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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And one more project coming along.

With the panda board server currently on the shelf and working fairly well, I started to move into the phase of my project. I’m building a SoftRock Ensemble RXTX SDR QRP radio.

Software Defined Radio is such an exciting intersection between radio and computers.  In an ideal form, an antenna is passed directly to a analog to digital converter and that digital signal is passed to a PC for selection, demodulation, and audio dsp, all done in software. In reality, hardware is used to mix the RF signal down, and amplify it to use a standard PC soundcard as a ADC. Still, your instantaneous bandwidth is limited only by the sample rate of your sound card. With a good pro or gamer grade card, you can sample almost an entire HF band. Even a very reasonable PC can handle than much bandwidth, giving a waterfall view of all of it.

It’s a big project though. I’ve never really did an electronics project of this scope before. My previous largest project was a small robot platform, consisting strictly of DC through hole construction, and about 30 electrical parts total. This guy has much more than 100, including some absolutely tiny surface mount parts and some home wound inductors and transformers. It’s all new to me.

In honesty though, this has been a great kit to build thus far, and I’ve been having lots of fun. My first surface mount component was also the hardest in the kit, and I lost the part when I inadvertently flung it across the room and lost it. DigiKey happily and quickly sent me a new one, and work progressed. Surface mount components are getting to be second nature, and the toroids are easy enough. Stripping the leads on them was the hardest part, but I now have a system for that.

To get through the first 3 steps took me nearly a 6 weeks of hobby time, but summer always seems to have distractions. My wife went of a vacation when her friends, so I’ve been home alone all week end and will be for the next week. So far, I’ve completed up to step 5 of ten, but the last 5 are much smaller than the first, so I expect them to go quickly. I hope to receive my first signals this evening, but we’ll see.

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Dreaming of Distant Worlds

No post for what, almost 4 months, and now two in one day. I’m crazy!

In two weeks, I’m going back to my “most recent place that I’m from”. I’m heading there to visit my  friend Chris, and for the second time, watch Distant Worlds, music from Final Fantasy. I’m super psyched as the last time I saw this concert, almost 3 years ago, it was incredibly good. Anyone with even a minor interest in the games should love this. If you’re like me, and Final Fantasy was a integral part of your childhood and growing up, then this is pure gold.

As  a pre/early teen, I didn’t work and my family wasn’t interested in buying me a Super Nintendo when we just got our first 486 computer. So, when a friend showed me Final Fantasy 6 (3 in the US), I couldn’t just pick up the title. That was my first dedicated entry into emulation, playing Final Fantasy III, and then ChronoTrigger on ZSnes for dos, at an average pace of 3 frames per second. Also, I only had a VGA card, preventing me from using the transparency effects that made those games so beautiful. Still, I was mesmerized by both the technology and those titles, and I still throughly enjoy a play through of each today.

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Watching the summer go by.

It’s hard for me to get my head around that it is already the second half of summer. The days are already getting shorter, although thankfully they are still quite long. Once again, we didn’t start a garden, and much of my time is simply spent being hot. I gotta start being more active.

 

That said, my time hasn’t been a complete waste. I bought myself a Softrock Ensemble RXTX kit, and have been slowly putting it together. That is NOT my handwork above, but I may not post anything until I’m done. It’s been a long time since I last soldered a delicate project and this was not a kit for a beginner. There is a surface mount Voltage Regulator IC on the back which I actually lost and had to replace.

On top of this, I’ve been playing around with a basic physics simulation. So far nothing special, just bouncing balls. I starting by using algrebratic versions of Newtons equations for motion (s = s0 + v t + 1/2 a t^2), but soon I wanted to use the calculus versions (s = s0 + integral( v0 + integral( a, t), t) instead. Even though it’s not something I use very often, it really makes me wanna freshen up my math skills. It’s been over a decade since I’ve taken my AP Calculus in HS, and Calc 2 in college was not very useful. I’ll be taking a course this fall at College Of Lake County, but I’m still thinking if I want to start with Differential Equations, or get a refresher by taking Calc 2 again.

Maybe some time at the Khan’s Acadamy website will help. It’s a truely impressive resource, especially for those who want to learn for their own purposes, and not just for an acredited degree.

 

Finally, today was my wife’s birthday (observed), so this was waiting for her when she woke up and was done with her breakfast in bed. It made her cry, so I consider it a success.

Good luck to you and yours at this time.

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Panda House Finished

The night before last, I glued in all internal supports (made from inch long pieces of 3/8″ square hardwood craft pieces. The cables were glued shut and trimmed. The Pandaboard mounts were even glued to the base. Last night, after it all dried overnight, I was able to use two rubber bands to mount the optical drive to the lid, plugged in all cables, closed it up and put it in its final resting place. I declare this project done.

When I get the chance, I will still like to stealth the CD drive with a piece of polished silvery metal like aluminum. But that is a project for another day. I also have some software work to do. For some reason, the panda won’t share a printer. It see’s it locally, and I can see it if I browse to it from my laptop, but any attempt to print fails. I got some leads, but that is for another blog post.

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