FT817++

Getting closer to being portable – not that I go anywhere! I now have an LDG Z817 automatic tuner. It seems to be working fine although it arrived with dead batteries, one of which had leaked a bit. That cleaned up ok and it now sports a set of Energizer Max batteries (ok, I had a box…)

Having run up FT8 on the Mac 40m was packed but I did manage a contact with an EA station on 80m with 2.5W via the random bit of wire in the loft.

Note to self: remember there are batteries in it!

Going down…

My vision, if I even have such a thing is constantly going up in frequency. I am (still!) assembling various bits of microwave gear currently aiming at 10GHz. (EME would be nice, but, baby steps…). Lower frequencies are also interesting me and to that aim I now have a VLF converter which takes 50-500kHz and makes 4.0 to 4.5MHz. After throwing a bit of wire out the window I can pick up Radio 4 – which, of course I can do on just about any old thing (!) but it proves it works. Hopefully this will put SAQ on my radar, but more importantly the 136kHz and 472kHz bands – receive only for now.

The bit of random wire was particularly useless of course, but sufficient to pick out speech on 198kHz.

Twice FT8

Having two radios, two SignaLinks and multiple computers I figured why not spread a little… so here’s 4m FT8 from the FT450D and transverter plus 2m FT8 from the FT817. Well, it would be rude not to use both together…

Mind you, the poor old i7 MacBook Pro does seem to have a whinge if I dare do something else at the same time – it seems to temporarily forget the USB and gives a rig control error. On the other hand it is quite convenient to have the Mac set up as now because it is always on and I can very quickly get onto 2m FT8 (or indeed 70cm FT8 but my best QSO so far has been all of 7km!)

70cm FT8

My first FT8 on 70cm. Only 25km, but still a first for me. No reply sadly, so no QSO this time. At the time I sent a few CQs while watching pskreporter and seeing nothing. I checked this morning just out of interest and there was this one reception report.

This was via the FT817 and 2.5W into a 70cm big wheel, which isn’t at all big at that frequency! I had only just installed it which itself was a bit of a comedy of errors. I had some M&P cable ready for it but just never got round to making it up, so soldering iron out, BNC at the shack end, cable pushed through the hole in the ceiling, N male at the antenna end. The centre pin fell out! So, picture me managing to pull the loft end of the cable back down the ladder and across there landing floor to the shack (hard enough feeding the cable through the hole so I really didn’t want to have to pull it put again!), supporting it with my knee, soldering iron at maximum reach and more heat… the NanoVNA showed the SWR to be just right where it needed to be so all was well. And clearly too much cable to be able to do that maneuver! But it reminds me I really do need to sort my coax feeds out, and sort out the ceiling hole by fitting some trunking.

Edit: I did manage one QSO later on, at just 7km. But hey, it’s my first on 70cm FT8.

VARA HF and VarAC and USB fiddling

I had heard of VARA HF but not done anything about it because the Windows machine is not connected to the HF rig. That was cured yesterday by something I should have got ages ago – a USB switch. This switch has two USB connections aimed at connection to two PCs, and then four USB sockets for devices. So the SignalLink and the USB adapter for CAT control are now plugged into this switch which shares these between the Linux and Windows PCs. It all seems to work fine with USB devices connecting and disconnecting and, fortunately for Windows anyway appearing in the same place. It took me a whole to figure out that the CAT control, ends up as COM6 on the Windows box but so far it has not decided to change when reconnected.

Now the Windows box can see the FT450D I tried WSJT-X – no issues there, and it provided a good end to end test. I downloaded VarAC and the VARA HF modem. Installation went fine and almost straight away it decoded a beacon on 14.105. Since then it has been decoding numerous other beacons and a few CQ calls but I have yet to answer one. No time right now and I don’t want to use this for short FT8-like overs. I did send a few beacons and pskreporter showed that I am being received. Nice.

I have yet to get CAT working though. I don’t know what the issue is there as everything is set the way it should be so I am tuning the rig by hand until then. PTT is via the SignaLink which will do vox so tx works anyway. (Update: CAT now works fine – I had not set RTS and DTR to High in the CAT Configuration section despite it being that way in the pics in the documentation…)

And there is an issue I missed at first – VarAC plays sounds on events so the right would occasionally transmit for a bit of a second – Settings -> Appearance and Sounds and unchecking ‘Play application sounds (…)’ sorted that out.

I did notice one thing though. When I turn the Linux machine on it is generating noise on 20m. The Linux and Windows machines are essentially identical so something is causing pickup. I’ll need to unwind all the cables and add ferrites – a useful indication hopefully easily fixed. There are now far too many cables and all in a mess!

Zigbee

I have always dabbled in home automation, pretty much since before it even became a thing. Most of the control was, and mostly still is via X10 devices and controllers which use mains signalling. This is rather old fashioned now and, being mains signalling is susceptible to interference. At one stage the outdoor light, which are controlled via an X10 appliance module in the workshop were very intermittent, until I discovered the wall-wart on one of the internal cameras was injecting awful noise that caused a scanner AM to buzz wildly when held near any mains outlet in the house!

Anyway, that isn’t radio related, but this is… enter Zigbee. I have not read very far into this yet but it uses 2.4GHz among other frequencies for its signalling and there are lots of modules available. I plan to change our two dimmers to Zigbee and it will be pretty much plug and play. Apart from removing the mains signalling path the modules communicate both ways, so the controller can see their status as well as control them. Some of the newer X10 modules do this but very few of them and none of the ones I have.

The current setup here is a Raspberry Pi running Homebridge which appears in the Apple Home app and can respond to commands via Siri. The X10 lighting controllers are handled via shell scripts which are called by a Homebridge plugin. But with no status return, if the lights are switched on by a switch or, in the case of the garden and outdoor lights via a script which calculates dusk and dawn the Home app has no clue as to their state. With Zigbee it will.

There is a little way to go yet but everything appears to work. The Homebridge software has a plugin that communicates with software on the server which in turn works via a Zigbee 2.4GHz USB dongle. Basically, with very little work new devices feed their names all the way back to the Home app. All I need now is some more!

FT8 on the FT817

I did a bit of experimenting today with WSJT-X on the Mac and using the FT817. So far, so good. Ok, no surprises there, lots of people are doing the same thing! This is part of my master plan (I’m up to Plan G so far I think) which involves using the FT817 for VHF / UHF instead of the FT450D and transverters and switches, and being able to take the kit elsewhere, either in the UK or abroad.

The only laptop I have is the rather old now 2013 MacBook Pro. Still my workhorse for just about everything, I tend to run it plugged into power and with an external monitor. But the battery still holds up for a good while. I wanted to get a Mac Mini because I always use the laptop with the screen closed, using a wireless keyboard, trackpad and mouse, and wired Ethernet. Mostly it works fine, just sometimes it manages to jumble the size and position of all the windows when logging into the thing. No biggie. But used 2018 Mac Minis cost a bunch, so I’ll stick with this for now.

WSJT-X went on just fine – again, no surprise there. On 2m FT8 and connected to the big wheel in the loft I could see my CQ on the Linux box but nothing on pskreporter. Ok, it was on the lowest power setting. Turned that up. Nothing… read the manual, turned the power up to 2.5W (which is where I thought I had it!) and pskreporter showed two contacts, the furthest at 177km. Ok, it works, and it appears to be pretty stable, unlike the transverters I have.

So, back to Plan G, I will now have a 2m and a 70cm transverter for sale and I can tidy up a bit of wiring. I’ll keep the 4m transverter as the FT817 doesn’t have that band.

FT817 upgrade

I plan to use the FT817 portable but also for VHF and UHF FT8 and other digimodes, so I wanted to upgrade the standard oscillator to the TCXO version (Yaesu’s TCXO-9). But these are scarce, at least in the UK. I’ve searched for a while and got nowhere so I ended up buying one from Wimo in Germany as they had them in stock.

The original TC1 unit (left) and the TCXO-9 (right) are, of course identical in size and sit on 7 pins. There are at least two variants of the TCXO-9 and I guess this one is the newer of the two.

The unit is easy to install. Obviously – or it should be! – disconnect the battery, wear an anti-static bracelet or take appropriate measures, then the old unit simply pulls off of the 7 pin connections and the new unit presses in to replaced it. With the set back together and given a little time to warm up, and set up for CW it holds steady just 2 hertz high. That should be good enough for data modes!

New toy, lots of buttons…

The latest arrival is a Tektronix 492BP spectrum analyser. This guy runs from 10kHz to 21GHz and has a waveguide mixer (WM490K) which goes up to 26.5GHz. Apparently there are mixers available up to 325GHz.

The upside, well, this covers all the amateur bands. I mean, all of them, if I can get the mixers. But anyway it does everything I am likely to need for a very long time. The downside… space. it’s big. Mind you, so is the 5342A frequency counter. I need a bigger table. And I must say that describing this as portable is like describing a B40 receiver the same way. (well, ok, it’s half the weight of a B40)

I have written myself a mental note. First, do not use it until I get a decent DC block. Second, actually learn how to use it before I need to use it!

QO100 DATV reception finally

Well, that made quite a difference! I removed the POTY from the QO100 dish today and replaced it with a ‘Bullseye 10kHz’ LNB sourced from Amazon and advertised as a ‘QO-100 Bullseye TCXO LNB’. It’s just clamped in place with no attention to position or skew. Winterhill plugged in and instantly I see pictures.

The LNB behind the POTY only managed negative values in the MER and D fields, this one seems too work rather well. No idea what happened to the old LNB but these things happen I guess. It’s dry and had a waterproof housing. I’ve used the existing CT125 cable and connectors. Now to put the Winterhill box in a better location than just sitting on a ladder tied on with a bit of wire!!

The above photo shows the Winterhill viewer and console on the left and the Quick Tune on the right, all working nicely.

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