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.

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.

So I now have two kits and an un-un to build – one relatively simply receiver for my intermediate practicals, the un-un is wound and basically ready to be boxed, and the QRP Labs transceiver. Time to clear the workbench…

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…

ISS tonight

Nice bit of fun tonight listening to the International Space Station on 145.8 – 2nd attempt by the ARISS guys and all credit to them and their excellent team for persevering for the YOTA17 event. Heard astronaut Paolo (IZ0JPA) here on NA1SS at 57 before it moved out of reach of my 2m horizontal dipole in the loft. Also nice streaming by the BATC. I hope the YOTA members there enjoyed it and glad it worked out after the troubles on the first pass earlier in the evening. Hopefully this will mean more radio amateurs – good for the hobby.

(This reminds me that I once knew an astronaut – well ok before he became an astronaut – Piers Sellers R.I.P.)

 

FT8

A new mode (to me) – FT8, part of the latest WSJT-X package and widely discussed of late. Having been away from radio for a few weeks I’ve been keeping up on this via a Facebook group and e-mail and itching to get back home and grab the software. I did so late last night and managed to answer one CQ after reminding myself about the mode while watching the band activity. The auto sequence was a surprise the first time I saw it working. I had a ‘proper’ go today with several successful answers to CQs. It all happens very fast!

I have also now started logging QSOs within the WSJT-X package. I had not done this previously because really I only dip in and out of this and other modes, and have plenty of time to log the few QSOs I actually make by hand. But as it’s now rather frantic I decided to have a go and it all works nicely. Of course you will by now be questioning my sanity due to the fact that previously I had no indication of DXCC or callsign worked etc., resorting to my own lookup script that checks QRZ.com to see if a callsign is new. But there was time, plus as I had fiddled with the API for QRZ.com I have a simple bit of PHP that does lookups directly.

I really must find some time to throw more wire into the loft and work different bands, as I still only have 20m and 6m to play with. Hmmm.

 

SSTV

Another new mode for me, well, only receiving in this case. I had always been interested in SSTV but that many decades ago there were no PCs and I never did get round to building anything when the BBC Micro came along. Anyway, I was dialling across 20m the other day and came across a very strong SSTV signal which brought back memories of the mode.

So I installed qsstv – which needed a few extra bits installing but it all complied up with no errors. To my surprise, as soon as I ran it last night with the rig on 14.230 it decoded and showed SSTV images after just a few seconds! I thought it was a self test at first, but no it was live. A useful feature is it stores images automatically.

So now I need to make some images up and have a go at calling CQ SSTV…