A busy few months

I finally got around to updating this thing, I didn’t realize that it’s been more than two month! It’s been a busy time, but the wife and I are doing well.

This years promises to be a big one for us. The wife and I are finally looking to parenthood. I’ve officially lost 55lbs ( and the wife isn’t doing so bad either). I’ve started my second class (calc 1) at College of Lake County, and we’re looking to make a major housing change in the near future. Busy, Busy!

Works also been crazy. I’ve been working 10-12 hours a day, including the past few weekends. I’ll be glad when this project in done in the next week or so.

I’m sorry I don’t have anything more exciting to share, but such is life sometimes. Right?

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The great loss.

My wife and I recently noticed that our weight was literally weighing us down and preventing us from having the life that we wanted. We decided to do something about it. A little more than a month ago, we joined Jenny Craig.

A diet, especially one this organized is a difficult process. It has really opened my eyes to how horribly I was eating before. There are a lot of things I want to eat. Things like Wendy’s burgers have what is considered a full day’s worth of meat, but close to 3 days worth of fat. 3 days! What a way to look at it. The good thing is that Jenny gives us selection of “free foods” which in the beginning we really scarfed down to make our selves feel full. I would eat a solid large onion and a pound of mushrooms with each dinner.

However, it’s really paying off. As of now, I’ve lost nearly 30 lbs! My goal is to be an even 200 by October 1st, 2012, which meant a total loss of nearly 130.

I really hope that this can give us a new outlook in our living. For me, this means the energy to build my tiny house, to convert our current office to a nursery and start raising a child.  It’s the beginning to a lot of life planing that we were stalled on. Wish us luck!

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How to use Winlink transparently

So, if you followed this blog at all (all three of you), then you know that I generally long to get away from everything, and I’ve really gotten excited about the Winlink radio email service to keep me in touch when I get there.

I currently have set up a Winlink station, using a Kenwood TR-7625 2M radio, a Diamond x510 antenna with 8.3db of gain, a Kantronics KPC3 TNC, and my Asus EEE 1015PEB netbook. I use the Airmail program in Ubuntu 11.04, running under wine. I can connect to winlink via packet when I’m somewhere remote, and via the internet with it’s available, and if someone sends me an email to<“winlink”><“org”>, I might actually get it, or a notice that the sender is not on my white list.

It’s that last part that I’m worried about. How are my correspondents to know that I’m not at home and to send mail to my Winlink account instead of my more traditional one. What if I haven’t yet added an entry to my white list for some rarely heard from aunt, or uncle, or what if one of my more tech savvy friends switched to yet another ISP based service.

Toward this end, I want to use my current email address as a buffer.  For starters, Google mail already has great spam protection, and is an established email for me.  I started by setting up a fairly general forward in gmail, but keeping out various forms of news or alert emails which I don’t want over the air.

Unfortunately, it seems that gmail is adding a tag which Winlink seems to think implies spam. All messages instantly get returned as “Invalid sender”. I’ve asked the Winlink team what I can do about it, and for the moment, it’s nothing. It seems that I’m hitting a rule in the Winlink spam filter which I can’t work around with any sort of user setting. Thankfully, the team at winlink.org believes this to be a reasonable use, and especially Lor Kutchins, W3QA, has been very helpful as their representative. Thanks guys!

Hopefully they can get this fixed up quickly.

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More progress on my winlink station.

So, I finally got both my Kenwood TR-7625 transceiver back and in excellent working condition, and the TNC cable I ordered from Buxxcom. Within moments, I was back on the air and able to make weather requests via the RMS Express catalog.

My next step, of course, was to ditch that windows world. I found a native application called PacLink-Unix, but at first glance it seemed a bit to hard to work with. That is mostly because it depends on sendmail to do all the real mail processing. I decided it was something for another day.

Instead, I installed airmail using the Wine compatibility layer. Now there is an amazing project. Here is a team of people attempting to code windows on top of Linux. Not just one version, but all, and not the way it should have been, but to mirror every nuance and trick, to allow existing code to work as well as possible. It’s not without it’s odities, but to get airmail installed, I simply had to run the executable installer.

However, there were two oddities I experienced. First, I noticed the email server plugin was unable to create the server port for a POP3 account. This is because in Linux, a regular user is unable to create a server port below a certain number to prevent spoofing well known services like ftp, telnet, ssh, html or smtp. The solution I used was to simply add 20,000 to each port number, running POP3 at 20110 and SMTP at 20025. This works well, and keeps in the spirit of user ports and security. Just make sure you make the same change to your mail program, which in my case was claws.

Second was getting the com port available in wine. My usb->serial adapter creates a device in the /dev directory called ttyUSB0. To make this available to windows programs in wine, you must make a symlink between that device to ~/.wine/dosdevices/com1. Much of the material I found stated that the device link needs to be COM1 (all upper case), but I found that didn’t work and the version with all lower cases did. Now I have integrated mail on my Linux laptop.

My shack… (And yes, that is once again Mythbusters. Turns out the phrase cold feet is literal):

In the mean time, I’m working out how to tie in the winlink system into my daily life. I wish it would check pop3 on demand like PskMail does. Maybe I just need to get on HF already. I’m attempting to forward all personal mail from my gmail account to winlink, and then pick up both on my laptop client, but it seems like winlink is preventing the forwarding. We’ll see what I need.

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Another tech great passed away.

This past weekend, we also saw the end of Dennis Ritchie, the creator of the C programming language and the co creator of the UNIX operating system.

It’s not possible to really understand the impact this man has had on technology. The C language is the most popular in the world, even almost 40 years after it’s creation. It is the basis, either directly or by inspiration of every other major language in use today. It was the first thing I learned in college back in 1999, and to this day, the language that I found myself most familiar with. He was also the co-creator of the Unix operating system, the direct parent of BSD, various commercial Unix implementations, including Mac OSX, and the insperation of Linux.

For everything that Steve Jobs made sexy, Dennis Ritchie made possible.

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How about a little nerd chess!

I found this great sight today. How is a ham father to teach his children the great game of chess? Why, by using all the spare radio connectors and adapters he can find, of course!

http://www.leapsecond.com/pages/chess/

In secondary news, Randy finished looking at my Kenwood TR-7625, and it seems to be is good working order after cleaning up the power cable. However, in my mucking about, I removed an insulator from a power transistor, allowing the tab of the TO-220 case to short to the common ground heat sink chassis. I would have never know than that was an issue. It turns out that I did more damage than the original user. Now it’s in good working order. a TNC cable has been ordered from BuxComm. Sweet Stuff! Now to find the power knob which has fallen somewhere in my car.

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The world is a darker place.

I was really taken aback on how much his passing effected me. As an
open source Linux guy and a software developer, I found him to be as
bad as that other evil empire, but his influence couldn’t be felt more.
I never owned one of his devices, nor ran his operating system. I
thought him to be an egomaniac, thief, and general jerk. But from
Ubuntu to Android, to even the almost forgotten Fluxbox (a descendant
of the NeXT workspace environment) which runs my netbook, he was an
inspiration.

I never liked him, but I’ll miss him. I’ll be putting flowers at my
local apple store.

Steven Paul Jobs

February 24, 1955 to October 5, 2011

Also, check out the memorials at Bootstrap Solar and at XKCD.

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And finally, success!

Radio email is awesome! Last night, I made my first big contact, and it was my lovely wife! The message went something like this: “I Love you! Even though we’re only about 6 feet apart, this message traveled 2000 or so miles, and it was worth the whole trip!” As far as I can tell, it went from my home QTH, to the Lake County Races Digipeater (K9IQP-7), the Winlink Gateway hosted by the North Shore radio club (NS9RC-10), the Winlink mail server in San Diego, a currently unknown Google email and web server, and back to a Verizon tower and to her Internet dongle. What a journey to talk to the person right next to me!

If you’ve read what I write here, it’s should be no surprise that a short while ago, I attempted to simplify my life a little and a large part of that was to no longer have a data cable in my house of any kind. So long Comcast! However it wasn’t long before I started missing a little bit of that, and more exactly wanted the kind of experience that I had using dialup BBSs back in the early 90’s. And it was for that purpose and many more that I turned to Ham Radio and it’s various digital modes.

My setup is like this:

  • A Diamond x510 Base station antenna, mounted to an upright of my chain link fence.
  • A Yaesu FT-60r handheld, tuned to 145.610, no power savings and squelch almost all the way off.
  • A Kantronics KPC3 (not the +), connected to the radio via a cable created by BuxComm (www.packetradio.com).
  • A far too long serial cable (It was all I had) to a Belkin Serial to USB converter
  • An Asus EEE PC 1015 PE netbook, in this case running Windows XP. A very modest computer
  • A running copy of RMS Express, setup with my information.

As with most things, and especially in ham radio, this wasn’t my own doing, but something that was the result of a larger effort. Special thanks to the volunteers of the Winlink group, the North Shore radio club and the Lake County Races group. Also a special thanks to Tom, AB9NZ, for the really nice base antenna he gave me, and the fellow who I bought the used TNC from and the Chicago FM Club Hamvention a year ago at the boon county fair grounds.

And yes, while I was doing this, I was watching the Mythbusters bust many of the myths that the moon landings were faked. Gotta love those guys.

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A new rig for the house.

Fair warning, the unit above is not mine.

I picked up one of these at a local hamfest about a month ago. When I first plugged it in when I got home, it started blowing fuses as soon as it was plugged in. I found and downloaded the operators and service manuals and saw that there was a diode across the power connector, making a reverse polarity connection a short. That sounded like what I saw, so I confirmed the power was backwards according to the diagram on back, and switched the connectors where it plugged into my rig runner. No more blown fuses, but still no other activity. This rig came with a mismatch mic, so I assumed the power cable was miss matched, and the rig itself simply never worked.

Enter my friend Randy Farmer, N9BEV. He starts by permanently correcting the incorrect power connector, and boom, he’s receiving. A tighten all the screws from my poor attempt at repair, and all that is left is to rewire the mic. He even notices that it has a hardwired 107.2 PL circuit in it (I didn’t think it had any), so I can even use it as is on the local repeaters. How sweet is that. Here is hoping the transmit works as well.

I owe a lot of local hams a lot. It’s a great community.

When I get it back, I’ll be pulling down the HF dipole I have in my back yard, and put my diamond X510 HDN back up. I only have one feed line coax between the two of them. Hopefully I’ll find time this fall before it gets to cold to install a nice through wall panel.

Also this weekend, I’ll be attending a WinLink2K workshop hosted by Lake county Races. I’ll most likely go with my Yaesu FT-60R handheld, and a Kantronics KPC3 (not plus) TNC. If I’m successful, I’ll want to make a new interlink cable for the Kenwood, as an always on radio email system client has been one of my major goals since the beginning.

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Softrock SDR Firmware Bug

For anyone else who is thinking of doing this project, here is an import bug report. This has been mentioned in relation to a particular model of Logitech mice, but appears is caused by any kind of USB device.

The softrock bios does not like to have ANY id but #1!

Symptom: You plug in your USB device after step 3 in the instructions, but get the message from windows “Unknown Device”, despite having good drivers installed.

Cause: Another device already has id 1, and the system is offering another to the softrock. The softrock will ignore the hand shake, and windows will report the error.

Temporary workaround: Unplug every USB device on your computer, including any mice and keyboards. Wait a moment so that Windows detects all of them are gone. Plug in your softrock. It should be detected. You can now plug back in everything else.

It sucks, but it’s a necessary thing at this point.

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