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. 
  

5 comments:

mamta said...
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mamta said...
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mamta said...

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