole (and optionally a DHCP server), intended for use on a private network.

It is designed for use on embedded devices with network capability, such as the Raspberry Pi, but it can be used on other machines running Linux and cloud implementations.

Pi-hole has the ability to block traditional website ads on your entire network as well as adverts in unconventional places, such as smart TVs and mobile ads found in apps and games.

Instead of running ad blockers in web browsers on multiple devices, Pi-Hole will block ads on ALL devices connected to your home network with no extra other software required on the individual machines/devices.

Pi-Hole provides

Network-wide protection
Instead of browser plugins or other software on each computer, install Pi-hole in one place and your entire network is protected.

Block in-app advertisements
Network-level blocking allows you to block ads in non-traditional places such as mobile apps and smart TVs, regardless of hardware or OS.

Improve network performance
Since advertisements are blocked before they are downloaded, network performance is improved and will feel faster.

Monitor statistics
The Web interface offers control of your Pi-hole and a central place to view statistics.  We also include an API for extending these stats.

Part of the web dashboard for Pi-Hole showing total DSN lookups, total lookups blocked (ads), and other great info.
I tested Pi-Hole first on a Beagle Bone Black mini computer board running the Debian OS for Beaglebone. The installation was a little more complicated due to preinstalled services on the Debian install that conflicted with the Pi-Hole installation. In the end I had a working device, but after a power cycle or restart I had to manually run a couple commands to get Pi-Hole running again (not optimum for a device you want to setup and trust it's always going to be working).

I was impressed enough from this trial that I just ordered a Raspberry Pi which Pi-Hole was designed to run on. Pi-Hole will run on the smallest Raspberry Pi Zero, but I opted for the business card sized Pi 3 B+ which has more power, ports and connections built right in so no need for added dongles or accessories.

I 3D printed a low profile case for the new Raspberry Pi on my Ender 3 printer from Creality. The Pi and Case together are smaller than a pack of cigarettes.

I can SSH into the Pi over the network for any remote tweaks, but I can also plug in a USB keyboard and mouse and connect to a monitor with an HDMI cable for a direct connect experience if needed.

To run Pi-Hole day to day the little Pi box just needs a power cord and network cable

Raspberry Pi 3 B+ in 3D printed slip case using black gloss PLA filament
Here's the installation notes I recorded for myself.
  • Download latest Raspian OS image (no desktop version, command line was all I needed)
  • Flash to SD card with Etcher for Windows
  • Mount SD card to Pi and boot
  • The default username on Raspbian is pi and the default password is raspberry.
  • I immediately changed the default password to my own secure one for home server devices.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Options
  • open the PI’s configuration screen (in the terminal window) by typing:

sudo raspi-config

  • Various options in here were set or changed.
  • Hostname was changed to pi-hole
  • Location set to US
  • Keyboard set to 104 key US
  • Under advanced I expanded the file system on the 16GB SD card to use all space available
  • timezone, etc.
  • NOTE do not change the network option for 'predictable network interface names'. This must be OFF and not 'on'
  • click: Finish
  • select ‘YES‘ when it asks for a reboot

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Home Network Settings
  • Home router = 192.168.0.1
  • Router's DNS was normally set for DHCP from my ISP
  • Network clients used the IP of the router for DNS

New Home Network Settings required for Pi-Hole

  • Home router = 192.168.0.1 (same)
  • Pi-Hole device = 192.168.0.2 (new and available)
  • Router's DNS was changed to point to the Pi-Hole (192.168.0.2)
  • During the Pi-Hole installation I chose Cloudflare as the new external DNS service used by Pi-Hole for it's lookups. There are 9 choices total, all the top DNS services in the world.

Setting the Static IP on the Raspberry Pi

Start by editing the dhcpcd.conf file

sudo nano /etc/dhcpcd.conf

Changes made at the end of the file

interface eth0
static ip_address=192.168.0.2/24
static routers=192.168.0.1
static domain_name_servers=192.168.0.1

Saved changes and reboot. 
Confirmed that the IP has changed after the reboot.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
One-Command Automated Install of Pi-Hole

curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash

The Pi-Hole installation is very easy and guided and there are tons of other tutorial sources online about what to chose for options. In many cases you can select the default option on almost every screen and it will work just fine.


---------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Lumby BC D-Star Gateway VE7HSP


Registered D-Star users in the Lumby BC Canada area can now access my ircDDB registered D-Star compatible gateway operating on UHF simplex with 5 watts power.

Hardware
- DVRPTR V1 board
- BeagleBone Black
- Kenwood TM-V7 mobile
- FREE STAR* software on Debian Linux - http://www.va3uv.com/freestar.htm.

Simplex Frequency = 434.800
Web Dashboard = ve7hsp.gw.ircddb.net
Normally linked to Reflector = XRF021B

ircDDB registered callsign = VE7HSP
Local Owner Primary Callsign = VA7AEJ





Sunday, February 17, 2019

SSTV from the ISS


Over two weekends in February 2019 the crew on the International Space Station (ISS) broadcast SSTV images for a special event.

Amateurs around the world could try and receive / decode the messages. Chances to do so were limited to a few minutes each time the ISS passed overheard. From my personal experience this past weekend here were my results summarised.

I started with a cheap USB RTL-SDR receiver hoping to do all the work digitally in my PC. After a few pass overs of the ISS Friday this receiver and antenna combination was not doing the trick.

Saturday morning I switched to the following setup.
  • Yaesu FT-847 (transceiver)
  • RigBlaster Advantage (soundcard)
  • Comet GP-3 dualband VHF/UHF vertical (vertical antenna up 40 feet)
  • Ham Radio Deluxe (software)
  • MMSSTV (software)
For the next 5-6 pass overs between 10:20am Saturday and 9:45am Sunday here were the results.








Saturday, November 17, 2018

2M-CD -- Amateur VHF Circular Dipole Antenna

Saw this item advertised on the Amateur Radio Swap Canada Facebook group. The creator is Canadian based out of Lakeshore Ontario. 

VHF Loop - Very Small Transmitting Loops - https://www.vhfloop.com/

His first product was a magnetic loop for 6m which has recently been updated to add a standard tripod mount at the base and different configuration of the teflon tuning screws. Good deal for 6m enthusiasts at $120 US.

His second product that he just launched is what caught my eye, an indoor bookshelf 2m circular dipole that doesn't require a ground plain.

Sellers description

Here is a 2 meter 144-148 MHz circular folded dipole, capable of 100 watts, which is a very compact antenna, requiring no ground plane, small foot print and ideal as a “bookshelf” indoor antenna for those who are restricted in their ability to put an antenna outdoors, or who want to remain stealth. 

I'm really looking forward to trying it out.

More pictures from his website of the antenna.







Saturday, November 03, 2018

Where The Bonus Went - Heil Pro 7 Headset

If you've visited my shack you may have noticed a few Heil Sound brand amateur radio accessories including a couple microphones, rig adapter cables, microphone boom, shock mount, etc.

In September of 2018 I was asked by my employer to work an extra job to help during a changeover between an old contractor and the new contractor who typically do that work. Without going into detail I still had to do my regular job as well so it made for a busy month and a fair bit overtime.

At the end of the project those of use who did the extra work were told we might get a bonus for the work. We joked that a trip to Vegas would be nice but were surprised when the bonus was cash (thanks you to my manager and the upper management for approving that).

Fast forward to yesterday when the bonus showed up on my latest paycheck. I was ready and prepared after having weeks to research & find the item that I wanted to spend it on.

If you've followed my blog you know that I don't typically spent my disposable income on the hobby, with most of my spare income going to family needs like vehicle & household repairs. Instead I use cash from Birthdays and Christmas, or Bonuses like this one. So when I do get some cash to invest in the hobby I try and look for excellent quality items that will hopefully last me for years.

Thus the new purchase is the Heil Pro 7 headset (boomset). I'm currently waiting for delivery in the coming week (as long as the Canada Post rolling job actions doesn't interrupt regular delivery).

I did a ton of research on this item and have high hopes it's a great headset. I have a couple other sets of Hi-Fi stereo headphones from premium brands like Focal, so when it comes to headphones I have some experience and big expectations. It will be very interesting using a headset optimized for amateur radio for the first time.

The Heil Pro 7 has the following features.

  • Generating Element: Dynamic iC
  • Frequency Response: 100 Hz – 12 kHz
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Impedance: 600 Ohms
  • Output Level: -57 dB at 1 kHz
  • Weight: 17 oz
  • 2″ thick gel foam ear pads provide extreme comfort for extended periods of time while exhibiting passive noise reduction rated at -26dB, ideal for use in high ambient noise environments.
  • Using technology Bob Heil learned from Paul Klipsch back in the early 70’s, the ear cup enclosures were tuned to the free air cone resonance of the speaker cone thus providing very low distortion with maximum voice articulation providing the ultimate sound reproduction for communications. 
  • The exclusive Heil Phase Reversal system (HPR) allows you to acoustically move the signals forward and creates a spatial widening of the sound field. This feature makes it easier to pull a weak signal from a pileup – useful for DxPeditions and contests as well as a stress reliever as your change the phase angle of the program source.
  • A speaker balance control allows preferred level between the speakers. The balance control located on the LEFT speaker, controls only the left speaker. Begin by setting a comfortable right side speaker level with the AF gain of the receiver. You then adjust the left side speaker where necessary to balance the audio between the speakers. In most cases the balance control will be close to or maximum.
  • The latest version of the Pro 7 features a monitor jack. The monitor feature allows a second operator to plug in headphones to the Pro 7 to monitor audio.

The Pro 7's are available in black, red, blue or pink finishes and includes the following accessories:

  • PTT Switch.
  • Military grade straight cable.
  • Military grade coiled cable.
  • Extra set of ear pads.
  • Washable cotton ear pad covers.

The PRO 7 has an interchangeable microphone system, which allows the microphone element to be easily changed in the field for different types of applications.


  • The low distortion included Dynamic HC-7 (black) element exhibits a frequency response of 100 Hz – 12 kHz with the -3dB points at 100 Hz and 12 kHz. The traditional Heil speech articulation rise is centered at 2K -4KHz with properly balanced highs and lows. The impedance is 600 ohm. The HC-7 is one of our best microphone elements for speech articulation.
  • For the serious contest/DX operators they can upgrade to the HC-74 (orange), which is a redesign of the popular HC-4 element. This element is sold separately. It rolls off the low end at 600 Hz with a 10 dB rise at 2500-3000 Hz, which creates a very articulate signal to break through pileups. 

HC-7 Replaceable Mic Element (included with purchase)
HC-7 Frequency Graph





HC-74 Interchangeable Mic Element (optional purchase)

HC-74 Frequency Graph







Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bartop Arcade Cabinet


Another summer side project has been to build a bar-top (tabletop) arcade cabinet.

Multiple times over the years I've prepped the pc/monitor/controller parts of an arcade project and put them together, but then after a month or two I never started the cabinet build and the project got pulled apart, usually for parts.

Recently I had a suitable micro desktop PC, LCD TV, and USB arcade controller that weren't being used.

I did some new research and used the RecalBox software platform.

RecalboxOS is the Linux operating system of the recalbox project, an out-of-the-box emulation console.

RecalboxOS uses many awesome existing components, like EmulationStation2 as frontend, piFBAand Retroarch as emulators, RaspberryPI NOOBS as installation/recovery system.

FEATURES

Supports: Atari 2600, Atari 7800, NES, Game Boy, Game Boy color, Game Boy Advance, Super Nintendo, Famicom Disk System, Master System, Megadrive (Genesis), Gamegear, Game and Watch, Lynx, NeoGeo, NeoGeo Pocket, FBA (subset), iMame4all (subset), PCEngine, Supergrafx, Amstrad CPC, MSX1/2, ZX Spectrum, PSX, Sega Cd, Sega 32X, Sega SG1000, Playstation, ScummVM, Vectrex, VirtualBoy, Wonderswan ! See here for more details
Features:
  • Wifi support
  • Online updates
  • Network access to ROM folder, screenshots, saves, configuration file (via SAMBA and HTTP-Webfrontend)
  • Controller configuration in the frontend: configure once, play everywhere
  • Built-in controller support for PS3, Xbox360, 8BitDo and Bluetooth (associate a controller and play)
  • Packaged GPIO drivers, for arcade controls, or original Nes, Snes, Megadrive, PSX controllers, XinMo 2 players
  • Miroof's Virtual Gamepad support (use your phone as a controller)
  • Frontend based on the great EmulationStation2 by Aloshi
  • Background frontend music (I loaded a playlist of hits from the 80's)
  • Favorites feature (mark your games as favorites and hide others)
  • English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portugues, maybe other to come if you participate
  • FBA optimized version with 4 player support


After getting the hardware working (mostly to my satisfaction) I plowed ahead with the cabinet build.




After the construction I tested the fitted hardware.





After a week of finishing touches and painting the until is now assembled and on my desk. 

I'm still researching a strange Linux audio bug, but more importantly it's working and very fun to have in my office.







Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Price Is Right - Hybrid Quad


Behold the Canadian made T.G.M. Communications - - MQ-1 Hybrid Quad Antenna.

This is a HF compact 2 element antenna supporting 3 primary bands and one extra 'tuner' band. A friends advertised it locally for free, that was a price that I couldn't pass up.
  • 20m
  • 15m
  • 10m
  • 6 meters (tuner required)
More to come as I set it up and put it through it's paces.

UPDATE (8/16/2018) I've had a 'new old stock' light duty antenna rotor kit on a shelf for about 5-6 years. I'm guessing it's a good match for this small antenna on my roof.

UPDATE (8/18/2018) At the advice of the previous owner I ordered a 1:1 balun to go with the antenna. I'll hold off installation until that arrives next week.

UPDATE (8/19/2018) Why wait for the balun (ha ha) I had everything needed to go ahead with the physical installation. Now when the balun arrives I can wire it up and tune. :)




73

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Pleasant Surprise


When shopping online you never get to see the quality of what you're buying. To my pleasant surprise a recent online purchase just arrived. It was a pair of 12v power cables that have battery clamps on one end, and Anderson Power Pole connectors on the other end. All my amateur radio 12v equipment is fitted with Anderson connectors so having some adapter cables like this is very handy to add to my collection.

  • The build quality was excellent.
  • Good gauge of wire and the battery clamps are strong.
  • The Anderson connectors even have a nice protective cover over them.
  • Shipping was fast and the entire order was under $12 CAD for both. 
  • Less than $6 each, I couldn't build two of these for myself for less money.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Big 5-0


Yesterday was my 50th birthday.

Thanks to my family I was gifted cash so that I could purchase a new 'something special'

Wanting to stretch the funds as far as possible I arranged to pickup a gently used Yaesu FTM-400DR, if you're not familiar this is the premier System Fusion C4FM model of mobile digital radio from Yaesu.

The prior owner had not gotten a lot of use from this radio as he feel in love with another radio in his collection. With my strong interest in C4FM radios over the last few years this FTM-400DR was at the top of my wish list.

It came with all the original packaging and most of the items in the box were still in their sealed bags. He had just removed the core components and set them up in his shack.


After getting home the first item on my to-do list was the power cable.

I have some standard prep that I perform on any stock power cord.

  1. Clean up cable with a drill powered wire winding.
  2. Solder on some nice Anderson Power Pole connectors.
  3. Add some heat shrink to avoid accidental shorting of the cable.
  4. Add a ring core ferrite bead choke coil clamp.
My OCD satisfied... now I can move onto the next steps :)




While only a couple years old, this radio still had the original firmware for the mainboard and the DSP. Yaesu released a major update to both in late 2017 when the second generation System Fusion features were released like DG-ID (Digital Group Identification) and DP-ID (Digital Personal Identification).

For the mainboard update I had to remove the top cover, flip a hardware switch inside, connect it up to the PC and flash the new firmware.



For the second update to the DSP firmware I had to flip the internal switch back to the operational position, reassemble the radio, and power up in DSP r/w mode. Then with different software I pushed that firmware into the radio.



So now with mainboard firmware ver. 3.1, and DSP firmware ver. 4.15. The upgrade segment is completed.

Mounting was easy in my shack as I was replacing another mobile rig and only needed to change the mount brackets under the shelf like the other mobiles.

You can see in the image below all of the following details on the headless radio from left to right.

  1. RJ11 connector with cable leading off to the remote touch-screen head unit.
  2. RJ-45 connector going to the hand mic.
  3. USB data port to support the camera hand mic option. (not included)
  4. MicroSD card port with a microsd card I inserted and will use for programming and backups.


And with all that... the job is done!

The head unit now sitting on my dusty desk (ugg sorry I didn't clean up BEFORE taking the pictures.