Monthly Archives: May 2012

Programing the NUE-PSK Digital Modem

Just wanted to jot a quick note about how easy the NUE-PSK Digital Modem is to program – once I read the directions!

Mine has been back for each update and has the USB add-on with the RTCC (Real Time Clock Chip) feature.

It has been upgraded to Version 5, which added a morse key jack and full CW features.

Experimenting with Winston K9CFVR (we can drop the /AG as he is now listed in the FCC database) we hand typed everything. Did it the hard way and really didn’t get around to consulting the manual until after we were done.

It is a tribute to the ease of the NUE-PSK Modem that we were able to run PSK-31 at all given our caviler attitude to reading the directions.

I now have the NUE-PSK loaded up with a Config.txt file that has all my macros in it – paralleling what I usually program into MixW or fldigi when operating.

Technique was a quick couple steps:

  1. Download the Default Config.txt file from either the NUE-PSK itself, or from the website.
  2. Edit the file with a plain text editor.
  3. Put it back on the USB Thumb Drive.
  4. Use the NUE-PSK’s Load Config feature to Upload the edited Config.txt file into the Modem.
  5. Let the Modem reboot & test.

Took all of a few moments to do and the machine is ready to go.

Here are my macros as currently implemented:


Macro F1:  CALL CQ : CQ CQ CQ de <MYCALL> <MYCALL> <MYCALL> pse k


Macro F3: ANSWER WITH REPORT: <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> UR 599 599 into EN64dc EN64dc Manitowoc, Wisconsin – Name is Steve Steve HOW COPY? <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> kn

Macro F4: ANSWER WITH OPERATING CONDITIONS: <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> Full Print – I am operating a NUE-PSK Digital Modem (no computer) with a SGC-2020 Transceiver at 8 watts with a portable antenna. A very small portable setup from my “Go-Kit” that I am testing today.  BTU <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> kn

Macro F5: ANSWER WITH A BIT ABOUT ME: <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> Thank you for the information.  All copied.   I am good at and you can find more about me at BTU <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> kn

Macro F6: REQUEST AN EMAIL CONFIRMATION: <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> Would you please email me a confirmation of our QSO.  I do eQSL and direct QSLs.  Sometimes LoTW when I feel brave!  My email is  BTU <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> kn

Macro F7: SAY 73 AND SK: <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL> Thank you for the QSO – Godspeed and 73 – Hope we do meet again!  <THEIRCALL> de <MYCALL>









I’ve left out the transmit on/off and control characters on my cheat-sheet notes, but they are there in the Uploaded Config.txt file.

A little manual reading a pre-use programing sure makes the NUE-PSK Digital Modem one slick little device and a perfect companion to the SGC-2020 Transceiver!



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Amateur Radio, even with $5-10K Transceivers, is Still a Cheap Hobby!

The rash of new models of transceivers shown at Dayton have caused some price complaints in the ham community, including statements that just don’t pass the smell test.

Prices tend upwards on several factors:

  • Demand
  • Features
  • Perceived Value
  • New Product Class
  • Status
  • Exchange Rates

Uniquely all of these factors seem to be in play in the current new offerings. Several are “Trophy Radios” offering an exclusiveness and prestige that an ordinary radio cannot match. Some have exchange rate problems, especially if they are built in the Euro Block. At least one was purely a new product class, bringing to consumer levels technology otherwise limited to much higher priced government/commercial products.

It isn’t just amateur radio gear that costs a few bucks. I took a quick look at what some popular hobbies have for costs.

$10K and Up to Shoot Full Automatic

In shooting the deluxe prestige end includes owning & firing legal full automatic firearms – street names “Class-3” – and holding them as usable investments. The days of getting into this part of the shooting hobby for under $1000 ($1K) are long gone and here are a couple quick prices from the net.

Anything Title-II (Class-3) Legal Full Auto runs $5K to sky’s the limit:

$5-$10K to Play at the Low End of a Big Band Saxophone Section

I happen to play saxophone with several local groups. Very kindly the local university lends me a decent performance bari to use. I do have my own saxophones, but using theirs free me from worries about insuring my horn for performances. I hold down the baritone sax chair (the lowest usual part of the section) and happen to also own my own “bass sax” which is of course more expensive to acquire. To these prices a play would need to add the cost of a decent mouthpiece ($200-$500), reeds and accessories – going low doesn’t come cheap.

Baritone Saxophone Street Prices:

You can Figure on $15K and Up for Good Grade Touring Motorcycle:

If you want to pursue the the path rode in Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a used BMW Touring Bikes seem to run $15K upwards:

You’re well north of $20K if you want a new one.

What about doing that bit of Winter Snowmobiling? Figure $10K:

Snowmobiles are similarly priced, with a decent machine running more than $7K anywhere up to $15K:

Ok, What about less costly Hobbies?

Well, t he XYL likes to sew, and shockingly they aren’t cheap with street prices of $3K to $5K for a decent machine:

Though I’m not current, flying has always been an interest. Currently a basic license training budget is $5-10K:

How about a basic trip to Dayton? Let’s run down the typical budget:

  • 60 gallons of gas – $240
  • Tolls – $30
  • six meals out (for two) at $25/ea – $150
  • light at the cash bars, but being social – $80
  • two evening banquets (for two) – $160
  • two Hamvention passes and bus passes -$58
  • three nights hotel with all taxes – $450

Or roughly $1300 for a father & son to attend BEFORE we bought anything. We’re not admitting to what the cost is afterwards!

The Point is?

Every hobby cost something – many cost way more than you would first think. Amateur Radio is relatively inexpensive once you have the gear, and it is possible to put together a nice station for modest sums of money.

The current worries of $5-$10-$20K transceiver costs recognizes a healthy part of amateur radio. The average joe is still saving up to buy a $1-$3K radio (I put aside money every week and sold my excess gear to fund my Flex-5000A and will be doing the same for a Flex-6X00 series radio). The high price rigs being introduced are not replacing the lower cost products, but a product range extension. The Yaesu FTdx3000 introduction doesn’t mean the FT-897 is being dropped, the Flex-6X00 series is an add-to-range not a replacement product.

If there were no demand, there would be no development and product offerings of the $5-$10-$20K product price range models. While you may wince at dropping $7K for new Flex-6700 (I am too) a lot of our fellow hams have the readies and inclination to plonk $2K each down in deposit for the right to ante up another $5K in a few months for a radio that is only a prototype. Hundreds of our fellow hams feel this is a great opportunity, and a few hundred more have pitched in for the $1K deposit with $3K future payment on the Flex-6500.

The demand is also being fueled by new (and newly upgraded) hams who are not dreaming about radios built before they were born. Sorry fellow hams, but those boat anchors are not the apple of the young ham’s eye. Stylish donors for Steampunked transplants maybe, but few are standing in line to lay in a FT-101 or even less for an expensive Collins setup. The decline in boat anchor prices is the tip of the iceberg in the vintage gear price drop that is around the corner as the grim reaper thins the “vintage ham” population, which reduces the vintage gear demand.

These new hams have $3K gaming computers and $5K audiophile setups – or maybe a full blown home theatre setup – as their electronics performance benchmark. They ride $1-3K carbon fibre bikes where I grew up with a $150 Schwinn, hike with $300 camelback things where I had a cool Army surplus belt canteen, have $300 iPods $600 iPads and $400 iPhones where I had the shortware portable my dad got with green stamps, watch TV on 40-50inch 3D TVs where we had a very deluxe for the time 20in Magnavox color set that took 3 minutes to warm up and weighed 200+ pounds in its console.

These hams have $30-80K cars with handsfree, GPSs, and more gizmos than Inspector Gadget. They are less likely to settle on a IC-718 than they are on a IC-7200/7410/7700/7800 despite the price tag.

If ham radio were in the doldrums there would be no market for these price classes.

An unhealthy ham world would have no premium rigs. So we should be very glad to see them.

Now if I can save $30/week how long is it until I can buy one of these new rigs…….???..



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Flex-Radio SmartSDR – Annual Fees and Possibilities

The new SmartSDR format, where the heavy lifting of DSP is done all in the radio and the computer has only “thin client” duties, has captured my imagination.

I’ve also been reading all sorts of (shadenfreunden) speculation about what the annual fees will be about in postings on the net.

The Signature Flex-6000 series radios are a hardware platform that will only slowly evolve as hardware – especially in comparison to the likely rapid and very noticeable SmartSDR software’s updates.

SmartSDR appears to have two main parts – the massive heavy duty part living inside the Flex-6000 and the light GUI & related services portion out on the thin client.

For discussion purposes as I speculate, I’d like to divide these into SmartSDR-6000 Software and SmartSDR-Client Software.

My guesses about the SmartSDR-6000 Software:

As this is the “machine” – the guts – that has evolved from FlexRadio’s experience in high capability radios for special markets, my guess is that this software is fairly well along in a basic form. Obviously the specific FPGA chip tweaks and oddities of amateur radio needs to be handled, but the “in the box software” capability is something FlexRadio has been successful with in these specialty markets.

This software could be expected to have various features “unlocked” from time-to-time as FlexRadio develops the software, gains approvals, and bluntly per a marketing plan.

To my lay person’s eyes the SCU (Spectral Capture Unit) onwards software architecture may be subject to continuous rounds of improvements.

This is the “guts software” that annual update subscription fees will provide an ongoing improvement every year. Basically the radio will keep improving itself over time with SmartSDR-6000 Software Updates.

My guesses about the SmartSDR-Client Software:

This is the frosting on the cake, and the part my impression is still a ways from ready for prime time.

I didn’t learn how this program is being codes, but thinking if I were in Flex-Radio’s shoes I would certainly not miss the opportunity to do multi-platform programing from the start.

Withe the SmartSDR-6000 Software doing all the hard work, and being very “managed by FlexRadio” there could be a chance of the SmartSDR-Client launching on more than Windows right from the start. Eyeing how every FlexRadio staff member appeared to have an Apple iPad an iOS/OSX SmartSDR-Client Software package is only a matter of time.

SmartSDR-Client has a role of acting as “the gatekeeper” for access to SmartSDR-6000 when third party programs would like to access the radio. This would appear to be at a couple of levels.

First would be the usual hooks for Loggers, Digital Mode Programs, and the usual Ham Auxiliary programs. Anticipate these hooks to be emulated close enough to keep legacy software happy. This level of access to classic CAT type hooks and audio streams should be open to anything the user wants to run. This software will include paid-for programs, donation-ware, shareware and freeware programs.

Second would be a new set of hooks for a SmartSDR-Client enhanced set of hooks for this same level of software. The same basics but enhanced and optimized to make the combined software show its best. Access to this level may require the third party software developer to become authorized by FlexRadio in some sort of Quality Control program. These programs most likely will be paid-for or trial-ware programs given the added developer costs.

Third level would be for third party software that deeply accesses SmartSDR-6000 directly. Complete alternate interfaces could happen here. To get this deep into the SmmartSDR-6000 Software expect the third party developer to be in a tightly monitored program, the programs to pass some sort of QC to be acceptable, the third party developer to need some sort of API key (perhaps several levels will be available) and perhaps each instance of the software needing a user level API key as well. Expect this level of third party software to have fees – perhaps large fees if custom work is done. The possibilities of what could be available at this level is profound!

Fouth level in theory could be direct access to the Series-6000 hardware and very deep into the SmartSDR-6000 Software. Think all the restrictions of the Third level with corporate level NDAs if any third party developer would ever be approved as a product partner.

Thoughts on SmartSDR Software Annual Update Fee:

FlexRadio announced that to receive annual updates to SmartSDR there would be a fee – initially set at $199/year.

To clarify they said over and over – there is NO obligation to pay an annual subscription – your radio software never “expires.”

The fee is if you want to receive Updates, period!

I’ve seen postings on various forums and blogs claiming if you don’t pay your annual fee that your new SmartSDR Flex-6000 series radio will stop working. FlexRadio assured everyone at the Dayton FlexRadio Dinner that the fee buys Upgrades and is NOT necessary to keep a radio running.

FlexRadio’s PowerSDR update process has appeared to be about quarterly, with extra releases when something changes in the bands or there is an important fix to get out.

If the SmartSDR update program is similar I can’t think of anything much more exciting than to have a major upgrade to an stunning new radio a couple times a year! Of course first year updates are included in the purchase cost and for early adopters their “Limited Edition” package includes a second year of update subscription prepaid.

My guesses about possible SmartSDR-6000 Add-In Software:

I am expecting that there could be some neat Add-In packages for the SmartSDR suite.

Some will be external network focused – perhaps private Flex-6000 Diversity-Clusters, private reverse-beacon networks, rent-a-slice-of-a-station software, club multi-user software, remote operator contesting software and advanced remote ability suites.

The internal network shack Add-Ins may include external mode interfaces, unattended operations (RX) software, advance monitoring suites and contesting enhancements.

Remoting enhancements to include your amp, rotor, antenna switches and more should be part of first add-ins.


Imagination becomes the boundary, rather than conventional hardware and the PC, with the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR.

Is making the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR a leap of faith? Perhaps no more than the leap made when tubes gave way to solid state rigs.

“Hello Tomorrow!” could be the tag-line for the Flex-6000/PowerSDR combination!



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For Want of Nail, Nothing Like an Upgrade to Peak Interest, and Playing with Go-Kit Gear

In the run up to Dayton my Shack Computer had been acting up. Latency Spikes and gremlins that were giving PowerSDR no end of grief. Thought a decent dual-core Dell, I was even considering replacing the machine.

Troubleshooting found only erratic symptoms. The underlying cause(s) just weren’t easily found.

On return from Dayton middle son Winston KC9FVR/AG asked if we could run up the station so he could try some PSK31, having been reading the Digital HF book bought at the ARRL booth. We couldn’t get things to run very smoothly and after a very rapid shutdown in response to a sudden lightening storm powerful enough to set fire to buildings only 10 blocks away, the system would no longer recognize the Flex-5000A hardware.

Utilities and Testing showed that the OEM Dell Firewire card gave up the ghost.

Quick research at the Flex-Radio Knowledge Center & Forum Archives identified the best cards for performance and roughly $25 later a card was on its way rushing from Amazon.

Took the downtime to do ALL updates – from BIOS to any driver/software/system update that could be done. Also left the machine running a very in-depth anti-virus scan which ran overnight (all clean enough to pass).

The new card was truly PnP (Plug-n-Play) and despite having a different chipset than advertised (putting it into an OK-class rather than preferred-class for PowerSDR use) the system quickly reinstalled the “Found New Hardware” of the Flex-5000A.

Operator error led me to fight with VAC (Virtual Audio Cables) and settings – trouble I could have avoided by a simple reboot.

Once running it was lickety-split to help Winston KC9FVR/AG put a handful of PSK31 QSOs under his belt.

The drive that comes from a fresh license upgrade and an experimenter’s mindset had Winston KC9FVR/AG quickly asking – can I run fldigi from my Linux Thinkpad using some of your other gear?

So to the garage to raid the go-kit stash.

Up went the 20m Hamstick Dipole on 12 feet of surplus cameo-poles and a trial of a Small Wonder Labs PSK-20 I had ended up with somewhere along the way.

We had little joy with this setup, and it is uncertain if the PSK-20 is needing repairs or if we were struggling with Linux sound issues.

So out came the SGC-2020 Transceiver and the NUE-PSK Modem. This combination hadn’t really been used. The NUE-PSK modem had come back a few weeks ago from a full update at Midnight Solutions bringing it up to Version 5 with all the add-on features, and the transceiver had been run but once.

Plugged in the SGC-2020 and cabled up the NUE-PSK and “PING” we were on the air just that quick.

Winston KC9FVR/AG complete a QSO and then declared the micro-keyboard “worse than texting” and dug out an old full sized IBM clicky-clicky keyboard which worked wonderful.

Of course we weren’t about to read the manuals any further than the absolute basics to get things running, so we were hand-typing everything. Macros are for sissies (or for those who read the manuals).

Winston KC9FVR/AG downloaded a PSK31 app for his Android Phone and it was neat to see it decode from the speaker’s sound output.

I ran a handful of QSOs (it is sure a lot easier to type “K9ZW” than what it took him to type “KC9FVR/AG”) before we put the station away (took ten minutes to pick up everything and store it again.)

My go-kit HF gear did digital just fine! Power needs are such that I think I could get more than 12-18 hours of full duty out of each of the gell-cells I have set aside from their storage charge levels, and days if they were topped off first.

Remember that “spark of interest” that comes with a fresh license upgrade? Well it was back down to the shack to run a couple 20m & 160m JT65 demo contacts before promising each other that we would run some Hellschreiber on the weekend.

A couple things learned – in terms of the station the dead firewire card really put the main station out of commission. “For want of a Nail” they say the battle was lost, and for want of a working firewire port the station was off the air. Critical Key Component Dependency is not unique to an SDR setup, as most stations lack backups for mission critical items. Almost nobody has a spare for each item in their station.

Then the joy of seeing an inquisitive mind wanting to explore amateur radio shouldn’t be missing from an operator’s life. It was wonderful to help Winston KC9FVR/AG explore digital-HF and heartwarming that he would only let this father retire for the evening by making a promise for “more radios, more!” on the weekend!

And lastly that it is great fun to pull out the go-kit gear and give it a whirl. Couldn’t think of a finer father-son activity to put one’s work day aside.



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Musing on the new Flex-6000 Series SmartSDR Radios

“Game Changer” may have been the understatement of Dayton 2012. Flex-Radio debut “Signature Series” Flex-6000 radios are a revolutionary product class never before seen in amateur radio.

On the pure technical and capability side, nothing out there comes close. This is truly a “Game Changer” product line, moving the main heavy lifting of SDR radio back into the radio box, using state of the art design that before the Flex-6000 series was available to commercial and government types at price points that match many ham’s mortgages!

In a development coup Flex-Radio has worked with primary chip manufacturers to bring FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) technology that only a year back would have cost more PER CHIP than the retail of the Flex-6500 to the amateur market.

The FPGA put simply is a way to put software on a chip so the code can rip through huge amounts of data processing it basically in parallel rather than in series. The FPGA is fluid and can be reprogramed in place.

Talking this trough, the way it came across to me was something like imagining if you had 1000 cars and hour to valet park – and for our purposes each car represents a bit of signal. A conventional SDR setup would do stuff to the signal, pump it down either Firewire or USB to a conventional PC which would take only so many – say maybe a dozen “cars” at any one instance and park them by processing and sending them back to the SDR unit again waiting for Firewire/USB space. The backup could be huge!

In the FPGA imagine that the cars first never have to leave the SDR unit, and the parking at one time limitation of waiting for space to be sent down the Firewire or USB is lifted, AND the FPGA can instantly call up thousands of Valets to park the cars at the SAME TIME. Obviously the potential throughput could be massive!

When FPGA ran $5000 upwards per chip (yes $5K in a single chip) the technology was not marketable. Flex-Radio has worked out a way to bring the costs of this massive processing power to amateur radio price points.

The added benefits of pushing the heavy lifting all back into the radio are massive. The new SmartSDR could be thought of as a CAT-gateway, VoIP like audio passing agent and the GUI. No longer does the PC have massive processing duties. This “thin client” arrangement should make it possible to work with non-Window’s operating systems, and it was obvious from every Flex-Radio staffer having an iPad that they’re open minded with using effective tools.

There is a lot of new jargon with is the Flex-6000s – Spectral Capture Units (SCU) (Flex-6500 has one, Flex-6700 has two) which act something like extremely broadband receivers. Each SCU can be divided into four “Slices” which are the SmartSDR “receivers” promising at least 384 kHz (and it is reasonable to expect this may be a rather understated number).

Initial launch will be with a SmartSDR thin client capable of networked operation from anywhere on the same router. Basically you can’t run the radio without at least a basic bit of networking. Down the road perhaps a year further will be a NAT-traversal agile SmartSDR upgrade allowing native remoting from the internet.

Little mentioned have been the USB links on the radio – they seem opportune to control an amp and other outboard units.

Very cool is a GPSDO GPS based time reference option, that would allow very accurate data time stamp coordination for use of a network of Flex-6000s in a diversity setup with units perhaps 1000s of miles apart. Major “gee wiz” nearly Sci-Fi stuff there!

The demo software is a skeleton and is the big hurdle to a full launch. The hardware is done, and having proven technology from secuirty receivers Flex-Radio had the experience to make that part happen when the economics of FPGA changed.

All this doesn’t come for free. Intro prices are Flex-6500 at $4000 and Flex-6700 at $7000, with the GPSDO adding $700. The only other options are rack mount kits and handles.

It was awesome to see history in the making as Flex-Radio rolled out the “Game Changer” at Dayton. While there is always a place for every category of radio from spark, tube, separates to conventional contest boxes and computer processor dependent SDR, the field has been expanded in a major way with the Flex-6000 series.



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End Dayton – Family, an Upgrade, Flex Dinner and the Road

Dayton is always a multi-tasker’s sort of experience, with everyone’s experience different.

A huge plus for me is the chance to briefly catch up with cousins, which is a Dayton high light. Midnight lit-frisbees and time to just catch up on our lives . Very nice!

Winston spotted the Gordon West booth end of Friday and said he would upgrade. So now my son is KC9FVR/AG !! He made his first HF contact under Dale N6JSX’s supervision at the show special event station moments later! Well done!

Attended the Flex-Radio Dinner and came away very impressed with both their commitment to the PowerSDR poducts (1000, 1500, 3000 and 5000) as well as the new SmartSDR 6000 series. The company really seems to have the ball and is running with it!

More on the 6000 after I am home.

Now for the 470 mile drive home…… Easy drive and we’ll listen to podcasts for a good part Winston KC9FVR/AG has a book on digital HF I bought him.

More on my return.



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