What I took away from the 2016 W9DXCC on the Flex-6000/SmartSDR future

First a quick insight into the gap in posts – since my last post a lot has gone on in my world.  Seven countries visited, eleven states, some life issues, some awards and a lot more.   Highs were unexpectedly being made a Fellow of a business education group I’ve been volunteering at and being recognized as one of FlexRadio Systems “Elmer of the Year.”  Downs include losses of a niece to depression and a work colleague to cancer, and taking unwell while at sea.

So the blog was given a short shrift and let lay fallow.

Forward plans will leave space in my schedule for more regular posts.


The 2016 W9DXCC was in Schaumburg Illinois September 16th and 17th. Included was an excellent presentation by Steve N5AC on FlexRadio Systems products and prospects.

For readers not familiar with the Flex-6000 radio series, it’s SmartSDR software (version 1.9.7 as I type), accessories like the Maestro and 4o3a products, and partner software like SmartSDR for iOS and DogparkSDR for the Mac, you will want to do some catch up reading.

I’m going to presume you have a working knowledge of the present product offering and state of affairs.

Here is what I took away from the W9DXCC:

“We’ve only just begun…” – FRS has some awesome plans for SmartSDR and shared that in the 6-month sort of horizon we will see one radio supporting more than one client, integrated VPN type WAN networking, and much more….

“I’d like to teach the world to sing…” – with with an increasing percentage of ham dollars spent on SDR radio designs of various types.  FRS will continue to lead as an SDR with a full ecosystem.

“Come Together…” – with tighter integration of hardware like the 4o3a Antenna, Station, Rotor and Power Genius products being able to work seamlessly with SmartSDR, very tight integration of some third-party software packages like digital programs and loggers.  N1MM+ was mentioned several times.

“Different Strokes for Different Folks…” – that interfacing to a Flex-6000 by SmartSDR for Windows, SmartSDR for iOS, SmartSDR for Maestro and DogparkSDR for OSX is the groundwork for even more offerings of different ways to run your Flex-6000.

“Picture yourself on a boat on a river…,” “I’m leaving on a jet plane…,” “Somewhere, Across the Sea….” – remoting to  Flex-6000 unit will become a norm. Whether from your office desk to your radio shack downstairs or from an airplane in flight over another continent to your home station, it will be easy.

Steve N5AC did shated some awesome clips demonstrating the effectiveness of the Filters and algorithms behind the WNB filter and the CESSB TX audio.   I hadn’t understood why my 6700 barefoot got out better than non-flex radios with a small amp until the benefits of the algorithms putting nearly 3dB effectivity in the Flex-6700’s output was graphically shown.

The cost effectiveness of using a Flex-6000 was shown, and will greatly outdistance the competition when the Flex SOnR box launches with the Flex-6500 w/SOnR box and Flex-6300 w/SOnR box really being cost effective setups.

There was more shared and hinted, but I’ll leave it to FRS to put legs to   future plans when it is right for their purposes.

73

Steve K9ZW

 

 

 

When is it too much Monitor for a Shack?

Okay I’m going to admit I may have hit “More is Less” in monitor size.

Swapped the AMD Raedon video card my machine came with, and which was a DOG with all sorts of driver errors, for a NVidia card Winston KC9FVR helped me pick out.  Okay it is a “EVGA GeForce GTX 970 4GB SC GAMING ACX 2.0 Graphics Card 04G-P4-2974-KR” for those of you into that sort of detail.

Pulling the two 22 in monitors and putting in a “Seiki SE42UM 4K Ultra HD LED TV/Monitor” took hardly anytime at all.

Now why Windows 10 would default to a 300% item size, making the screen act like a Jumbotron with 5/8inch high text, well who knows?

Taming the hummingbird sized mouse pointer and other quirks took a couple minutes.

The result:

Flex SmartSDR - Hig Screen Version.

Flex SmartSDR – Big Screen Version

Not so smart…yes there is four times as much screen space, but a lot of the additional is so high above the desk that I’ll end up with a creak in my neck!

I think there might even be different weather up there at the top of the screen!

The screen definitely needs to come down lower.

The amount of real estate showing is impressive.

I’m glad I kept the two other monitors incase I decide to revert back and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I actually bought two of these monster monitors to run side-by-side!!   Guess one can go to the Island QTH.

73

Steve
K9ZW

K9ZW Washington Island Operating Gear

The Island setup is evolving and when not in the radio room will be based on a Maestro with a Touch Screen ToughBook.

Here is a quick shot of what I am working on for the Washington Island – Wisconsin QTH’s portable operating position.

This is what I will be able to operate from (adding a headset & PTT in many cases) from anywhere I connect with my wireless system there.

Paired with the Maestro is a Touchscreen Toughbook laptop to do logging and other site-mobility chores. They will be wireless to the new Flex-6700.

Maestro and ToughBook laptop

Maestro and ToughBook laptop

ToughBooks are available refurbished under $300 with licensed operating system from Toughbook Tech.

Built strong enough to be a aircraft wheel-chock!

Ruggedized touchscreen does better with the stylus than finger jabs, which is a contrast to the Maestro touch screen sensitivity.

For activation of smaller islands the Maestro & Flex-6700 will stay behind, with the Flex-6300 then being paired with the Toughbook via SmartSDR for Windows.

For antennas I have several choices there. Typically I have been using a SteppIR CrankIR with the Flex-6300 for island activations other than the main island. I have several other portable antenna options.

Depends on what Island access I’m allowed (full setup on the activated Island or using one of the US Island Programs alternative rules when not allowed to completely disembark. http://www.usislands.org I think is the URL.)

On Washington Island itself I have a proper antenna farm in the works. As I am rethinking this whole setup you’re invited to follow along as I rework plans.

Still to come is a mobilization preparation of the Flex-6300 to keep everything needed together and protect it from some level of adverse weather while out on the smaller islands.

73

Steve K9ZW

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Tunneling a VPN for Maestro

The present release series of SmartSDR in all favors (for Windows, for Meastro, for Server) have local area network connections implemented, but that everything on the same LAN is limiting.

I’ve long wanted to be able to run my home station from my office as often DX opportunities happen only when I need to be on site working.

FlexRadio System has announced that the LAN barrier will be broken with version 2.0, and that is a ways out.

Chris K6OZY has kindly prepared a couple YouTube Videos and notes on how to use SoftEther VPN with two Raspberry Pi units to create a VPN server and a VPN bridge unit.

There are other ways to do a suitable VPN but this has advantages worth considering.  Read the FlexRadio Systems Threads on the topic to look through those.

Amazon sourcing for the hardware:

Pair of Raspberry Pi Kits

Pair of Raspberry Pi Kits

 

Kits Guts

Kits Guts

With help from son Winston KC9FVR to fit the error I made, the server and the bridge were set up.  Took us two evenings mainly because I wanted to do a fair bit myself rather than letting “Mr Geek” KC9FVR do everything.

Results are fabulously fun!!

Home Radio shows in Remote Finder

Home Radio shows in Remote Finder

 

Connected Remote Maestro running QSOs

Connected Remote Maestro running QSOs

 

Maestro Remote with VPN Bridge

Maestro Remote with VPN Bridge

What more is there to say?  Ran QSOs until KC9FVR reminded me he wanted to head off to sign up for his next classes on some on-line University system,

Downing everything has not been a problem, but we will clone the SD Cards for both the Server and the Bridge next.

Catch you on the air!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Maestro Road/Boat Trip to Washington Island

Pictures and much of text was originally posted at the FlexRadio Systems Community forum as I described my first weekend Maestro excursion.


 

Winds made the ride almost an hour

Winds made the ride almost an hour

 

Okay, just like a Flat Stanley, where have you taken your Maestro to go do radios?

Snapshot is quick shot off the ferry boat to Washington Island, Wisconsin (US Island WI-001L) where this weekend it will be a quick overnight running a Flex-6300 with a SteppIR CrankIR antenna.

Weather is a bit edgy though I hope the wind drops and drizzle stops long enough to get the antenna setup yet today.

With it sleeting out who knows?

So where has your Maestro gone?

A quick set of photos. (The small boar is one my youngest Vic KC9NWB shot.)

Wild Board standing guard over a Maestro near the table edge

Wild Board standing guard over a Maestro near the table edge.

The Flex-6300 needed a software upgrade to run with the Maestro.

Maestro conducting another Software Update

Maestro conducting another Software Update

The strong signal is George W9EVT who live about 3/4 a mile away.

George W9EVT is about 5000 feet away and his signal shows it!

George W9EVT is about 5000 feet away and his signal shows it!

Bands have not been good and highly variable. Definitely seeing my antenna limitations holding QSO count way down.

Have been playing with also running K6TU iPad control and on the Win10 box other programs like DDUTIL alongside the Maestro.

Maestro with K6TU Control Software on iPad

Maestro with K6TU Control Software on iPad

Off for coffee and church, hopefully my rate will improve afterwards.

One of the observant forum members comment on how my Maestro edged close to the table’s edge:

Steve, your making me nervous. The Maestro is too close to the edge of your table. Nice pics.
73 de Rob K1SR

And I replied:  Thank you. The Maestro with tilt feet gives such a solid feel that you spotted how I crept it up near the table edge.

Didn’t seem as worrying in the flesh as in photos, and certainly is an interesting phenomena as I try to be careful.

Running a vertical wire antenna in this weekend’s bands wasn’t a highly productive exercise. Would have twenty-thirty signals on a band, then only a few weak traces and all over between extremes.

Snowed and deleted, so never got the Maestro outside either.

Until next trip.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Maestro Initial Impression – FlexRadio Systems knocks out a Grand Slam with this accessory!

FlexRadio Systems Maestro

FlexRadio Systems Maestro

Earlier this week I became a Maestro owner, and have now had a chance to make a number of QSOs.  Really wish I could have taken some time off work to pound out a couple hundred QSOs but wasn’t going to happen.

Initial impressions are really positive here!  Set up was slick and easy.  I was running QSOs within minutes of unboxing, which makes sense as this accessory if really just a different HMI (Human-Machine Interface) running now familiar SmartSDR in a LAN-remote fashion.

I’ve really enjoyed sitting in our dining room and on the deck doing radio, rather than limited to the shack down in the house’s original wine cellar.

A really cool and unexpected bonus is that the Maestro has intrigued the family.  Better Half is impressed (always a good thing for deistic tranquility) and middle son is helping me do a Raspberry Pi 3 based dedicated VPN remote project based on work presented by Chris K6OZY.  The project is neat, as I should be able to remote a Maestro from my office desk back to my home shack’s Flex-6700, but more importantly I have the attention and engagement of an otherwise very inactive youth ham (this son has his General Class, but is more interested in technology than QSOs).  That I might be able to pick up some of the uncommon DX that ends up being a no-QSO due to my extended work hours is not a bad thing either!

I’ll be pairing a Maestro with a Panasonic ToughBook at the Island QTH.  The laptop is about logging and doing the station control.

Really looking forward to working with a Maestro and this small laptop for logging, and I mentioned a few weeks ago a where I am very excited it is there is now going to be a lot more operating time going to opening up for me by using a Maestro.

FRS hasn’t said how many Maestros were built in the initial production run, but they did say there was a 100 unit pre-general release run made.  From the photos FRS released they would appear to be more than 800 units in the initial run, maybe much more if they only showed part.  With accessories it looks like the Maestro is a million dollar product right from first general release.

When you consider how polished the initial release is and then reflect on where the Maestro is going wit the pre-announced version 1.8 and 2.0 upgrades, I think FRS has knocked another one out of the park!  Congratulations and well done!

73

Steve
K9ZW