FT817 first fiddle…

I now have a second Signalink USB complete with the Yaesu cable to go with the FT817. This is actually the third one to arrive here, the second was mis-advertised as having the radio cable – it didn’t so it is going back because the price is £20 more than a competitor, a little less than the cost of the radio cable. Serves me right for trying to save a couple of quid!

Anyway, FT817 and Signalink all cabled together and no antenna. Hmmm. Ok let’s try into a dummy load, should be good enough for across the shack with FT8 running on the Linux box. Nothing received.

Ah, it’s a Windows box and 1.5 seconds adrift. Sync the time. No change.

Ok. Set WSJT-X to 2m and use the front antenna which I have. Nope, nothing sent.

It is always a good idea to read the manual before fiddling! Let’s change the display to power. Ah. No power… Hmmm.

Ok, transmit from the Linux box and I can see that on WSJT-X via the FT817. So it receives fine.

Did I mention the manual?

Set radio to DIG. Works fine now! Funny, that.

Microsoft time

You know the thing… installing stuff on Windows where it counts down, and sometimes up again, then gets to 100% and seems to wait for ages. Our washing machine seems to run on Microsoft time too.

Well, so too it seems does our old MacBook. This is a 2015 or so 13″ MacBook Pro and is no longer used so sits on a shelf. I had it set up as me for testing but wanted to clean it all out so it can be sold. That’s where things went a tad wrong.

For some reason it took ages to even log in – very unusual as these generally boot in seconds. Then, after the reset it would not boot at all. Long story cut…

I set it going doing a restore over the Internet. It began saying it would take 2 hours. Ok. This changed to 12 hours and seemed to come down ok, 11, then 10 each taking about an hour. Then it got down to 9 hours and dropped to 12 minutes! After an hour at 12 minutes left it went to 21 minutes and showed the Apple logo. After another hour it apparently had less than a minute to go. After 2 hours of that I gave up and rebooted it. It went straight back to 29 minutes, then 1 and sat there again. Hmmm.

So I downloaded MacOS onto a USB stick and booted the Mac that way. This fired up and said 4 hours (from an attached USB??) but dropped to a few minutes. I left it running but those few minutes became an hour before it finally finished.

It is not a happy Mac…

IT(s) all going against me…

What fun. I had a diminutive Lenovo PC running Lubuntu as a server here that did all sorts of things. It ran a web server that hosts my personal home page and gathered various data about central heating temperatures, the weather station, and the temperatures of the various Raspberry Pi systems. It also presented pics from our security cameras and some other stuff. It was tucked away with the network switches, the NVR and the NAS and sat happily doing its thing.

A while ago it had a disk error. The disk is a 2.5″ one, 1TB, and after a decent go at fsck there were no further problems. So I thought no more about it until a reboot after a software update gave it a far greater headache. This time fsck had to repair dozens of things and the server ended up missing the ssh server and numerous other packages. Huh.

So… out with the old Stone i7 PC, on with a fresh Lubuntu and a bit of fiddling loading packages. I’ve always kept a record of everything that gets installed along with any configuration data, copies of crontabs etc. and all user files are backed up to a NAS nightly. So no huge worries and it gave me a chance to rationalise things. But this PC is a whole lot bigger. Fortunately it just fits on the shelf where the Lenovo was. Just. Ok, it hangs 2 inches over the edge, but whose counting.

I suppose I was asking a lot of the Lenovo box and the tiny hard disk which would have been active all the time with everything going on. It had all become overcomplicated with the various Pi systems saving temperature data etc. via NFS and one of the cameras downloading data every second. I’ve ditched NFS this time and simply use ssh to gather temperature data every minute having set up ssh keys.

Here is the poor old beastie having been dragged out of the cupboard into the light… nice little system. I now have two for sale!

Printing blues

Recently our ageing HP 1022 printer has been misleading paper. There is a solenoid on the righthand side which controls the feed and the associated spring gets weak. I have stretched it three times so far, each time curing the issue for a while. A new spring is needed and, of course although I have a number of these they are all safely stored in the workshop never to be found!

Coupled to the desire to print in colour and on reasonably thick paper – I’m thinking short ranges of ‘special’ QSL cards here – after a bit of research I chose a Xerox printer. Reasonable cost and – although as is typical with these things new toner costs more than the printer – aftermarket toner is affordable.

The printer duly arrived and I set up the networking and it tried a test print. This failed to eject all the way and the printer announced it had a paper jam. Ok… try again. Nope. If I eased the sheet out as it was printing all was fine, but it never managed by itself.

I did the usual things. Swearing at the printer failed to cure the issue as I had hoped. DuckDuckGo’ing for answers threw up other people with the same issue but none of their cures worked for me. But it’s now, so off to the supplier who helpfully told me the contact number for Xerox. I had already registered the printer via Xerox’s own mechanism so all would be fine.

Nope.

After being cut off the first time I spoke to someone who said that although they could see that I had registered the printer their internal systems did not realise and I could not be connected to technical support. I needed to send a proof of purchase, which I did. Some hours later I had a reply that they cannot work with said proof and needed a sales invoice. But it’s a private sale – I mean, who these days buys something via the web using PayPal and expects a sales invoice? You get a receipt for payment, then a message about what you are buying, a despatch note etc. I’ve not seen a sales invoice since I retired.

Anyway, I sent everything I had and have yet to receive a reply that I am allowed to contact their technical people about their printer which arrived faulty. Meanwhile I found the fix on the web using more flowery search terms and the printer now works fine.

Good grief.

A sea of screens

I’ve increased my screens to 4, all 24″ full HD things. I had 4 when I was at work, but not as large. This all came about because my main system, a 15″ MacBook was always at a poor angle. Laptops, after all are not intended to be day to day workstations.

A screen for the Mac was followed by an Apple keyboard – Apple old stock (but new) so it has all the relevant keys.

Having two screens on the Linux box already and those on a rather useful dual monitor stand it made sense to have a similar monitor stand for the new Mac screen (I say Mac screen, it’s LG not Apple. I’m not so daft as to spend a fortune on a screen!) but the screen on my Windows PC did not have a VESA mount. So, another LG screen followed…

I ended up then with a Windows PC, the MacBook (now with its screen closed and pushed out of the way), and the Linux PC spread across the desk. Three keyboards. Three mice.

Enter a program called Barrier… easy to set up, the Mac is now the master and the Mac keyboard and mouse can control all three systems by moving the mouse to the relevant screen.

No pics – the place is a tip. The next step is to make a platform for the monitor stands, move the PCs to under the desk, and set up the radios and stuff under that platform. Then everything is finally in front of me. Then I will post a pic…

There are a few issues to sort. First, the Linux key mappings do not fully like the Mac keyboard, so I have yet to enable characters like ‘|’, ‘`’, ‘\’ and some others – sadly some of the most used characters in Linux! For Windows, there’s no Windows key but that is no great loss. And anyway the keyboards and mice attached to the PCs still function. The other issue is for Linux Barrier cannot control the PC until the window manager is loaded, meaning I need to log in first. I can set it up so it does not require a login but that’s not really me with my background… Windows, being all window GUI works just fine on startup.

It probably goes without saying that you cannot drag windows between the systems (I can see Windows having a fit!) but the copypaste buffer works which is nice.

There are a few minor niggles, such as on some websites on the Mac the highlighting ‘trembles’ when moving the mouse up and down on one of the other systems. It happens rarely and isn’t an issue for me. The other thing is it is easy to completely loose the mouse! I have not yet investigated the hotkeys one can set up so there may be some help there…

Echolink

So… having an Allstar node I wanted to configure it for Echolink. It seemed this was just a matter of editing the pre-prepared configuration file echolink.xxx and renaming it to echolink.conf. Edits in place, this I did. Oh yes, and I set our broadband router up to forward the relevant ports to the hub. On restarting asterisk it gave numerous errors of the form ‘Error in parsing header on servers.echolink.org’. Hmmm.

Ok, scratching around the web I found that Echolink has a firewall test service at https://secure.echolink.org/pingTest.jsp. It failed. Ugh.

Then it dawned on me (meaning I read the documentation a little better!). I had set a callsign with ‘-L’ at the end which appeared to be the way to go. But this needed separate validation! Once that was done it all sprang into life.

Simple, and also obvious when I realised. Old age?

http://km6uso.net/index.php/2021/02/27/adding-echolink-to-your-allstar-hub/ is an excellent guide – there are others of course but this one pointed out clearly the need to register the -L or -R callsign.

Portsdown / Langstone progress

Slowly coming together. Yesterday I decided to attack the front panel with a drill and mount the rotary encoder, switches and the little Arduino board which I programmed earlier. This is for tuning the Langstone. For some reason my drill press insists on making triangular holes – if I wanted a triangular hole I’d never manage of course. So I’ve resorted to making a smaller hole and using a round file. Anyway, everything went into place, although the Arduino board has no mounting holes so I’ve tie-wrapped a piece of plastic under it as an insulator and used a decent (hopefully!) sticky pad to secure the board inside the front panel.

So far, so good. Here it is receiving the Allstar microHub…

I need to sort the microphone out. The USB audio dongles seem to be constructed for stereo input so I wired the same to the front panel. Plugging the headset in gives no audio, presumably its all shorting out. I can make it work by ‘adjusting’ the plug (pulling it out until it works!) so I need to re-wire or make a little adapter.

There are a couple of fans in the case and so far it seems to be keeping nice and cool. Next steps include making the GPIO breakout board and possibly the band switching stuff.

Edit: of course I have a mono to stereo adapter plug, I just never looked in the junk box! Mic input now working fine…

Allstar micro-node

I finally got round to putting my Allstarlink node together after looking at it sitting almost completed for a week. Poor thing. Anyway, it’s now functioning but I want to add the LEDs.

Software-wise it turned out a bit of a faff. I had already signed up and got a node number and set a password etc. My first attempt was via the Raspberry Pi image downloaded from the Allstar wiki. That seemed to go in just fine with a fairly easy setup and well scripted information on the wiki. All seemed ok except for when I wanted to install Allmon… the instructions for which began with the need to install git. That failed and so I did the usual update / upgrade cycle – which I really ought to have done right away as the image is quite old. After that, nothing worked. The USB interface was not working and so there was no radio functions. Power cycling did nothing.

So I installed the hamvoip image. One nice thing about the Pi and similar thing is you change SD cards and this changes the o/s and everything. Hamvoip went in fine with a fairly automatic installation and after a couple of loops where I’d missed something it now works fine. It comes with Allmon and Supermon installed. (the Allstar image does not have a web server and so the Allmon installation would have failed anyway even if I had not already given up).

Not picking on the Allstar image – had I taken more time I would have set up a Raspbian system and manually installed the Allmon software onto this, as detailed in their wiki. But, having got hamvoip working I will stick with that for now.

So… now to go off and figure out exactly why I built this thing anyway!!

Edit: Ok, I spoke too soon. Having connected to a test server the audio that comes back, allegedly the same as what I sent, is awful with a tone and buzzing in the background which the audio only just makes it over. Something is wrong… audio from the box is fine with the generated voice announcements perfectly clear, as well as a few calls heard when connected to hubnet receive-only. The HT is fine as I can hear good quality audio via a scanner. Hmmm…

Edit 2: I’ve experimented with every parameter and made no difference. I have increased the mic gain on the HT as it seemed low even with a high setting in the simpleusb setup. But the noise remains. It seems that whenever I transmit anywhere near the node it happens, and simply moving to the other side of the shack cures it to a great extent. Currently the radio is connected to a dummy load but swapping for a small antenna makes no difference. Moving the dummy load well away from the node with an extension coax makes no difference to the noise if transmitting near the node. So the transmission is clearly getting in somewhere that it should not. I have verified the HT is ok by monitoring on a scanner, so no issue there.

Edit 3: Adding a ferrite around the cables between the radio and the CM108 has helped a little in that I can get closer to the node and not get this noise played back in parrot mode. Unfortunately I have put all my small clip-on ferrites in A Safe Place, ever to be seen again, so I can’t add more right now.

I have carried out a tactical withdrawal i.e. the node is sitting under the desk in disgrace. No amount of ferrite’ing, re-routing wires or even running the node from a lab supply makes any difference to this noise. The only thing I can be reasonably sure of is it is some interaction between RF from the HT and the audio chain, so the CM108 I guess. Holding the HT next to the node while monitoring it on a scanner shows no audio issues but playback in parrot mode and it is there every time. Moving away from the node cures it to a great extent but no amount of shielding works. I could (should!) investigate further but I have other projects to take care of plus a bunch of DIY stuff.

PC progress

For a while now I’ve been pondering whether to get a Windows PC. For starters, SDR Console needs it as do other SDR packages. But other than watching them come and go on eBay I never took the plunge. However, as I’ve taken all the electronics out of the workshop due to it always being damp I had a spare Lenovo ThinkCentre PC, one of the very small things. I already use one as the home server but this other one was destined to run a DCC setup for a model railway that is still just a pile of bits.

It ran Ubuntu but when I got it it came with Windows 10. All I had done was swap hard disks, keeping the Windows one just in case I ever needed it. Well…

…it is now in the shack and SDR Console has been installed and all is well. We had a screen lying around which is full HD, a much better display option than the old laptop I had been using. And with it being a fresh Windows 10 it’s not (yet!) cluttered up.

One strange thing though. I set up SDR Console just as I had on the laptop along with the recommended offsets etc. But on the laptop I had to adjust the offsets to set it correct, e.g. for the lower beacon to actually appear where it should. But now, with the published offsets it is in the right place with no further adjustment. Another oddity is that when I boot this PC and run SDR Console up having shut it down with the SDR receiving the lower beacon, it comes right back. On the laptop it was always somewhat off and would drift. Not sure how that happens given it’s all in the digital domain. I must have set something up odd on the laptop, but no idea what. Anyway, it works.

The Lenovo only has the one set of audio jacks, those on the front. And only 4 USBs, two at the back in use for the mouse and keyboard. In order to get audio into the mixer I will need to use a USB sound card, not an issue except that will need to plug in the front and I like to keep cables out of the way. Maybe it’s time for another wireless keyboard and mouse, after all the current keyboard does rather dwarf the tiny PC!

Pibox progress

After a long delay (other work, life getting in the way, general laziness etc) I ran some more tests on the Pibox. With the fans disconnected (actually, one disconnected itself!) and the case assembled I’ve been running the box to see how bad the temperatures get. With two of the three Pi cards operating, and all 3 powered up, pi-star, which is on top due to the DVMEGA hat settles at 60 degrees C, and the utility Pi which has a Discone attached settles at 50. So not actually bad. I think what I will do is go back to Plan C or whatever it was and run the fans via a transistor hanging off the GPIO port of one of the cards so the fan comes on if it is getting a bit steamy. For now, at least it means I can run pi-star 24/7 again, especially as I had to upgrade it by hand as it has missed a lot of the overnight updates.

And it saves me having to run mains power into the loft.

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