RTL SDR v3 & Cubic SDR

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The new RTL-SDR.com dongle (v3) came out a few weeks ago, and I finally had a chance to get one and play with it a bit this past weekend.

Figured i’d get out of my comfort zone a bit, and explore CubicSDR. An SDR software developed by Charles Radcliffe. The UI is actually very nice looking, obviously missing some crucial things, but as I understand it, the software is currently under development. It was easy enough to get up and running, just use RTL.SDR.com’s quick start guide.

I can see some definite potential with this software, but I was definitely missing noise reduction, a start/stop button,  and a few other odds and ends that I found useful in other software. I’ll let you develop your own opinion :).

It’s no 12 bit or 16 bit SDR, but for $20, & for casual use, it fits the bill. I have yet to use it on VHF. So far i’ve been able to get it up and running with Cubic & SDR#.

Or I could just shut my trapper & let you see for yourself….. 😛

 

MacLoggerDX – Logging made fun & easy!

Greetings Hams (& green eggs?),

You know how you’re always searching the ham radio forums & you always see folks asking what’s the best logging program?

I think the majority of hams are probably using Windows machines, whether legacy, or not, Windows controls a vast majority of the computing world. Nothing wrong with Windows, but I wasn’t exactly impressed with the logging programs available on that platform. I mean, logging is an extremely important aspect of the hobby, and if your going to invest any number of years in it, then you’d be much better served by using a ‘great’ program, then again, what’s important to me in a logging program, might not necessarily suite your tastes. I just wanted to share my views on MacLoggerDX which I’ve had the chance to use for several weeks now. I’m just blown away at the user interface. It’s just beautiful to look at. Period.

For the last 8 months I’ve been swearing that i’ll never contest. ‘It just isn’t my style.’ I kept saying…

This software changed that. Completely.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, well, then what’s a video worth? Enjoy the video 🙂

73

K5ACL

Operation Mobile Mast

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A good friend of mine, K5URU, developed this mobile mast with his dad recently. I just had to post this here for him because I’ve never seen such a sweet mast!

Check out the following article (.pdf): K5URU Mobile Mast

I have a keen interest in eventually going HF mobile one day, but that project is for another day!

This is a well built mast that may help spark some ideas of your own.

73

K5ACL

 

Mac Ham Radio Convert?

Back in November of 2015, when I finally got off my lazy butt to take my General, I purchased MacLoggerDX because I had heard so many good things about it, yet there aren’t many YouTube videos, or user experiences on this software out there. Yet… I really feel there should be. I made more SSB contacts tonight using this software that was synced up with my radio, than I have in the last several months! It just makes everything flow together!

Last night in the CQ North American contest that was going on (which I had no clue about, I just turned on my radio to tinker!), I decided to give my absolute FIRST real contest a go, using this software, which i’ve only had a couple days to try to figure out how to use. I previously gave up on it because my iMac went kaput, but my wife recently handed over her iMac mini that she was no longer using, so I figured, why not put this $99 software to good use. I was a bit skeptical at first, because this would mean switching platforms completely, that in itself, was enough to keep me from going out & buying a new iMac in the first place. All of these ham radio software packages that exist today, have some degree of a learning curve. When I initially opened up MacLoggerDX, I had been a ham for about a few weeks on the HF bands, a NOOB as some would call it, (or Lid?) lol, so it was definitely overwhelming. Nearly a year later, decided to give it a go, and boy oh boy, am I glad I did. I never thought I would like contesting…. EVER. Never ever ever. Now, i’m hooked. This software allowed me to not only contest, but contest very well. I only imagine with practice, and learning ALL of the features the software has to offer, i’ll be a World Champion DX’er in no time, lol j/k.

I’ve also taken on learning WSJT-X & JT Bridge for the Mac Platform, which is similar to the Windows WSJT-X & JT-Alert (except the mac one works better IMHO). Taking the time to learn all of these applications/software will really help automate things in the future. Which will ultimately help me make more QSOs!

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I will probably still use my Windows machine for SDRuno, HDSDR, SDRConsole, as I haven’t found an equivalent on the iMac yet, although i’m still discovering new software, so hopefully i’ll come across something. I don’t think i’ll be able to have a pan adapter software going while MacLoggerDX is connected though… Need to experiment some more!

Had fun in the contest, even more so because it was unexpected. Generally hasn’t been my style of operating, but I now see where folks get the bug….

73

K5ACL

Kenwood VGS-1/SO-3 Installation

The Kenwood 590SG has been such a great radio to have as my first rig. I decided to get the upgrades for the radio, which include the Kenwood VGS-1 voice guide chip, & the SO-3 TCXO. I tried to take the time today to learn a little bit about crystal oscillators, how they work, the different kinds there are, and their application in ham radio. I can’t say that I’m all that much more of an expert on the topic, but I have a bit better understanding of how they work. It’s all a bit complicated, but from what I understand, the TCXO is an electronic circuit that sends electricity through a quartz crystal which then vibrates at a certain frequency. The TCXO that I just installed in the Kenwood, has a 15.6 MHz crystal. After joining the TS590 yahoo group, I found out about this little guy, which is manufactured in China at a much more affordable price than the Kenwood SO-3:

so3generic

Kenwood wants almost $150 for a TCXO! That’s crazy! The 590SG was already a high priced radio comparatively. I found the Chinese TCXO which was already soldered to a new PCB, for $15.99 on eBay! It arrived at my doorstep in less than 2 weeks well packaged.

I would usually start up my rig and see a slow drift for about 20-30 minutes while the radio warmed up, but now with this TCXO, I have virtually no drift at all when the rig starts up, and no drift after it warms up either! After checking with the WWV in Fldigi, it seemed that this thing was on point! Only a few Hz off which is acceptable. Kept stock, the 590SG has been known to be over 100Hz off on some units! This isn’t acceptable since I dabble in a lot of digital modes & SDR’s! $15.99 was a no brainer. The 590SG goes through temperature cycles too where I would occasionally see a small drift, nothing too noticeable, but with the new TCXO, that is eliminated all together.

Now there are some other discussions regarding this TCXO & phase noise. Which are currently beyond my expertise & measuring capabilities.

Figured while I was in there, I should go ahead and add the VGS-1 unit, which is Kenwood’s voice guide storage unit. It was a bit more expensive @ $69 from DXEngineering, but luckily I had an unused gift card for DXE!

vgs1

While patiently waiting for the items to arrive by mail, I opened up the case to see what I was getting myself into. Surprisingly this install was super easy, simply replacing a jumper cable, and some screws, that’s all there was to it! Here’s a shot of the 590SG guts:

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I’m no serious contester, but my voice can get tired of calling CQ, I’d rather save my breath for the QSO. It will allow up to 4 different 30 second recordings & also continuously records the past 30 seconds of audio for immediate playback convenience. The VGS-1 snapped into its socket perfectly, so after installation, I blasted the inside with some compressed air while I was in there and replaced the bottom cover to the 590SG. Now was the moment of truth, hopefully the radio turned back on! And it did! 6 meters seems to be more on point now too, previously my 6m calibration was way off, not sure if this is typical of 590SG’s, but the next crystal seems to have fixed that issue too! If you don’t want the VGS-1 reading off every single thing to you on the radio screen everytime you make a change, go into the menu and turn the VGS volume down to ‘OFF’ (VGS-1 590SG menu items #8-#11)

73

K5ACL

 

Upgrade Complete. /AE

extra

Well after plenty of procrastination and a few years of operating, I finally buckled down and decided to take the Extra Class exam this weekend. I’ve been a recluse for the last week or so while i’ve been cramming. Trying to explain to your family what kind of test your taking for amateur radio is kind of funny, but they get it after I explain it 🙂 The extra test now has 700 questions in the pool. It’s impossible to memorize the answers, so don’t go that route. I just came up with a method of madness to my studying, and I studied right up until it came time for the test. The cool thing was lots of the questions that were on there I had just reviewed, so the knowledge was still fresh in my mind. I have no clue what my score was, only that I had passed, but i’m pretty sure I missed 6 or 7. Doesn’t matter what your score is though, passing is passing! So now I get to append /AE to my call!

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There was nothing scientific about my studying method really, I just read over the question/answer pool as many times as my brain would allow, lol. I prefer to print the question pool out on paper, highlight the correct answer, call me old fashioned, but constantly scrolling up and down on a computer screen studying can be quite taxing on the brain/eyes. I then proceeded to take several practice tests over on http://www.hamstudy.org, and once my score was up in the high eighties, I was comfortable enough to take it. I felt like the tests on ham study.org were harder than the actual test, but that’s probably a good thing since it prepares you and highlights your areas of weakness. The VE’s asked me to become a VE immediately following the test! Is there a shortage of VE’s or something? Regardless, i’ll sign up to help out!

Spotted some really cool mobile antenna setups in the parking lot while I was walking in. This took place @ Austin’s hamfest this weekend (Summerfest):

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APRS & the right antenna for the job

aprsigate

I’ve been running several variations of an APRS I-Gate for the past 6 months. I’ve focused my efforts on learning two different software platforms available: APRSISCE32 & Direwolf. The latter being suited for a Linux operating system (specifically NOOBS on a Raspberry Pi 3). I’ve used a combination of different radios/scanners/antennas/computers, trying to figure out what worked best. Basically I wanted to “hear” as many packets as I could & upload them to the net. My goal was to reduce APRS network congestion in the area. My experience with these two different software’s is that APRSISCE32 is a much more ‘full featured’ client compared to Direwolf, although you can use Xastir with Direwolf, but I’ve never tried as my experience with Linux is just starting. APRSISCE32 has a great user interface if you are looking for something that is a bit more interactive while your using it. Direwolf is just a small stand alone application you can run on say like a RaspPi & forget about it. I’m not sure what the decoding differences are between the two, I’ve seen statements around the net that certain soundcard TNC programs decode better than others. I do know that with Direwolf, I seem to have a bit more packets uploaded, but then again that could’ve just meant that at the time I was using Direwolf, there was high activity in my area. I’ve only ever tried AGWPE as the soundcard TNC, so I can’t attest to any of the others, if you have experience with other packet engines and they seem to work better, please let me know!

I finally hit 3,000 “positions packets heard directly” at which time, APRS.fi supposedly calculates your ‘receiver range estimate,’ although I’m not too sure how accurate it is. (although I’m not complaining about the 93 mile estimate!). I think APRS has a lot of potential that hasn’t been tapped yet, it allows a real-time user interface with constant updates, messaging to others hams, GPS position reports, it feeds the VHF tropo maps, all sorts of cool stuff!

I started to notice that as I’ve been upgrading to better VHF/UHF antennas, it seems as if my APRS packet reception has gone down. (When I say ‘better’ I basically mean more gain). I’ve been comparing my packet reception to some other hams in the area whom I’m familiar with and their setup, and my station performance was lacking for some reason. Was it a setting in the software? Was my volume set to high? Was I receiving APRS collisions over the air because of my exposure to multiple digipeaters? Or could I be using the wrong kind of antenna for the job? I started to think that maybe having a collinear antenna that has a compressed signal might not be the best antenna for the job. I actually live just about at the apex of an 800ft hill in South Austin, I have a pretty good overview of the city from my roof. Austin is kind of like a bowl, the city is surrounded by hills. The hill country starts due West of me near Dripping Springs, which is probably why I don’t receive APRS packets from out West – check out my packet received map for July 2016:

aprsjuly2016

When I first started out on VHF/UHF, if you’ll remember or look back to my older posts, you’ll note that I started with a J-Pole, then went to an X-30, GP-3, even tried an Arrow 4 element beam (but I really wanted an Omni-antenna for APRS). Now I’m all the way to a Tram 1480 collinear antenna which has 2 5/8 wave 2m elements in phase which in effect ‘flattens’ the signal going out on the horizon. After some extensive googling time on the net, I finally found this little statement that had me concerned about the antenna I was using for APRS:

“One thing to consider, in order to get greater gain in an omni-directional vertical antenna, the pattern is compressed in elevation……If the antenna will be on the top of a hill overlooking a valley a high gain omni-directional antenna *may* have less gain down into a valley than say a lower gain omni, due to the elevation pattern, depending on the height of the hill.”

Now granted I’m definitely not on the biggest hill in Central Texas by any means, but the majority of my APRS reception should be from about 0 miles – to about 50 miles I would say. Sometimes further when ducting occurs (as seen on http://aprs.mountainlake.k12.mn.us/). So who is to say that if I switched to a less gain antenna that I’d actually pickup more packets? Maybe I should make a ground plane antenna devoted to 144.390 rather than using a dual band antenna….. Some options to consider. Other hams have even suggested attempting to move my antenna to a different location, or even mounting it on the ground, but I also use this antenna for FM communication, so up on the roof is the best compromise.

I’m going to try a few different things, a few different antennas, to see if I can improve my packet reception any. Not that I’m dissatisfied with my current setup, but I’m starting to understand the physics of antennas a bit more 🙂 There’s a bit more to it than simply just picking the biggest antenna you can afford/install, although generally that rule probably works for most people, lol! Really the question when thinking about what antenna to install should be “What do I want to do with this?” I mean I could build a 30 element 2m beam if I wanted to pickup APRS packets from Africa, but that’s not exactly my goal 🙂 . I’ll post an update after I’ve had plenty of time to evaluate a ‘lower’ gain antenna. Yet another burning experiment in the back of my mind!

73

K5ACL

 

K5ACL Intro Video

Hello world.

My first YouTube video. YouTube has helped me so much in my first year of operating, I thought it would only be fair, if I were to contribute to the vast wealth of knowledge available out there in YouTube land to ham radio operators! Well, as much as I can anyways…

We all have our areas of expertise 🙂 I think i’ll enjoy making videos. I’ll get better with time with editing and what not. But my primary mission will be to educate on various ham radio related stuff, and occasionally a fun video here and there 🙂

73

K5ACL