Friday, September 28, 2018

The ultimate portable digitalmode unit (2)

Inside the tablet...
I'm working on a ultimate solution for portable digital operations as you probabely know from my last post about this subject. Most ideal would be a headless unit like the one Julian OH8STN uses. Though I find a raspberry Pi with Linux not always easy to work with. Probabely because it is unknown to me. I've choosen a Windows 10 solution to build on. But getting everything to work like I want is not a easy task as well. This is a first post about my attempts to get what I want: A ideal portable digital mode computer to control and communicate with my radio and get on the air in one package.

For a while ago I bought a second hand PEAQ W1010. A 10 inch Windows 10 tablet, for the more technical: 1,83GHz quad core Intel Atom Z3735F 2Gb DDR RAM and 16Gb Internal memory. It seems to be the right computer for me as it is light, versatile and has a large 7,5Ah battery, besides that it can be supplied with 5V from a cheap powerbank. It was cheaper compared to a Raspberry Pi that needs extras like a external powersource and (touch)screen.

There you go with the advertised 7,5Ah!!!
Well, when you have been reading my blog lately you probabely noticed I didn't have much luck with the tablet. The touch screen (digitizer) broke and I've been trying to get a new touch screen as I have experiences with replacing those things (easy). Though even trying to get help via the PEAQ website didn't give me any answers. So I decided to remove the touch screen, replace it with a piece of plexiglass and get a cheap bluetooth mini keyboard via AliExpress to access the OS. It's a miracle everything works well.

Now, get this thing connected to the radio and make fun! Well, I assumed the tablet had the kind of combined audio/mic connector you find in a smartphone (I did read the specs before I bought this tablet). This might be true for many tablets but not for this one although the specs told me it should be there. So, my simple mind tells me I should remove the mic module and solder wires in to connect my radio with the computer. Well, I measured which wires to get and connected everything together but it didn't work. A colleague gave me a much better idea. Why not have a USB hub and connect a USB soundcard. Actually I need 3 USB and 1 microUSB connections in the field.

1. for the soundcard,
2. for the GPS unit to keep time without internet
3. CAT control
4. microUSB the charge and/or back up power to the computer.

So, AliExpress once again, send me a hub. But things are not so easy as you think. Communicating with several COM ports through a hub seems to be not that easy and I lost either the connection with the U-blox 7 GPS USB stick or my USB soundcard. I didn't even try connecting the CAT control since I expect a problem as well. The u-blox GPS receiver was not good either, I had it working but it showed up as a sensor device on my W10 tablet. A common problem that can be solved with a obsolete COMport driver, but after I installed that driver I can't get a fix on any sat even not outside in the open. So, go for another solution: bluetooth.

Suddenly remembering my bluetooth GPS experimental device I tried last year. Together with BktTimeSync from IZ2BKT it worked well but after some time locked and I didn't use it anymore. Well, it seems Mauro IZ2BKT is still developing and there is a new version out which works fine on my W10 tablet. It is worth looking at Mauro's site for a suitable GPS solution, he even has software to use with a android phone GPS. After a successful test I decided to build the GPS into a nice box so I can use it everywere I want. It is quite sensitive and even in the house close to a window it will have a sat fix within a few minutes. At least one of my concept goals works fine. And it seems till now both BT keyboard and BT GPS stay connected even when used at the same time. Now the next experiment would be connecting a bluetooth soundcard. I've seen several homemade options with a bluetooth headset connected to a radio. However not everyone has the capabilities to make something that works. So again I'm searching at AliExpress for something useable!

Time to do a portable test with the equipment I have so far. The nice thing with the FT8Call software I use here is that even if you don't see any chats or QSO's going on you don't feel alone. I had a excellent connection with F1ABL and even managed to send a relay test message via F1ABL to DJ8NO which I did not see at my portable station.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The case of the failing FT-817 S-meter

This case took me several hours and since I didn't have time to solve this it was something that kept my mind busy the whole saturday. I think it is interesting enough to write a post about it.

The case or problem, or we better call it the challenge: S-meter not functioning on LSB/USB on any band except for some really strong signals S-meter shows only 1 or 2 bars. RF gain fully open. RX is good, antenna is good (checked with another radio). S-meter does function on FM and PKT mode.

I did not use the radio for a long time and this problem occured to me after I replaced the speaker. First I was afraid I broke something (you never know). Soon it became clear to me it has to be something wrong in the radio settings, but what? Since I used the radio only for digimode the last half year it could be related to that, and it did....AGC was turned off in the menu. When I switched it to automatic the S-meter came alive and everything was normal again.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

3W3RR - Amateur radio adventures

If you are into this radiohobby you probabely do experiment with radio, communicate, have fun and meet interesting people. Well, I like the social aspect of radio just as much as experimenting. However some people you meet along the way of our hobby are more interesting then others. If I had enough money and time I would probabely travel more to see other countries and experience more adventures especially doing DXpeditions from foreign countries, however I got a family to care about and my life is just not that of a adventurer. Some people just go for it and worry later, without doubt you have to take risks. Questionmark is always how do they get the money to travel to so many countries if you don't have a job like for instance a international sales manager, travel agent owner or even secret agent. Well, I would be interested in that. But first this small story about 3W3RR.

No other radioamateur does intrigue me more as Roman Vega aka Romeo Stepanenko. He was very active in the 90s of last century on several DXpeditions, he took his chances even when he was almost exhausted from a earlier DXpedition. Some were more dangerous then others, some seem to be not really happen as they were fake operations. But those that did happen were adventures, transmitting from dangerous and political rough places with fear of being captured. Imagine in a time just before internet. You need to know your ways to get somewhere. Know who is important at a embassy at a business or know people in the militairy from several countries to get a license. I think Romeo did have a lot of people he knew at high places, people that could arrange things for him. When I read that for instance Yaesu did sponsor 3 radios + amps for the XY0RR DXpedition, you need to have friends that work for Yaesu. You need to have a ability to make friends. It seems Romeo has those abilties not everyone has. The list of DXCC that Romeo activated is almost endless. And to write all about his adventures here is impossible. So I've been searching the internet for stories and so far I think I did read all of them. Most of it can be found on his own website that is maintained by his radio buddies especially by NT2X Edward. I gathered some links to things I found on Romeo's activities.  -  Romeo's site maintained by his friends, especially articles and video links are interesting  -  In german  -  Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo, interesting article by K9RHY

Romeo ended up in jail but as far as I know that hasn't anything to do with hamradio. Or was he looking for a alternative fund for future DXpedtions? We will never know...

I found out that the .com site is not really up-to-date. The russian language site is different although looks te same. However it is in russian and you need to translate it with google.

I became a HAM in 1998 and I was able to be on HF since 2003. So I missed all the "Romeo"adventures. Luckely you can obtain is special "jail dxpedition" QSL. I received it on 13 Sept and showed the envelope on my blog to see if anyone recognized the name...this is probabely the only QSL I got from a no-radio-contact.

Romeo might not be a hamradio hero and was even expelled from the ARRL DXCC program for his fake DX operations. But at least I guess he had fun doing his hobby made friends and had some great adventures, If you take a look at the federal bureau of prisons website and search for his inmate number (59198-004) you will find Romeo will be released within 2 years. Hopefully he will be back into the hobby.

Thanks for the nice QSL Romeo....

Friday, September 21, 2018

FT-817 speaker replacement

Not that it was a need. But the speaker was offered at Sotabeams and if you apply for a newsletter you get a discount code. I never bought something at Sotabeams and actually I only heard from this nice amateurradio webshop when I did some experiments meeting the owner G3CWI Richard last year with FSQ on air in June/July 2017. So I decided to give it a try and order the speaker with discount, it was received very fast and well packed. And replacement looks simple enough to me.


The instructions VK3BQ wrote are very clear although to remove the foam rings from the oldspeaker I heated the metal with a heat gun in order to warm up the glue so it could be pulled off quite easily. After I was done I did a little test from my job at lunchbreak. Actually I wanted to test it from my car but forgot to bring the magnet mount with me. And so I got the magloop out of the bag. Propagation was not that good I think because I could barely hear stations on 20m. I was looking for a loud station so I could test if the speaker would be distorted at a higher volume (the original did) but so far it sounded pretty well. The video shows the only station I could hear on 20m at that time. The new speaker seems to be humidity resistant and that's always a good thing for a portable radio.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

WSJT-X 2 versus FT8Call

K1JT Joe wrote:

"Many have noticed signals in the 7.078 and 14.078 MHz sub-bands that look like FT8 but are undecodable. These appear to be “FT8CALL” 
signals. FT8CALL is *not* FT8 — and probably it should not have “FT8” 
in its name. It appears that the author of FT8CALL did not bother to select a different Costas array for synchronization. If the legacy FT8 decoder is enabled, WSJT-X will waste time fruitlessly trying to decode these non-FT8 messages."

KN4CRD Jordan wrote in answer on that:

Howdy folks! We've just surpassed 5000 testers of FT8Call! I've heard of some really great QSOs happening and hope there are many more in y'all's future. I also keep getting loads of emails about a couple recent I wanted to make an announcement to help communicate with y'all.

The WSJT-X group has started testing their new release (2.0 RC1) of WSJT-X and have chosen 7.078 and 14.078 MHz to trial the new FT8 features. These are two frequencies where you'll find FT8Call operators. What this means is that if you're operating FT8Call, you might see some signals transmitting every other interval in the waterfall and those signals will not decode. Those signals are likely the WSJT-X 2.0 FT8 signals. It should be nothing to worry about, as there is plenty of room for all of us on the band. But, if you run into problems, please let me know.

Next up, FT8Call is Free Software. It is and will always be free. Free as in beer and free as in speech. Meaning, you will never have to pay for it, and, you can do with it what you want. It is a derivative of WSJT-X, is open source, and licensed under the GPLv3.

The last question I am getting is about the name "FT8Call" which was likely prompted by a particular statement made by K1JT today. I want to point you to the history section of the documentation where I've explained the timeline of the experiment and further why FT8Call is named the way it is: 

You might be asking...why is this named FT8Call? Why not something else, like JS8Call or HF Messenger? Good question! It is named this way an homage to its heritage:

FT8Call uses FT8 modulation (Franke-Taylor design, 8-FSK modulation). More specifically it uses the same modulation and demodulation engine developed by the WSJT-X group. This is the base RF transport.

FT8Call has a directed “calling” protocol laid over top the base RF transport to support free-form and directed message passing.

 Hence FT8 + Call = FT8Call.

I hope this helps clear up some confusion on the topic. At this point in time, there's no plans to change our operating frequencies or the name of the application. If you have any other questions, let me know. I'd be happy to answer! 

Also, stay tuned for more info on FT8Call 0.7...lots of exciting stuff coming down the pipe! 


Jordan / KN4CRD

With both programs using FT8 but a different protocol the confusion is evident. However, FT8Call is something complete different compared to WSJT-X.

Again I'll write here that FT8Call is highly experimental. Though it seems to be more populair then other similair software we tested over the years. Just look at my picture....even S01WS from Western Sahara Africa made his appearance on FT8Call to experiment with it. Is this software a new mode? Another way to contact DX? No, no and no. It is not ment for that, the software has a complete different view on communication as most radio operators know it. If you want to DX and fill your logs with DX please use WSJT-X or JTDX or whatever you like to use but not FT8Call. In fact I think the log button is not neccessary in FT8Call because I doubt if a log entry would be really valid since you can ask the computer of the opposite station for a report and you can send a directed message with your report to the opposite station and so it does only involve one operator. The other op doesn't have to be at the radio. Personally I only log contacts if I made a personal chat like you see in the above picture with R2AT,

Till now I really like some of the features in FT8Call:

- Sending out QTH locator which will be picked up and send to
- ALLCALL? which gives you a immidiate view of were you are received.
- Relay messages, Although I still learning how to use it, it has great potential.
- Customization features to alter colors/text

If you had it with radio communication the way it seems working out now on the amateurbands try something new, experiment and try FT8Call.

FT8Call 40m 21 UTC

Sunday, September 16, 2018

VERON HF day meeting

For the first time ever I attented the VERON HF-dag (HF day) which is a meeting for dutch HF users last Saturday. The main reason to go was to get the trophy I won with my second place in the PACC section SO LOW SSB, the section with the most participants (137). Besides that there were presentations about the alternator transmitter Grimeton from Sweden by Ola Hernvall and tips on how to work DX and the DXpedition to Rotuma this year (3D2EU) by well known dutch DXpeditioner PA3EWP Ronald. There was also a FT8 presentation but we didn't go there since we were not interested. I was there with neighbourstation PD2TW Tjip who won the novice section of the PACC.

Well just when we arrived and had a cup of coffee we had a surprise meeting with fellow blogger PA1B Bert who is well known from his power attenuators and his energydrink can antenna's. That was a lot of fun of course and we had to make the picture for one or both our blogs...nice to meet you Bert!

Well, the presentation from Mr. Hernvall was very interesting but though a bit too much into detail. So sleep overwhelmed most of us... The presentation with DX tips was nice, but actually I did know all the tips probabely because I am experienced and read the "complete DXer" from W9KNI in which the most basic tips are already described. What was most interesting was the presentation about 3D2EU, unfortenately not heard or worked by me (not enough time). I spoke to some other well known dutch operators as well and saw some faces now from well known dutch DXers. At the end we were tired but finally went home with our trophies...a nice day,

Friday, September 14, 2018

Contests and certificates

Once again I obtained some first places in contests and the accompagnied certificates. Not that I am a fanatic contester but with the lack of real competition it's easy. Not even using the best equipment, just 100W from a Icom 706, a all band vertical and a inverted-V till now. I'm shure a station with a big beam on a large tower can do better. I might be a experienced operator, although location helps a bit of course. I'm living at a reasonable quiet location with free sight to to south. At the north it is only 3km to the open sea.

1990 plate for 3rd place...

I was much more active in all kind of contestswhen I just arrived on HF in 2006. But since I got a family it's not possible to do a contest every weekend. Besides that I've much more interests in this radio hobby instead of contesting only. My first contest ever was the "White Rhino Contest" in 1990 which was organized by some amateurs from the RSA to get more attention for the fast dying white rhinos in the wild. Of course that was before I was licensed radio amateur and it was on 11m/CB.

What I like in a contest is the amount of DX that can be worked with little effort. Another thing I like is mastering a pile-up. I think I do pretty well but things can be better and I'm always trying to do better. Listening in the first place because many faults are made when you don't listen carefully. I think the best contesters are the best listeners. When you do a 48 hours contest like the CQWW or the CQ WPX you learn what frequency to choose, you learn how operators behave and you learn to listen well. Not that I know everything, I'm still learning. Some radioamateurs hate contests but it is something that is part of our hobby, you can't stop it and you can learn a lot from it. There are also things I don't like in a contest like the QRM, stations that don't listen or don't ask if a frequency is clear and take that frequency like no one else is there. I don't like it when people deliberate make QRM although I know it is difficult when you're in the heat of a contest and frequency is over crowded.

At the moment personally the large contests like the CQWW and CQ WPX are the best ways to work new DXCC since I normally don't have time to be on the radio at daylight. In a contest I have a excuse, and it is only a few times a year. The big contests are something to look forward to for me. And even when you have a modest station you can have great results if you practise what you learned in previous contests...

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Received a envelope today. There is a story to tell...Some of you readers know what it is all about.

However, I've so much to tell and so many ideas but no time to write and so you have to wait....


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

2m FT8

Reports yesterday evening
After the balloon event I still had the IC-706 connected for VHF/UHF. And since Paul PA0K efforts with PE1BVQ and his success with FT8 on 2m were inspiring I asked PE1BVQ for a 2m FT8 sked yesterday evening. Unfortenately I only have my vertical W2000 which is not really a DX antenna, the distance between Hans and me is about 170km. So I had my doubts...But the sked went surprisingly well. Hans using a X300 vertical and about 85W, I was using 50W from the IC-706. Signals on FT8 were +00db which is very strong. I listened to the audio and was shure we could try in SSB. So we made a QSY to 144.310 USB to see if we could hear each other. I did receive Hans very well but he didn't receive me. Switching to his Kenwood TS-790 he was able to just get my signal report and he gave me a signal report back so even on SSB the contact has been made. I was really surprised my VHF system works so well although I have a lot of loss (3dB) because of several coax cables, a switch, PL259 connectors and a lightning surpressor. It seems the height and free sight does the trick...

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Balloonfoxhunt 2018 @PE4BAS video

I was a little late being at the radio and install everything for simultaneous UHF/VHF. The balloon was already in and on the air. There are always more important things to do....Anyway, the once a year used triplexer came on my desk and I connected the IC-706 on UHF and the FT-817 on VHF. It was only a few minutes later when PE1BVQ Hans was calling me at my surprise! And we made the contact! We even made a second contact when the balloon went down. I didn't expect that at all with my modest UHF/VHF setup. I was using 18W out of my Icom on 70cm on the W2000 which is on top of the mast at 16m agl. I even made a QSO with a second station which was PD2EZ. It is all in the video. Enjoy! The balloon reached a height of 30km and you can see some shots in the video from what I saw on the youtube livestream. Amazing...

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The 40th National Balloon Fox Hunt

The 40th National Balloon Fox Hunt on September 9, 2018

Almost every radio interested person has heard of the Balloon Fox Hunt. In its 39-year existence, many radioamateurs and other direction finders (fox hunters) have participated in this famous event. This year the balloon fox hunt takes place again for the 40th time. As is customary, the event is planned for September 9, 2018. 11:00 UTC

This event is probabely the only time of the year I am on UHF/VHF participating and listening and transmitting.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

6m after the ES

Reading the blog from Scottish radioamateur GM4FVM Jim I noticed he likes to work as many DXCC possible on 6m every year and missing Netherlands (a while ago). Contacts with the Netherlands seem to be difficult for him but not impossible. Now finally he made it to the Netherlands making the contact using side-scatter (never heard of that before...). Well I already made a comment on his blog that since he is living at the east coast and I'm at the north coast there is only water between us and even without propagation a QSO could be possible with the use of JT modes. To prove that I'm right I probed 6m with FT8 several days and times to see what I spotted or were I've been spotted even when the band seems to be dead. Surprisingly (or not really) I'm always spotted in Belgium, Germany, Denmark and last evening even in south part Norway. Using the 5 element beam at 14m heigth and 50W output. The last path proves that a contact with GM4FVM who is also using a  5 element beam should be possible even on FT8.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The ultimate portable digitalmode unit (1)

We are not the only ones searching for the most efficient and ideal (digital) way to communicate. The army is constantly busy to find and develope new ways and new technologies. I came across this video and especially this shot of using a 7 inch tablet in a kind of headless communication with the radio. This is not completely true since it still has a cable to the radiounit or computer at his back. This can be done wireless through WiFi or bluetooth although it would be not reliable enough in the warzone. The complete video is below find the shot at 01:11 and 01:47.

I've been thinking and looking at the most inspiring videos from Julian OH8STN who is way ahead on me with portable digital communications. I use his experience for my own development of a digital portable station. One of the most important things I discovered trying to participate in events like RaDAR is fast deployment. Therefore I think it is important to see radio and computer + power supply as one unit. You should not need to connect all the wires on location, it should be a push button operation fast and simple. My goal would be building a unit that fits in a backpack radio + computer + power supply (battery) that can be switched on by pushing a few buttons and then operate it wireless through a external smartphone, tablet and via a WiFi or Bluetooth network. Julian already made a hint towards hamradio equipment developers developing a radio with a integrated computer you can access with a external computer/tablet/smartphone through a wireless or wired network independent what OS you're using. That would be ideal but not existing yet. Although the technology is there already for years you just need to come up with the idea!

OH8STN setup with headless Raspberry Pi already works well

PE4BAS setup which is still a concept
A nice example can be viewed here:
Although this is not really a lightweight setup and DL1GKK even carries a separate box with a 72Ah battery since the amplifier will get 18A+ when using it at 150W.