Meshtastic progress

It appears that the web client is not full featured – so I am told anyway – so presumably I should not expect it to work the way I had thought. Never mind, now that the iOS app has been updated it appears to receive messages fine, at least through the second T3S3 device I have.

So, my setup so far (so far? It’s not likely to expand…) is this:

  • One T3S3 (Node A) is directly connected to a collinear and is accessed via wifi. For this, the web app will send messages but not receive them.
  • One T3S3 (Node B) with its supplied tiny antenna is powered by USB and accessed via Bluetooth and the iPhone. The MacOS app does not receive messages but the phone does, so all is well.

There are issues here though. Because Node B is getting all of its information from Node A it shows every node in the area as having a good signal strength which is false as only one or two do. Also, when a message is sent it is (presumably) acknowledged by Node A (I am not sure on that) which is not a good indication that the message is actually going anywhere.

For Node A with its wifi connection I have installed the Python API on my Linux box (and also on the Mac but I’d rather it be on Linux) and have a small Python script which reads all data provided by the node and writes to a file – for now. A program then parses this and produces useful output, for example when nodes advertise or messages are sent. The next step for this is to make a database so that nodes can be recorded along with their positions, signal strength and times etc.

This is all just a bit of fun really as I always liked playing with data and transforming it and such – a fair bit of my work (when I did actually work) was related to this. I’m sure that now the iOS app has been updated I can swap Node A over to use Bluetooth and access it directly but this way I get a record of everything in the area too. It does add a hop to messages going out from my Node B but I can always adjust that setting anyway.

All in all Meshtastic is a fun / serious / useful ‘thing’ quite literally able to form ad-hoc networks for very little outlay or even experience. Devices can be put in a weatherproof box with a reasonable antenna, plus a battery and maybe a GPS, and perhaps even a solar charger, and positioned in an area to form an ad-hoc network – just like it says on the tin.

Meshtastic issues

There is an issue I cannot put my finger on. I discovered now that I can send messages to the mesh. I know this because I sent a test and the node displayed an answer, but the app did not (neither iOS or MacOS). I just happened to notice the reply on the tiny screen by chance.

After a lot more fiddling and getting nowhere fast I connected the newly flashed node to wifi. This disabled Bluetooth so the iOS and MacOS apps no longer function. The web app does, and this comes directly from the node itself via a browser. The web app can also successfully send messages, but not receive. However, using the Python API I can see all data coming in and the replies are all there. So there is some disconnect between the node and the higher level methods of access, but not the data coming from the node. Odd.

Others have reported similar and the iOS app was updated yesterday so that is another thing to check but the issue above is rather odd. An update to the app does not update the web app, that needs another firmware update.

For now, more fiddling… but at least I can see the data so I can always write something to handle it rather than relying on the inbuilt web app or client apps. So… Python… been meaning to learn it like forever!

Update: running one node via Bluetooth and the phone I can send and receive messages via my other node. Nothing appears in the web app still, but at least I have it working. That leads me to blame the web app itself so I have reported it as an issue.

More Meshtastic (edited)

The 868MHz node has gained a collinear and both nodes are now in the loft powered over a long USB extension that was already routed up there. I was surprised to see numerous peer messages appearing in the web app and after some fiddling these decoded into names etc. and the web app plotted them on the UK map. At present there are 50 nodes, some as far south as Sheffield, one in and two to the east of York, one in Knaresborough, and a cluster nearby and out to the west as far as Hebden Bridge. Some of these are named after callsigns but of course this is not an amateur radio thing so anything goes. The web app recorded a bunch of messages too between people. Sadly, no-one can hear my node so there is work to do yet, not least putting the antenna outside. I have another 868MHz device on order so I can check that the node in the loft is actually transmitting and if so, do some basic range tests.

Another day… I ordered another T3S3 unit which arrived this morning, less than a day since I ordered it! Anyway, on powering it up it immediately saw nodes and messages. It appears that the node in the loft was just passing messages to it, which is after all what these things do. So I have removed the loft node, brought the collinear down and connected to this new node leaving the other powered off. After resetting the Node database it can see nodes but all with ‘bad’ signals (I did not enable the receive boost). I am using Bluetooth to connect to this, not wifi, so it is a virgin setup. At least this proves as far as I can that it is just this node receiving these others. Perhaps the few local nodes will pipe up later on and I’ll see something other than bad signal strengths. The antenna, with the node directly connected is currently hanging in the window so putting it outside is the next step.

Actually the next step is to re-flash the now-disconnected node and start from scratch because I am convinced I messed something up while fiddling! Then I can use that one for a range test.

Licence changes

It’s out! OFCOM today published the new licence terms stating that licences are changed from today, see https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0029/278345/amateur-radio-general-notice-decision.pdf

I did respond to the consultation. The two things that I was rather unsure of was the new rule that one cannily hold one personal licence – I still have my foundation and intermediate as well as the full – and the business about RSLs.

On the licences I have not used my foundation or intermediate calls since I got the full licence but I maintained domains named after all three and in some cases my login ID for various forums etc is still my foundation callsign. But no biggie, the domains can expire, I will make sure I do not use any old email addresses and it doesn’t actually matter if my login ID is the old callsign in any given forum provided my email address is correct. But to be tidy I’ll work my way through those. It looks like OFCOM will be revoking one’s ‘lesser’ licences during 2024/25.

RSLs always stuck out with me but as I live in England never affected me. I can see the point where people want to use the RSL, I mean if I lived in Scotland, say, I would definitely use MM. But the change is optional rather than RSLs being outlawed somehow. I have never operated outside England (I don’t seem to travel much!) and often wondered how, say I were driving up the A1 do I change callsign on approach to the Scottish border. But it was always academic because I never use radio while driving anyway.

I do like the bits about data stations and such but it will take some time to properly digest the new rules. I did find to my surprise that my 70cm pi-star setup could be heard from a few miles away given it was connected to a dummy load! One half of my setup – it’s a dual HAT – runs a pager for Dapnet and given a bit more power would be rather handy for the local area.

Also nice is the supervised use by unlicensed people whereas before those people needed to be on a recognised training course (I may have remembered that wrong…) – not that I have the need personally but it can only be helpful to the cause.

Thunderpole T-X handheld CB radio

I actually spotted this little CB handheld via one of M0XFB’s Tiktok videos. CB is not particularly active round here but even so I felt a handheld bit would still make a good addition to my kit.

Thunderpole T-X handheld CB radio

It will manage the full 4W output and has both the UK FM, and EU FM / AM ranges. https://www.thunderpole.co.uk/thunderpole-t-x-overview.html explains it better than me. It has the ubiquitous rubber duck type antenna but the antenna connector usefully is a BNC. No idea what the range will be with that antenna but it’s certainly a handy little thing.

Meshtastic

I just got two Lily LORA modules with Meshtastic firmware loaded, one on 433MHz and one on 868MHz. Both arrived with old firmware but that is no issue as the firmware is readily available, and anyway the documentation seems to recommend that loading the latest firmware is the first thing to do.

There is a Meshtastic app for the iPhone and Mac (others available) with features replicated between them. 

However, my thoughts of updating fell at the first hurdle. There are three options, use a web flasher, a CLI version or use a serial adapter. The web flasher requires Chrome or Edge and all my PC kit is in bits because of the leaky pipe. The Mac does not have Chrome nor is Chrome getting anywhere near it! There is a CLI option which requires brew and python3 / pip all of which need installing, leaving me to wonder if I (a) install all that on the Mac or (b) fettle the Windows PC together sufficiently to use it. 

So, Windows PC on the floor, monitor resting against it (the monitor lives on a 4x stand so has no feet attached), Edge loaded and the 433MHz unit plugged in… finally found the web flasher which asks which serial port to use. How do I know? Windows seems to imagine devices and change them at will. Ok, unplug the Lily and see what options change. None. Hmmm. Right, get the 868MHz unit… helpfully the flasher info suggests one needs to hold the Boot switch while plugging the unit in, and that indeed made it appear as a known USB / COM combo. All seemed to go well with meaningful messages until it came to downloading the firmware, where it waited… and waited… 10 minutes went by, some confirmation of something happening would be useful…  I gave up after about an hour and decided to go with Plan A and install brew on the Mac. 

That went ok after numerous steps including having to figure out where it had put the key piece of Python code. On went the 433MHz unit and the code to update the firmware all worked fine. Lots of settings sent to the device later I thought I had everything set correctly. However, the app now refused to connect. No amount of coercing, dancing, shouting etc worked. So I progressed to the 868MHz unit which, despite the confusion with the Windows PC had actually received the latest firmware. But again, no connection via Bluetooth. Then finally a nugget of information made me remember that as things had changed I needed to ‘forget’ the devices in the Mac’s bluetooth settings – then both devices connected.

So, two devices, one on 433MHz and one on 868MHz, with the stock teeny antennas are not going to get very far as one would expect. Early days… better antennas needed and I’ll see then if these nodes can find any others nearby. Until then the nodes can be set to report to a central MQTT. They are very able little units and in fact the 868MHz unit is very similar to the one I use for TinyGS.

My writing here is about my own experiences so far. M0AWS has a blog post going into far more detail here https://m0aws.co.uk/?p=2807 and the mothership of information begins at https://meshtastic.org

868MHz Meshtastic module
433MHz Meshtastic module

10MHz OXCO

I recently acquired a 10Ghz / 144MHz transverter which should get me a little closer to the band. I do still have a kit to build but having this means I can eventually test that as well. It needs a 10MHz reference input and I was recommended one from an eBay seller in China. The unit arrived today and having had it sat on a ‘scope and counter for several hours it does seem to produce a solid 10Mhz signal at a nice sine wave (it has TTL output too). Not bad for £12.

Shack dismantling

Looks like I am out of action for a few days. We noticed a bulge in the kitchen ceiling which is directly under the shack. There are two pipes that run across under the floor for hot and cold water to the taps and down from the hot water cylinder to the rest of the house. Yes, you guessed it, right under my desk. So, all the radios, screens, Mac and PCs, audio stuff and all cabling out and desk out. On lifting the carpet the floorboard I needed to lift ran right across the room, and right under the test bench! So, all the equipment had to move, including the allegedly portable spectrum analyser and the teleprinter. Fortunately GB7RVB and all the network gear is on shelving attached to the wall so that can stay.

And there is was, one leaking lead to copper joint. Far too late to go and get the bits to fix it… and searching for the parts by smartphone is not amusing. Grumble.

The end of collecting

Seeing as I closed my valve collection website down and removed much of my personal stuff before it got archived (valvecollector.uk) I suppose I had better keep my story somewhere…

I started collecting when I was just a kid but only seriously from about 1999 when I set up my first collection website, initially on a bit of webspace at work. From there it moved about a few times, first to some commercial webspace provided free by a friend who owned an ISP, then to our house, then past three other ISPs to a dedicated physical server which I rented, and then on to a VPS where it stayed until closed down and archived at the beginning of 2024.

I used to collect just about everything but it got out of hand when the collection reached 3,000 types,some of which were huge beasts. From then I settled on just CV types and almost all of the non-CV valves – about 1,500 went to the National Valve Museum, which has a website almost as old as my own. 

I first became interested in valves, and electronics in general when I was about 8. My grandad drew a sine wave on the wall to try to explain the difference between ac and dc – I forget why but I can still picture that drawing. He had a few old radios including one he built himself, all laid out on a baseboard and looking like a well-made cupboard. He showed me the valves in an old radio he gave me and then told me off as I took each valve out and popped it on the concrete to see what was inside! This started my collection, and soon after I took a battery box out of my Lego set plus two 425PEN’s into school and showed the teacher as they lit up.

Myself and a friend often frequented the local TV repair shop, and after a number of years and many visits, the people running the shop retired. My friend phoned me, we were about 12 at the time, and told me they wanted to see us. So off we went. When we got there, all their remaining unsold stock was all on display in various boxes, and with words which have become immortalised we were told ‘take anything you want’. Being 12 I guess I didn’t really know what to make of this and hurriedly studied the boxes of valves for any that I might find useful, but it all became clear when I extracted a few and was told to take all the boxes of valves rather than one or two! There must have been a couple of hundred radio/TV valves there. There were a few other bits of kit we wanted and we took the first load back to our house in bags, went back with a wheelbarrow (imagine two 12 year olds carting old radios along the road in a wheelbarrow), and finally my grandad took us for the last trip in his car.

At secondary school I discovered three things. I forget how or in what order, but they were an electronics shop in the city centre that had loads of old test kit and all sorts of goodies, a TV repair shop near the school, and a house clearance dealer, also near the school. A number of old radios came from the house clearance shop, and were either pulled apart or sold. I also expanded my valve collection with about 20 old valves from this shop. The TV repair shop owner was a good source of generic white valve boxes, plus he had a small collection himself. The electronics shop was the source of several heavy items of test gear that left their marks on the city busses as I brought them home!

My grandad had made me a workshop in the basement and I could be seen regularly carrying heavy bits of test gear home on the bus after school. The workshop went through many phases as my interests changed between test kit, radios, radio teletype, and at one stage had a wall of test kit, plus Admiralty (Murphy) B40 and B41 receivers (and I could lift both at once back then – just!), a Creed 7E teletype, several readers and perforators, and associated kit. I went through a phase of buying scrap teleprinters, rebuilding them and selling them to local radio amateurs for some extra pocket money.

Since then in various orders I discovered motorsport, got married, got a house, had kids and everything else. The collection bubbled along with new additions added regularly. But enough is enough!

The collection used to live almost entirely in the loft, out of touch. It ended up in a more accessible location and into plastic storage boxes, all indexed so I can actually find everything. This ended up taking over one end of the workshop and I will be glad to get the space back as the collection is sold off or given away bit by bit.

Remembering the old school dial-up BBS

All this packet radio progressing around the place reminds me of a time long ago, pre-Internet where dial-up BBSs became the new thing in town. Back then I had a BBC Micro and a modem that ran at two speeds – I forget which now (will edit later!) and I persuaded my mum to get BT in to fit a socket rather than the hard-wired phone we had then. This let me plug the modem in. I used to use a BBS called ‘More Summer Wine’ plus one other but I forgot the name. Much of the activity back then is lost in the mist of time (or rather I just can’t remember) but sending and receiving mail was fun. BBS systems were all a part of the wider FidoNet. Mail would be routed between the various BBS systems, many of which only had the one telephone line and so would be inaccessible while that was happening. Indeed, they were mostly single user anyway, although if the sysop was there you could message them via the console of the BBS which was probably sitting in someone’s bedroom. I am reminded of the many times I would set the BBC and modem up on the hall floor because we only had the one telephone socket. In fact, it would be quite some time between then and when we finally got broadband Internet which for us was not until the later 1990s in our new home.

During that time and working in academia I had routine access to networks and mail and so interest in the BBS systems dwindled. There was a time before the winder Internet became available where we could gain network access to remote systems, all typically mini- or mainframe computers. One such system ran a MUD – Multi-user Dungeons and Dragons – another angle to remote access but this time for gaming rather than BBS. That provided an introduction to online chatrooms because the MUD we used to play on had that feature. One could not only progress through the game but also exchange messages online, the latter becoming the wanted feature vice the game itself.

And here we are. I was never involved in packet radio when it first came to be, but now it has reminded me a lot of those old days of the dial-up BBS.

And FidoNet? It is still there https://www.fidonet.org/

See: https://spectrum.ieee.org/social-medias-dialup-ancestor-the-bulletin-board-system

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