Working abroad

After our trip to Europe and Japan I really want to do FT8 or other digimodes – my preferred mode because of naff hearing etc – rather than just take handhelds. But the weight of the FT818 + tuner + PSU + a laptop is prohibitive. True, the PSU and tuner would go in the checked bag but I feel that the FT818 would really need to come as carry-on. And anyway I do not own a laptop, plus the fact that we tend to travel light so there is very little room for my stuff anyway.

So it got me thinking. At home I use one PC for Linux, one for Windows 10, the Mac mini, and a Pi. Four systems, four screens, and great flexibility as all the audio is interconnected by a mixer. But the Windows PC is now playing up and is too old for Windows 11, not that I want that but I guess it is inevitable as running Windows without security patches is just about the worst thing I can imagine. Well, ok, my imagination runs a lot deeper than that, but you know what I mean.

The QRP Labs QMX+ looks most interesting, small and portable, and with the QRP Labs heritage ought to be a really useful bit of kit. So it got me thinking, is it time I invested in a small Windows laptop, junk the current Windows box and use the laptop connected to the screen for here plus simply unplug it and go portable? I mean, it’s not like I’ve not done that before and it is a pretty standard model. It’s just that, all my life I’ve used old hardware, secondhand or chucked out, cobbled together to make it do what I want. I’ve never had a new system other than the Mac Mini and its MacBook predecessor, the latter not eve being mine anyway. It is, therefore rather uncharted territory, purchasing a new or new-ish laptop which will not see a great deal of use as I really prefer the Mac. Or do I find an older MacBook and cobble that together? I have an older 11″ model with a dead battery – I changed the battery before but the replacement didn’t last. That was going to be sold but I no longer trust eBay as suitable for someone that sells very little.

So, the choice, should I go this route seems to be a new(-ish) Windows laptop that will take Windows 11, or a cobbled together old MacBook which I already have but could potentially sell to offset the cost of the Windows one.

Either way I will investigate the QMX+ first because the weight of my other HF transceivers is the killer.

Flying with radios…

We just had a short trip to Europe and then Japan and so I took a couple of handheld radios along. For Europe the CEPT licence was fine but for Japan I arranged a short term one via JARL who were very helpful.

So, licences and HTs in hand, or, rather, in carry-on bag, off we went. I had broken the radios down into battery, radio and antenna and put each in a plastic bag to keep everything clean. Big mistake! My bag was searched at the UK airport and in Schiphol. The bags were causing confusion, especially as, at Schiphol they asked how the battery related to whatever the Mouser code was on the old plastic bag I had used. Very quick though, it only added a couple of minutes each time and they were happy.

So I left the radios intact for the onward trip from Schiphol and into Japan. No issues at all at either end or on the return.

So… note to self, leave the radios intact.

Troubles with the ID51

I wanted to get a programmer for the ID51. So, off to RT Systems as I have some of their programmers already. Got the Mac version of the package for the ID51 but it does not allow programming via SD card. That caught me out because their package for the FT2D does and I wrongly assumed this would too.

Of course, it needs a cable! Off to eBay… an allegedly suitable cable arrived today but the RT Systems program will not find it. Typical, it needs one of their enfangled cables that are incompatible with the rest of the world. No way that will arrive in time for our trip.

So… Chirp then. Downloaded the Mac version but it, too will not see the eBay cable. I know the Mac sees it so why won’t the software? RT Systems has no option to select a USB port, Chirp does but offers no help as to what it is.

Try Linux? Hmmm…  I’m really not into fiddling with flatpack or any other enfangled package managers – apt is enough, no apt, no use.

Windows then! Got Chirp, and it can find the cable, and Chirp will see it and will download from the ID51. All good then? Nope!

This exercise was to enable me to program up all the foreign repeaters ready for the trip and also to figure out why our local repeater was in the list incorrectly. So let’s take a step backwards now…

I had tried to update the list of repeaters by downloading from Icom. This method works fine by loading the relevant file onto an SD card and telling the radio to load it. RT Systems take note – why does your FT2D software allow this but the ID51 software does not? This should be standard!

But the resultant list was missing the local repeater. I tried to add it but then the radio tells me there are no repeaters at all. I tried downloading the file from repeaterbook which at least knows about the local repeater. No joy. I tried editing the files already on the radio but each time it somehow messed up. After many attempts and permutations I had to give up which is why I though getting an actual programmer would help.

Enter Chirp (on Windows, yuk…). It downloaded from the radio fine but when I looked at the repeater list it seemed broken – all it had was a list of callsigns and no other information. Ugh! But then I remembered that the radio had whinged that there were no repeaters. So, I loaded a known good repeater list file already omitted the SD card, checked the radio would see repeaters when DR is pressed, and downloaded that from the radio into Chirp. The repeater list is just as broken.

Ok… so I exported everything from Chirp as CSV and opened in LibreOffice. But it does not export the repeater list so I am no further towards understanding how the data works. Time to hit the ‘net. Meanwhile, I checked the current repeater list to see if the ‘Near Repeater’ option was working… nope… 20 minutes in and the radio still has not got a GPS location, just like the FT2D!

Fiddling further with Chirp I found someone had kindly created a list of repeaters that does include our local one. I downloaded this and tried to load it into Chirp but it just says the file format is invalid. I copied it to the SD card and tried to import it into the ID51 – data error. Ok, this has gone far enough, this is not rocket science but it seems that it is made so.

Let’s try Icom’s own software, apparently called cs-51plus2. This is called cloning software and, of course is for Windows. After installing the software it read the ID51 ok. I found the repeater list under ‘Digital’ and, indeed, the local repeater is missing. The big question is, can I add it? Ok, I added the  local repeater to the end of the list of repeaters, adding the frequency and offset, plus coordinates. Coordinates are degrees, minutes and seconds but I had digital so had to convert – not a biggie. Wrote the data back to the radio and rebooted. And… the repeater is there! And it keys! Just had to wait for the radio to find the GPS – I reckon it does this by carrier pigeon – but finally the ‘Near Repeater’ function works and also finds the newly-added local repeater. Now to add the foreign ones…

So what is the takeaway from all of this? I wasted money on RT Systems software by assuming it would work the same as the FT2D software i.e. use the SD card. Never mind. I tried Chirp but that just confused the issue. And the manufacturer’s own software, generally looked down on, worked fine! (Apparently the software comes with the radio, I don’t remember it having a CD and there is no sign of it but I downloaded it from Icom just fine). I must remind myself if I ever get another radio to first try the manufacturer’s software as my needs are generally lightweight, otherwise try Chirp, and last get the RT Systems software after making sure (by which I mean email them as it is very muddled reading the literature) whether it needs their special cable – and, personally, if it does then I won’t buy the software. I mean, come on, I pay for the software and I am forced to buy a lead I’ll probably only use once or twice?

Screen moves

I now have a Raspberry Pi set up on one of the four monitors in the shack. The original layout was two screens at the top on Linux, then bottom left on Windows and bottom right – central to where I sit on the Mac as the main screen. But that layout had two major issues…

I use a program called Barrier to basically act as a KVM switch for the three systems with the Mac as server. That way the Mac mouse and keyboard controls any of the systems, although it can be awkward sometimes where Windows expects keys which Apple doesn’t have. But Barrier does not understand dual monitors and so moving the mouse up from the Mac got to the Linux box fine, but moving it down from the left hand screen would not get to Windows as the program does not see it being physically there. I could live with that, except for issue two…

The main issue was with the Linux screens being at the top and thus making me sit back or crank my neck upwards, not a good position.

So…

I got to realising that although I use both screens on the Linux box for radio stuff this tends to be with wsjt-x on the right screen and pskreporter on the left.

The solution, which somehow never occurred to me, was simple. Move all the wiring about so that the Mac is right and central, Linux is to the left at eye level so no neck ache, Windows is top right because I rarely use it anyway, and that left a dead screen top left. Enter a Pi 4B. So now I can arrange the four screens with pskreporter top right, Hamclock top left, wsjt-x bottom left and logging bottom right. QED.

Quansheng UV-K5

Another new toy, a Quansheng UK-K5(8). Size-wise it’s taller and heavier than the Baofeng UV5R and has a nicer display. The reason I got this, apart from the price is there is firmware available to enable a spectrum display among other things.

I’ve loaded this version: https://github.com/egzumer/uv-k5-firmware-custom/wiki. Loading was simple enough. There have been mentions that one needs to insert the programming cable very firmly but I found that my aftermarket Baofeng USB cable went in quite easily with a click. Once I had remembered you need to turn the radio on in program mode the firmware went in via the Edge browser in just a few seconds.

Other than that I have yet to use it on air and it has not yet been near a spectrum analyser so no idea how good or bad it is RF wise. There’s plenty of information out there already anyway. For me, like the UV5R it’s a handy little radio that won’t hurt too much if lost or damaged, but it is the available firmware that seals the deal.

Redeploying LoRa modules

After having ditched Meshtastic, for now at least, I had a fiddle with two of the LoRa modules with a view to repurposing them. And there they are. The first is a LoRa APRS r/o iGate, listening on 439.9125MHz, and the second is a receiver for radiosondes listening around 400MHz.

T-Beam LoRa module set up as a LoRa APRS iGate

Nestled under a 70cm ground plane in the shack is, of course a good way to ensure nothing is ever received unless it is very close! However, it is destined for greater things… although at the end of the day it’s just me fiddling. The LoRa APRS map is at https://lora.ham-radio-op.net/

TTGO device set up as a radiosonde receiver

The radiosonde one stands a better chance of actually receiving something, especially as it is currently connected to the 70cm big wheel antenna in the loft. See https://sondehub.org/

The plan is to connect these two along with the module running TinyGS to a common antenna currently in the loft. They will be connected using a Crosscountry Wireless multicoupler which is due to arrive in a day or so.

QSO logging

Some time ago I wanted a logging program that would do things my way. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the various offerings they generally try to be everything for everyone and none of them really sat well with me. So I wrote my own in PHP (learning Python is high on my list of things to do, along with Mandarin, Morse, cooking…) which uses the QRZ.com logbook as the backend. Ok then, really I wrote a series of various scripts in PHP that make it all work. The advantage is it does just what I need and nothing more and can easily be modified to add functionality. The downside is I never was a coder (well, ok, I have a certification in COBOL from the 1970’s!) and it is not going anywhere other than my own server. So you can’t have it…

The way I tend to log stuff is via wsjt-x or other software that logs to a local file. I then have a script that takes the ADIF data and populates QRZ.com on a QSO-by-QSO basis. Somehow having to actually do something after each QSO feels like I am actually engaging in the process. But I am not a contester… it would simply not work for any stress situations (but then I could easily make it work if I so desired…)

With QRZ.com being the master a script then populates a local database which does all manner of stuff that I personally need. For example, it holds records of eQSL sent/received, real QSL sent/received, and various tabular data for Worked All Britain (WAB).

Scripts also modify the wsjt-x log file on all my systems such that each has a record of all QSOs. As QRZ.com is globally accessible (not tried from China mind… not that I plan to take any radio gear there anyway) and my main database is on a VPS so is also globally accessible the various scripts work from anywhere.

I do plan to move the database from the VPS to a system at home once we get FTTP broadband and use the VPS as a backup, synchronising between the two. But that will wait.

One plan which is more immediate is LoTW integration because as yet my LoTW logging is via QRZ.com which means an extra step. No biggie, I mean it’s its a few clicks and a password… but it would be nice to integrate it. The same goes for eQSL sends, but as yet I only send on receipt and I have scripts to deal with that anyway.

Pi reduction

I’ve been rationalising hardware, in particular as the PoE HAT on the Pi running the GB7RVB packet mailbox was noticeably noisy and needs replacing. I had originally moved the packet mailbox off of my AMPRnet router Pi as I needed to install a VPN and the networking was becoming a bit too complex for my liking. In the end I had no use for the VPN, so GB7RVB has gone back, removing one Pi.

Linbpq went across just fine – there is an apt for it (https://wiki.oarc.uk/packet:linbpq-apt-installation) so installation is easy. Just install and copy the config across and the files under /opt/oarc/bpq (there are neater ways but this sledgehammer method works). With the node running I could access via the web interface as expected, but then the axudp route disappeared.

Then I realised that our broadband router had a NAT rule for the UDP port needed for axudp and that was still pushing it to the now switched off Pi. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten this same thing before! So now I have a note as a reminder, assuming I bother to check the note…

Now having removed one Pi with a noisy fan the NTP server Pi is also whining. Grumble.

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.

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