EchoLink

(this is a re-write of my original post to tidy it up)

I signed up to EchoLink today and installed EchoMac, a Mac version of the software. I have yet to play with this other than making calls to the *ECHOTEST* conference – a self-test facility like you get in Skype.

Getting the software to communicate was a bit of a fiddle, through no fault of the software or EchoLink. First off, the home router needs to be able to pass UDP ports 5198 and 5199 in both directions to the Mac, and port 5200 TCP outgoing. The information is here http://www.echolink.org/firewall_solutions.htm. By default everything incoming is off other than a few rules that I have for the web servers. So I had to enable this. The Sky router I have can be a pain here because more often than not, pressing Apply to save firewall rules gives a ‘not found’ error and it seems to want several goes before it works. No idea why that should be, surely the script is either there or not, not there sometimes! Anyway, I got the rules in. Note on the Sky router you need to first define a Service for those UDP ports, then select that service for the firewall rule.

But it still did not connect. Over to the Mac firewall which was already switched on. Not sure I did this, maybe the latest software update sets it by default. Anyway, here I needed to select EchoMac and allow it to accept incoming connections. It seems I also needed to reload EchoMac to make this work, so I guess the firewall only permits an application when it loads, not if it is already loaded, which makes sense.

There are still connection issues though. I can connect more reliably if I chose the Sky router as the wifi hub. Every test so far when connected to my main hub results in no connection for EchoHam, but switching to the Sky router wifi and it usually works. I say usually, because if I connect to the Sky box and load EchoHam it works, but then if I unload EchoHam, switch to the other wifi hub and reload EchoHam it still works. But not always! I’m sure this is a fault of my own security because I can get it to connect, just not always first time.

 

Sulking rigs

I think my shack was sulking tonight as I’d not played for two days. First the tuner played up and then the PC would not see the SignaLink. Running lsusb showed it to be missing. I could not reach round to replug the USB cable so rebooted the PC instead. Now it showed it but wsjtx-x could not. Checking the config wsjt-x had reverted to the internal sound card. I’m guessing that running it with the USB missing did that.

Or they really were sulking!

Oh yes and then 20m is completely dead. Trying 40…

 

Auto tuners

Ok, so I acquired a YT-1200 automatic tuner some time ago but left it gathering dust as I had always planned to add more bits of wet string to my loft fan dipole for other bands. The tuner was going to go on the long wire that I never got round to making via a 9:1 un-un which is wound but not soldered up and looking sorry for itself in a corner of the workshop. Plus there has been a lot of FT8 activity on 20m anyway and the internal tuner in the FT450D is happy there.

Well, I set this thing up last night and it happily tunes from 80m to 6m (not tried 160m yet). The fan dipole has two elements, one cut for 20m and one for 6m, but I’ve now made FT8 contacts on 40m, 30m, 17m and 15m, not bad for a bit of wire stapled to the rafters and 10W or however much actually makes it out of the tuner.

Yes it’s not a mega-station with a beam or even any kind of external antenna (yet!) but it works for me, aided of course by FT8 being a weak signal mode – my signal must be pretty weak!

Edit: I’ve now managed one FT8 QSO on 12m and today (5/Nov) one on 10m. 80m is probably a lost cause right now as although the tuner seems to tune it ok the rig is not happy. But there is a serious lack of wire up in the loft so not a big surprise.

DV-MEGA

Just got a DV-MEGA single band 70cm Raspberry Pi hat because I wanted to have a fiddle with a hotspot for the MD380. I can get into three (sometimes four) DV repeaters from here but I do like to play with tech. This little board plugs into the Pi’s GPIO connector. I already had a spare Pi 3 from an abandoned PVR project and a PoE power unit so why not. The board will take an SMA arial directly but mine has a dummy load screwed in instead.

I’m using Andy Taylor’s Pi-Star package from http://www.pistar.uk/ – from there one can download a complete image for various boards including the Pi which, when imaged onto an SD card results in a Pi which boots up headless and presents a really nice web interface from which all configuration and monitoring can be carried out.

And it works really well. It is a doddle to set up and configure, especially given an instructional video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5G4gYDdJeQ

Anyway, it also made me reconfigure the MD380 as the codeplug I had made previously was a little disorganised. I now have all four local repeaters set for all the useful talk groups in two zones each (the radio can only have 16 channels each, awkwardly), including a zone for the simplex channels which I had forgotten (!) and a separate zone for my hot spot, that one with the tx power set to low. The channel is set to colour 1, a lot of people seem to use 438MHz as the frequency (NB both tx and rx), and TG9. The slot does not matter as it’s simplex.

Connecting to a talk group is straightforward on the MD380. Menu -> Contacts -> Manual Dial and then enter the TG number e.g. 4400 for the UK wide one and press the PTT. You should hear a voice telling you that you are connected. Use 9990 for the parrot, and 4000 to disconnect. QED.

National Hamfest

Having finished a major bit of academic work I treated myself to a relatively short trip down south to the National Hamfest yesterday (Friday). This is my first trip to such a thing since the radio rallies of the 1980’s and I had no idea what to expect but I can say it was worth the trip, if only to see what I can’t afford to buy!

I didn’t come away with much – I grabbed a pair of Nagoya NA-771 aerials, one for the UV5R and one for the MD380 (different antenna connectors of course!) and one of QRP Labs excellent 5W single band transceiver kits for 40m. The manual (PDF) is a work of art giving detailed instructions of every step of the way including photographs to show what things should look like. This is waiting until I pass the Intermediate exam.

Oh yes and an SDRplay RSP2 followed me home too. Unfortunately the SDRuno software is Windows only but CubicSDR works fine on the MacBook and with very little fiddling I’m listening to SSB on 20m. I’ve used CubicSDR on the Linux box before so not too steep a learning curve. The RSP2 has two antenna inputs and the switch between these is in the software – so an option in CubicSDR for example.

Solar flares

I had WSJT-X running just in case I had time to make a few QSOs while writing. There was plenty of activity and numerous decodes but I’d not had time to play. Then there was a cryptic decode at 16:09 UTC which just said ‘SOLAR FLARE’. The timing and frequency suggest it was someone a few squares away. And sure enough, no more decodes. At all. I switched to WSPR and recorded a couple of stations that way, and was recorded by a couple too, but it’s very dead. I wish I was watching the waterfall when it actually died off… anyway, not long after it seems to have recovered as I can see traces again and it’s decoding.

Bad timing

No, I’m not taking about clock synchronisation issues and digital modes in WSJT-X, though it has to be said that my PC clock is regularly synchronised via NTP and time.is always says it is ‘exact’ with some very small fraction of a second deviation.

Bad timing in my case is the number of times I manage to find a good bit of DX, usually FT8 as I am concentrating on this right now, only to make contact but not complete because the band dies off from underneath my poor little bit of wet string in the loft. I had a US contact last night who gave up after 6 valiant attempts to exchange signal strengths. Oh well.

FT450D, memory tuning and CAT

Interesting event yesterday caught me out. I’d been using the FT450D on 6m FM and had programmed and then selected a memory channel for the local repeater. But when I turned the PC on and ran WSJT-X it gave an error controlling the rig. So I killed WSJT-X and loaded flrig – it too could not control the rig. Then I noticed the rig said M-TUNE (memory tuning). One VFO was still set that way and I presume the program swapped VFOs then lost control and gave the error. I got it out of that and back in to VFO but still no CAT access. Something in the driver (Linux – dunno which driver, probably generic) had got screwed because rebooting the PC cured it all (thinking about it unloading and reloading the driver would probably have worked but by then I’d got into power-cycling mode).

This dual VFO business has caught me out before when I had one set to AM and the other SSB. When WSJT-X loaded it switched VFOs but that remained set to AM. Not the programs fault of course but is something to remember. Not a fault of the rig either, just the operator!

 

6m FM

They do say ‘read the manual’… I had tried before to get into the local 6m FM repeater and failed. I tried again today, I’m sure the settings on the FT450D were all the same but I can now get in fine. Had a nice chat with someone too. I can also get into the co-located 70cm DMR repeater on the MD380.

These are very roughly south from my QTH and a clear view – well there would be if the house next doors wasn’t there.

Time flies

Crikey where does the time go. I am desperately trying to finish the corrections to my Ph.D. and running out of time. So nothing new here other than a few more FT8 contacts. Once this work is out of the way, and hopefully completed as required, I will finally add more bits of wet string so I have more bands than 6m and 20m. I still have a 2m/70cm co-linear to set up – mind you I don’t yet have a 2m/70cm set other than the UV5R handie but thats another (annoying) story.

I have a kit ready to construct as part of the Intermediate licence practicals. All being well I hope to pass that exam this year. But that will be a year after I passed the Foundation and far longer than I had planned. Work does get in the way sometimes…