Monthly Archives: February 2019

Some Further FT8 Thoughts

Okay what is FT8 like after a bunch of QSOs?

Personally I cannot see FT8 being “my radio experience” by itself. The QSOs are fairly soulless and while technically fulfilling every aspect of a recordable QSO they lack the gravitas of a human-to-human QSO.

As we all use some aids to our radio efforts, whether Spots, Keyers, Memories, Macros and other QSO-flow-aids there is no point in getting self righteous about the highly automated FT8 QSO experience.

The hobby and regulatory consensus of what is a “true QSO” is easily met by FT8.

What does seem unusual is how absolutely minimalist the FT8 QSO experience is.

There doesn’t seem to be much that could be removed from an FT8 QSO if we keep to the consensus of what is need for a QSO. Perhaps the second confirm and sign-off steps could be eliminated, though that would be at the expense of reducing the two-way assurances that a QSO was completed.

Pretty much is bare bones even with the confirmation and sign-off portions. Not much to strip off.

And while FT8 has a “free text” opportunity I’ve seen it used twice in the last five hundred FT8 QSOs I’ve completed and I tried it but once. Realistically between “twitteresque” character limitations and the generalized lack of free text usage, there isn’t much to add either.

So is running FT8 “tasty” in terms of QSOs being “rich experiences” – not at all.

Kind of liken these FT8 QSOs as the “Ramen Noodles” of ham radio QSOs – better than not eating at all, but about as basic as basic can be.

All this said and I think I will be running FT8 regularly for some time.

Why? Because running FT8 QSOs is a satisfying background QSO-making activity when I would otherwise not be on my radio at all.

Presently I’m running remote to a Flex-6700 located at my old home QTH’s station.

Running SmartSDR for Windows and WSJT-X 2.0 on the desktop PC quietly in the background. The local PC is a bit marginal for this use, so I do lose connectivity periodically when the system runs out of resources.

All that said I’ve worked eight QSOs while typing this post – SP7AID, DL7XU, G3UAS, 6W7/ON4AVT, MI0NWA, DF1DN, DF8XR, and E76C. Those are eight entries in my logs that I would have never made using a less automated mode from by work desk.

I have to confess to being not such a great ham as if I am completely busy I disable the transmit and disappear off the band until another stretch of time where I can keep one eye open letting WSJT-X run again.

Using this background strategy, if a person could pick up say 40 QSOs a day for say four days each work week that quickly tally to more than 7500 extra QSOs a year that operator wouldn’t have made at all.

So on that basis I figure I’ll have FT-8 running in the background.

By the way that 7500 extra QSOs could easily be much more if one’s remote resources allowed running several bands at the same time. I’m guessing I could run more like 20,000 extra QSOs yearly if I wanted to tweak my setup a bit.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Computer and Audio Racks for Amateur Radio

As I start moving my main station from the QTH we are selling to our new QTH 12 miles west, I’ve wanted to put my Flex-6700 Station into a rack.

I’ve not found an all-in-one information resource on how to do a cost effective rack design.

So I’m going to hammer the keys with the tidbits I have picked up and hopefully these notes will be helpful for someone else.

Rack vs Cabinet:

Racks are framework, where a cabinet has solid sides.  A cabinet may have a solid/removable back, and sometimes a hinged front.

As I want to be able to access both fronts AND backs of my station gear, I’m going with a Rack rather than a cabinet.

Fixed Floor vs Fixed Wall vs Rolling Floor:

A rack can be on castors in Rolling Floor versions or in fixed configuration.  If fixed it can be loose or attached to the floor or bolted to the wall.

Consider what your flooring is like and your expected total rack weight as you decide fixed or rolling. If conditions allow a Rolling Floor model suits a radio station well.

In my case I expecting less than 200 Lbs of gear in the rack and the new radio room flooring is sturdy stuff, so I’m going with a Rolling Floor model.

Height:

First what is a “U”? Standard racks are sized in U’s, where each U is 1.75 inches high.

So a U is 1-3/4 inches.

While second nature to rack regulars, here is a quick list of the first eight U’s for their total height:

1U = 1.75″
2U = 3.5″
3U = 5.25″
4U = 7″
5U = 8.75″
6U = 10.5″
7U = 12.25″
8U = 14″

Remember to include feet and other parts affecting the height of something you are evaluating when sizing it.

Also always allow the manufacturer’s recommended airspace around a piece.

I made a sketch of how I want to stack my station gear, and allowed for the LARGEST U numbers for positions where my back-up gear and main gear differed in height.  I settled on a 27U rack, which is a nominal 4 ft rack to put it in perspective.

Width:

The most common rack standard is 19″ between the rails.

There are other common widths.

Depth:

Here things are sketchy.  You can find 19″ wide racks ranging in depth from 10″ all the way to 42″ deep.

Some rack units are adjustable as well!

So you have to look at what your deepest equipment needs, adding for connectors and cabling, to size your rack.

Again, Your deepest piece of gear plus connector space sets your depth.

In my case I’ve settled on a 24″ deep rack.

Posts:

Racks come 2, 4, 6 and center post configurations, and some have a slight slope back to their face if they are intended for Audio Recording use.

If everything in your station gear is not “rack ready” needing to be put on shelves, a center post rack configuration with enough shelves can meet the needs really well.

Typically for a serious station, one with power supplies and amps, a 4-post rack is effective.  “Rack ready” gear is fitted right in, and shelves can be added to hold anything not rack-ready.

The 2-post racks are light duty racks for the most part.

Weight is consideration, so you need to size your rack to carry the expected weight.  Heavy duty racks sometimes are 6-post versions.

As I am rack mounting power supplies and putting my amp in the rack, I’ve gone for standard duty 4-post rack.

Rackability:

Some amateur radio gear is “ready to rack,” sometimes you can get optional rack kits, and some its “rack ready” and needs to be on a shelf.

Some gear may not be “rack ready” but accessory kits may be available to add rack-ears or fit the gear to rails converting it to rack-ready.

To lay out your rack configuration you need to assess each item of gear for its rack-readiness. 

My station has a mix of rack-ready and gear needing a shelf in it.

Shelves and Rails:

Shelves can use the cantilever of their rail mounts to support themselves.  These usually hang just from the front posts. Cantilever shelves may be 1U, 2U or more to create the leverage they need to support your gear.

Others attach to all the corner posts, and may be adjustable for exact fit.

Shelves for center-post racks can but two part to fit around the center posts.

Shelves may be solid, vented, flat, lipped, full-sided, or pull outs.

Rails adapt gear to your rack, and can either pull out or be fixed.  Some have cross bars and some are adjustable.

Some pull out rails and shelves have cable management arms and features.

For the most part radio gear that is not rack-ready goes on shelves.

To select a shelf consider the shelf type, equipment weight, depth, and whether ventilation is needed.

In my rack I am using several vented adjustable 2U cantilever shelves and a single 50kg rated solid 3U shelf for my amp.

I have nothing needing rails going in my rack.

Nuts, Bolts, Screws, Washers and Bits:

Rack holes come in several flavors.  Round Plain, Threaded, and Square Holes are common.

Round Plain holes expect that a machine screw passes through the actual rack and is captured by a separate nut.

Threaded holes let the rack frame act as the nut as the machine screws thread directly into them.

Square Holes are used with a caged nut that is fitted into holes in use.

New hardware is largely Metric, often M6.

In Rack terms Bolts and Screws are interchangeable words for the same item.

Washers are needed to avoid “Rack Rash” where the hardware marks and perhaps damages the equipment when it is attached.

Bits are important, as you can find rack hardware heads in slotted, Phillips, x-cross, hex, square drive, and security-bit versions – maybe even more types if you look around!  One tip I was told was to put one of the bits and perhaps some spare hardware in an old pill bottle zip-tied out of the way on the rack for future use.  Would seem to make sense if your hardware needed a specialty bit.

Power, Ground, and Ventilation:

Both rack-mount power supplies and rack-mount mains power distribution devices are available. Watch out as some computer gear uses plug configurations not common for radio gear.

I’m including a dual Astron power supply and a surge-protected 120v rack-mount power strip in my design. I am direct wiring the 240v single phase for the amp.

Research hasn’t come up with a clear conclusion on whether to ground the rack and ground the equipment to the rack, to let it all float perhaps including some isolation, or whether to ignore the whole grounding issue.

I’m adopting the telecom idea of bonding everything for now.

If your rack is going to be tight, going to be exposed to heat/cold or if you picked a cabinet you may need to add forced ventilation.

If it is going in your shack and is an open 4-post you likely will be okay.

Rack Orientation:

With ham gear having a lot of back side connections you will want to make sure you’re going to have access to the back as well are the operating face.

Some hams work any gear they have to regularly access from the side of their racks, so be creative with shelf mounted gear making it work for you.  The actual rack mount stuff you are kind of stuck with.

I’m planning on having my rack “sideways” with the few items I do need to access showing out the side, as the majority of my gear doesn’t need to be accessed that often.

Other Rack Accessories:

The sky is the limit as you can include drawers, lockable “glove compartment” things, lights, extendable keyboard trays, special built 1U to 3U computers, security add-ons and more.  Then there is cable management arms, conduits and attachments.

I’m hoping to have a dust cover built for my rack.

Partial Rack sizes:

I was confused until I caught on that if a piece of gear is said to be 3U half-rack at 16in that it seems to mean that it is really 3U high, but is 9-1/2” or less in width and really is 16” deep.  I’ve only seen this description used once on ham radio gear.

Weight goes Low:

Obviously if your rack is floor or wall attached this isn’t so important, but if it will be on wheels keeping weight low will help stability.

My power supply and amp will be at the bottom.

Re-purposing Old Radio Racks and Telecom Racks:

Not all telecom racks mesh with computer/audio rack standards and likewise older radio racks may not either.

Rack Security:

Your equipment can be installed with tamper-proof screws and security strapped to the rack frame   Your rack can be similarly bolted down or cabled to the structure.

You can also incorporate motion sensors and other devices.

I’m not describing my rack’s security here though.

Can you build your own rack?

Without some serious metal forming equipment it would be hard.

But it is possible to buy rails with holes ready to fit into whatever rack you build or in a cabinet.

Steel or Aluminum?

Racks come in both.  For our station use either looks to fill the role. I’m using Steel.

About those Castors:

Locking, low-mar, carpet, and other specialty castors are available.  If your rack comes as a kit, most likely you will want the locking castors at the front.  Very heavy racks may have extra castors to spread the load.

Where can you get more rack help?

Both Musicians Friend and Sweetwater Audio have a lot of good information on their websites.

https://www.musiciansfriend.com/

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/racks-rack-cases-buying-guide/

In the end I bought mine from Amazon though.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Assembling a Receive Preamp for a Yaesu DR-1X Repeater

Yaesu DR-1X repeater installations I’ve been able to look at have mostly had an added Receive Preamp added to help the RX side of the DR-1X better match the TX side.

Dave N9JDZ assembled the Preamp in use at the Washington Island WI9DX 2m repeater, and pointed me in the right direction to assemble one for the 2m repeater I am sponsoring.

The preamp module

 

 

Close up of the face

 

 

Back side of the preamp module, including specs

 

 

Cables – I used longer ones than what I’ve link below as the short ones were out of stock when I ordered

 

 

Power supply

 

 

Project Box – notice that I am pushing the gasket into place. You will need to trim it as the material is longer than what is needed.

 

 

The Tools you need – plus YOU NEED SAFETY GLASSES. I was wearing my safety glasses while doing the project and should have put another pair in the picture as a reminder.

 

Use the Dremel tool to remove material for the power supply cord. You are going to capture some of the strain-relief on the cord, so the hole will need to be bigger than you first might think. I centered the hold by eye, rather than getting too scientific about it.

 

After you put the cables on the model, lay it on the enclosure to visualize where you need to cut the coax holes.

 

 

Here is a close up of the particular tool I used in my Dremel. Run the Dremel at maximum speed to let the tool cut rather than melt plastic a middle speed setting.

 

Here is a coax hole as I cut mine.

 

 

Check the fit. Then clean up all the shards of plastic from cutting.

 

 

Runs the enclosure screws in and you assembly is done.

 

 

I marked mine with Input and Output. As I will be using Velcro tape to mount my unit, it is all done.

Here are the eBay links for the products I used:

amp module – https://www.ebay.com/itm/Ultra-Low-Noise-Amplifier-10-MHz-to-4000-MHz-Gain-20dB-NF-0-65-dB-LNA-/283092038093

case – https://www.ebay.com/itm/85x58x33-Waterproof-Clear-Cover-Electronic-Cable-Project-Box-Enclosure-Case-LWUS-/181938791306

cables (need two) – https://www.ebay.com/itm/UHF-SO239-female-PL259-to-SMA-male-plug-crimp-RG316-cable-jumper-pigtail-12inch-/322734015890

power supply – https://www.ebay.com/itm/5V-2-5A-Micro-USB-AC-Adapter-Wall-Power-Supply-Charger-Cord-for-Raspberry-Pi-3-/142351967825

You can get all of these same items elsewhere on the internet, but I found eBay was lowest shipped cost by a wide margin.

I’m considering using a sealant to seal the holes around the cables and power cord once everything checks out okay.  I’m thinking I can avoid some small insect deciding the enclosure is a good place to live that way.

It’s taken much more time to share this assembly than to have actually assembled two units.  (I built a spare for myself.)

Again keep it safe – especially WEAR SAFETY GLASSES when using the Dremel tool.

73

 

Steve

K9ZW

 

K9ZW’s Mid-February Flex-6000 Software List Update

My list of Flex-6000 software has been updated to reflect what I presently using.

Added a list of what I am testing as well.

Hope you find this useful!

https://k9zw.wordpress.com/flex-6000-software/

73

Steve
K9ZW

Winter Station Casualty and Preparations for another K9ZW Back-Up Station, and my new 2m Repeater

Seems the weather has done some damage to the remote station at my old home.  Once the weather breaks I’ll have a chance to dig out the snow around the tower connection box and see if I can jumper past what appears to be a dysfunctional remote Antenna Switch.

I’ve had this particular Array Solutions RatPAK6N switch in use for years, but from the in the shack testing it isn’t working correctly.  With weather that have been everything from -25F to 50F, raining, sleeting and now snowing again it may have nothing more than a connection problem.

Since I am presently not controlling the switch remotely, I may just jumper past the switch, and perhaps jumper past anything else not currently in use in the remote configuration.

[ EDITED on 19 FEB 19

The switch problem was moisture and deep cold.  Basically the entire outside housing was buried in deep snow, which then started to melt while light rain sleet fell, right before another single digit cold snap.  Thawed out all is well. ]

I’d fallen a bit behind on establishing a working station at the new house’s QTH, and more importantly I stagnated in getting the work QTH’s HF side up and running.

The work QTH has an elevated vertical for HF on the same 56 ft tower as a 2m repeater that was a backup (145.110 using K9MTW for the call) for Mancorad Club.  With Mancorad being absorbed by the Lakeshore Amateur Radio Service Club I’ve ended up the custodian and owner of this 145.110 repeater.  It is presently being recoordinated and will be using my K9ZW call.

All exterior work for the HF side was was completed late in 2018, including lightening protection, grounding and cables into the future radio area.  But that is where everything stopped while other interior renovations were undertaken.

Electricians are currently wiring permanent internet, ground, 120v and 240v to both the repeater locations and the HF operating desk.  They are also providing empty conduits for coax jumpers.

A while back I purchased a Flex-6300 for use in this work QTH HF station.  I have a spare PC for an in-shack computer.  Question becomes if I want to initially provide for use of an amplifier, though even if I hold off for now I am having the 240v single phase power wired up.

Hoping I can get this station up and running in the next ten days, maybe quicker.  A lot depends on the electrician’s progress.

Back to the repeater plans.  The present exciter and gear is old Motorola gear, which is awesome until it isn’t.  I don’t have the necessary service gear nor do I have the skills to run the service gear if I did.

Excepting the cans, the present gear is going to be mothballed and retained as a backup, as everything will be moving over to a Yaesu DR-1X 2m WIRES-X/Fusion repeater.  As the DR-1X doesn’t have the native RX sensitivity to match its TX footprint, a Canadian built (GPIO) preamp is being added.  Everything is in to make the transition once it is assembled and bench tested.  Yaesu released updated firmware when they introduced the DR-2X.  At this stage I do not plan to upgrade to the dual-band DR-2X.  Local 220 and 440 usage is underwhelmingly low and the present antenna setup is a single dual-band antenna rather than two separate antennas needed to best use the DR-2X’s abilities.

Well I think it has snowed another 6 inches since I started typing a bit of this post a couple hours ago.  Not going to get outside to check on the home QTH today.

73

Steve
K9ZW

K9ZW new QTH winter interim plans

Winter has overtaken plans to have a temporary station up and running at the new QTH.  When lows are -28F I’m not going to get any quality antenna work done outside.

The new workshop/radio room is close to being ready to start setting this up.

I’ve brought the SteppIR CrankIR back from the Washington Island QTH but am doubtful that the weather extremes wouldn’t damage the antenna.  Subzero temperatures covered in an inch of ice, while being wind-whipped relentlessly is pretty extreme for this type of antenna.

We have so much wildlife at the new QTH that I need to give that some thought too.  Here is an example of some of the fourteen deer in the yard yesterday.

Some of the fourteen deer in the yard Feb 9th 2019

I do have a long unused GAP Titian DX stored in the backyard at the old house, which could be rescued from storage and set up temporarily.

Or a dipole could be hoisted given a fair day of weather.

Presently I am remoting to the Flex-6700 station at the old house, as the tower & station will first come down early spring.

Decisions…hmm…

73

Steve
K9ZW

 

 

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