Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Ham Clock - A poor man's 'GeoChron like' Amateur Radio Information Display

Let's be honest, almost every amateur radio operator wants a real GeoChron but likely can't afford one.



If you aren't familiar with GeoChron, this 50+-year-old companies product is a very complex analog electric wall clock that displays the world map and dynamically tracks the greyline (showing parts of the world in the dark of night, and parts of the world in the light of day). These expensive clocks are still popular items in the boardrooms or lobbies of multi-national corporations. Over 30,000 of these clocks have been produced in GeoChron's history. In recent years a digital version of the GeoChron is also available and it's intended to connect to a large 4K TV to show the traditional GeoChron dynamic map, as well as other cool data, live from the Internet.

Cut to an ARRL QST magazine article in 2017 from a fellow ham (WB0OEW) who created another internet-connected information software program for micro PC boards & touchscreen displays. His software 'Ham Clock' was focused on information that an amateur radio operator would appreciate like:
  • Operators callsign (with control of color scheme for alphanumeric text and background)
  • Internet synced UTC clock with hours, minutes and seconds as well as DST on/off
  • Day, month, year
  • Stopwatch or remaining time countdown
  • Screen lock so preferred setting are not changed by accident
  • Mercator or Azimuthal map view with grayline
  • Toggle Lat/Long map grid, or Tropics, or none.
  • Moon phases as seen from the earth surface.
  • Sun position directly overheard.
  • OACAP predictions for any path at several power levels
  • trend plots and predictions for solar flux, sunspot, XRay and Kp index
  • short and long path antenna beam heading and distance to any DX location
  • Satellite and ISS tracking and display next satellite rise/set times and overhead pass (not just global track)
  • local weather, time, grid square, prefix and sun rise/set times at any DX location
  • live scrolling DX cluster display
  • live solar images from Solar Dynamics Observatory
  • live NCDXF beacon location, time and frequency schedule
  • live RSS feeds from popular ham related web sites
  • show Moon rise/set and overhead passes for EME
  • adjust time forward or back to explore gray line location, satellite orbits etc
  • and these are just a few...
The Ham Clock software is now also available in a rebranded (HF Clock) a commercial product with an embedded microcomputer and touch screen display in your choice of nice wood desktop frame. Shop for this product on the manufacturer's website https://veritiumresearch.com/hf-clock/. So if you want to buy a product like a GeoChron or HF Clock, I've given you the basic information to research and order your own clock. 

Ham Clock DIY


However many hams like the DIY part of the hobby and maybe don't want to purchase these unique clocks and amateur data systems, hence the reason for this post, building your own Ham Clock on the cheap using your own parts and pieces.

The original Ham Clock software from WB0OEW is still free to download from his website, he even includes instructions on various ways to compile the software for the Raspberry Pi and a 7" or 9" touch screen LCD or even on a desktop PC. 

VA7AEJ's Ham Clock 32" LCD TV Project

For my project, I wanted to utilize some equipment that I already had (ie a free project), and I also wanted a little more versatility out of the host device (the PC). I also preferred a larger screen easier to see from around the room.

My parts list

  • An older small form factor Acer desktop computer with HDMI output. A PC with any output graphics that support your monitor or TV would work.
  • An older 32" Sony Bravia LCD TV that's already mounted on the wall in my shack for watching TV.
  • USB Flash Drive (4GB)

Software

  • Linux Lite 5.0, a lightweight linux distro built for older computers and based on Ubuntu Linux. 
  • You may use actual Ubuntu, or any other flavor of Linux based on Ubuntu should work.
  • Ham Clock ver 2.49 (current version as of July 2020) downloaded and compiled during the setup steps below.

Setup Steps

  • From another PC download the ISO image of the latest version of Linux Lite.
  • Using tools like 'Balena Etcher' or 'Rufus' flash the downloaded linux ISO to a USB flash drive creating bootable installation media for the PC. You may also burn the image to a DVD if you prefer that method and your intended target PC has a DVD drive.
  • I booted the target PC (my old Acer) from the USB flash drive and installed Linux Lite.
    • All the installation setup screens are common sense and the default options were chosen most of the time.
    • On the partition screen, I said to wipe the drive and replace the contents with Linux Lite.
    • On the user/password screen, I set the account to log in automatically for convenience.
  • At the end of the Linux Lite installation, I shut down the system and removed the USB flash drive (or DVD) and then powered on the system on the newly installed Linux Lite.
  • Once the system is booted I went straight to the Terminal program and the command line. Cut and paste these commands into the Terminal session and run each line on it's own before advancing to the next line.  For example in the first line select the text sudo apt-get update
  • Scan for system updates   sudo apt-get update
  • Install all updates found   sudo apt-get upgrade
  • Add some required software   sudo apt install curl make g++ xorg-dev
  • Reboot the system and then resume in Terminal again.
  • Download Ham Clock   curl -o ESPHamClock.zip http://www.clearskyinstitute.com/ham/HamClock/ESPHamClock.zip
  • Unpack the Ham Clock download   unzip ESPHamClock.zip
  • Change to the new Ham Clock directory   cd ESPHamClock
  • Compile the Ham Clock program   make -j 4 hamclock-1600x960
    • NOTE: Ham Clock supports only four screen sizes so pick the one that's under the max resolution of your monitor or TV attached to the Ham Clock PC.
    • Ham Clock resolutions - 800 x 480  -  1600 x 960  -  2400 x 1440  -  3200 x 1920
    • My TV's max resolution is 1920 x 1080, so I compiled the software at 1600x960 as both the width and height of HamClock is less than the height and width of the TV's resolution. If you pick higher Ham Clock settings the program will be larger than the monitor and areas will not be seen on the screen.
  • Create a desktop shortcut for launching Ham Clock
    • Right-click on an empty area of the Linux Lite desktop and select Create Launcher 
    • Name: Ham Clock
    • Comment: 
    • Command: ./hamclock-1600x960
    • Working Directory: /home/[your-username]/ESPHamClock
    • Icon: select something you like from the available options

The first time Ham Clock launches it goes to a setup screen where you enter your callsign, your Lat and Long, or you can let the app geolocate with your internet connection (not always as accurate).

As Ham Clock was written for a touch display you can use a mouse to click on most parts of the screen and make changes. The Ham Clock User Guide is an easy read on understanding the initial setup and use of the software once installed and running.

So why didn't I just do this install on a Raspberry Pi and connect that to the TV? Well like I said I have other plans for this Linux Lite PC connected to that TV, so this method allows me to run Ham Clock when the PC is not in use for other purposes, but if I want to watch a movie or listen to some music I can close Ham Clock and fire up Kodi or Spotify etc. 
  

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Brian Jensen Obituary



Brian Jensen of Trinity Valley, Lumby passed away suddenly on the evening of Thursday, June 11th on the property that he developed and loved over a period of 40 years. He is survived by his wife of 52 years Ursula, his son Aaren Jensen (Kelly) and granddaughter Molly of Lumby, and daughter Vanessa O’Brien (Rick) of Kamloops. He leaves behind his sisters Karen (Dave) Kovak of Saskatchewan, and Bonnie (Kim) Jensen of Alberta as well as a large extended family throughout BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.
Brian was born in Camrose Alberta the only son of the late Harold and Carol Jensen a farming family from the Ferintosh region. He attended Camrose Lutheran College before moving to work at Alberta Hospital Ponoka. While in Ponoka he met his future wife Ursula Graumann, a recent immigrant from Essen Germany. Brian became interested in a mental health career and became a Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN). He married Ursula and moved his young family to Drumheller AB to work at a new Federal Penitentiary. As his family grew Brian shifted from nursing into Manpower & Immigration, then recruiting helping find Engineers from England and Scotland to work in the northern Alberta oil industry. At the start of the 1980s while working in Edmonton Brian and his family made a huge decision to leave their corporate jobs and city lives and try their hand at homesteading in Trinity Valley north of Lumby. They settled on an empty 20-acre parcel with a spectacular view. Brian and Ursula with help from their children built a beautiful log home. Brian taught himself every step of construction requiring little outside help. After a few years, he went back to nursing at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital in various roles related to Psychiatry and mental health. He helped many people in the North Okanagan as his career transitioned from nursing into mental health therapy until his retirement.
Back on the farm with no prior horse experience Brian and Ursula bought a couple Norwegian Fjord Horses which slowly grew to become a major part of their lives for the next 35+ years. Brian was extremely active in the Breed, raising horses, importing and selling, showing, driving & competitions, training, teaching, and judging. He was an internationally certified judge and evaluator traveling throughout North America and Europe working for the breed he loved. He traveled to Norway many times representing Canada and the USA as a member of the International Fjord Horse board. Most importantly he mentored and trained hundreds of other people and families to love the Fjord horse as much as he did.
As hard-working and respected as Brian was in his work and personal life, he privately had his own mental health issues. As he approached his 75th birthday he found it more and more difficult to adjust to aging, declining health, and reducing his activities within the Fjord community. If you are struggling with mental health issues PLEASE reach out for help. In the North Okanagan contact the Canadian Mental Health Association, The Vernon Jubilee Hospital, or the People In Need (PIN) Crisis Line at 1-800-353-2273.















Sunday, July 05, 2020

A Home Based Enterprise Network System


The UniFi® Enterprise System delivers a breakthrough combination of performance, reliability, and scalability with top performance/price value. Intuitive management software featuring a graphical user interface is bundled with the UniFi hardware at no extra cost – no licensing fees or support costs.

Over the last six months or so I've been slowly gathering a collection of network components from Ubiquiti's UniFi product line.

This weekend I finally had enough key pieces that the system unlocked a ton of new features. Prior to this weekend I only had a couple access points (as these work with any network) and I managed them with a virtual server running the UniFi Controller software.

Now, I have added the CloudKey (which replaced my VM controller), and a Unifi Security Gateway (USG) which replaced my old home router.

The CloudKey and USG unlocked my ability to get a ton of system data and features from a mobile app as well as control it remotely from anywhere I have my phone or a web browser.

I'm eyeing a couple more UniFi components to complete the system, but so far I'm very pleased.