Category Archives: FlexRadio Systems

SmartLink plays Dumb – Multiday Outage

Where did my SmartLink go?

I discovered early AM Monday September 26th that my radios were not working remotely.

They may have dropped off SmartLink over the weekend, as I had been travelling.

Head scratcher, hmm…

Did my usual checks – pings, reboots, cold reboots, router reboots, trying my backup SmartLink account and so on.

Radios could be seen on their respective LANs but remained mostly invisible to SmartLink.

All the radios claimed they were not configured for SmartLink anymore, and refused to be reregistered.

Interestingly the 6600M would sometime show up on a remote SmartSDR for Mac or SmartSDR for iPhone client, but could not be accessed.

So I opened a Help Desk ticket and was greeted with the usual script of new user orientated suggestions, which could have been helpful because like everyone I will forget stuff.

After comparing checklists, and allow FlexRadio access to my SmartLink account, we came to mutually agree something was hard broken.

Monday ended up without much suggestion of what the problem was, and the day basically faded to an end.

Tuesday the Help Desk ticket was escalated and I was told “Engineering is working on the [unnamed] problem.”

During the day Tuesday I found that my iPhone could no longer access SmartLink either.

On the third day I asked via the Help Desk Ticket “Any insight, updates or ETA to resolution?” and was told “We expect to have a status update later today. I’ll update the ticket once we know more.

The issue will get resolved, but until it is my remote stations are only available from clients that [appear] local to the radio.

Hence time to brush off my Plan-B gear.

About six years ago I set up a pair of Raspberry Pi’s to act as a VPN Server and a Bridge.  https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/tunneling-a-vpn-for-maestro/

Thinking I should repurpose these Raspberry Pi’s for a  portable Plan-B option.

Remote Access software has also come a long ways, and I should revisit that for the stations that have a shack-pc at them.  Might be prudent to add a shack pc at the one K9ZW station that doesn’t have it now.

I am thinking the fancy router at the main QTH has VPN capabilities, so it is time to read the manual and get that feature configured.

73

Steve
K9ZW

A Quiet Word about FlexRadio

This is a second writing of a post that WordPress ate for unexplained technical reasons.

I wanted to share a quiet word about FlexRadio with you.

Seeing a bit more than the average ham because of my being on the Alpha Test Team, I’m hoping my insight is beneficial to you.

The FlexRadio team, both corporate and volunteers are pretty darn awesome!

While I can’t share what is in the thousands and thousands of emails share with me through the Alpha Team, I can share the metadata that these folks are very serious about helping you to a quality first rate ham experience, while not breaking the bank in the process.

As I type this post I am on the air doing digital mode with the third Flex-6700 distributed to anyone outside of FlexRadio Systems, Flex-6700 serial number 11.  That radio has been back to FlexRadio to receive some very early updates, and once because I just wanted to have a comprehensive checkup just because.

Those service trips were easy, effective and yes I experienced FlexRadio-Withdrawal while the radio was away.  That withdrawal may be why I wanted to have a spare radio – so I could get my HF on-air fix.

FlexRadio did something cool taking their skills into a major government project that has been successful.  The impact of that project was while the development was underway perhaps FlexRadio was a touch preoccupied, that in the end they have been able to expand their ham radio software team.

Where are they finding all these nice and effective software folk from is my unanswered question!

Now I have to confess that I do like to use traditional radios, often something Collins, for some throwback operations.  And if I come to your shack, I will enjoy operating the radios you have.  But that joyful return to my Flex-6700 station is also a confession.

For field use the current FlexRadio series isn’t my cup of tea, though I have dragged a Flex-6300 with a Laptop and a router out on a couple occasions.  Currently a K9ZW SGC-2020 vs Elecraft KX3 shootout is underway, and perhaps will help me select my HF field kit setup.

There are a couple FlexRadio quirks I should disclose:

  • The Genius series Tuner and Amp are really nice, yet FlexRadio doesn’t toot its horn very much on them.
  • Your Home Network and the Internet Quality does affect performance.
  • The gear is more complex than basic Plug-n-Play, and some extra advance stuff benefits from advance network/internet skills.
  • The FlexRadio Team so lives in this technical world, that I have to do a “Explain that to me” when the jargon is beyond my knowledge.

Reflecting on a bit of history, FlexRadio’s ability to rethink the transceiver, to down scale technology far too costly for amateur radio usage, and leverage a volunteer team into a harsh testbed, all have combined to give us the experience we have.

I know my HF radio experience has be enhanced by using FlexRadio products in my hamshack.

Oh, that Quiet Word about FlexRadio?  It is “Thank You, FlexRadio!”

73

Steve
K9ZW

Upgrading SDRs in Perspective (with Pro-Tips)

Writing this late the week FlexRadio rolled out a new version of SmartSDR v 3.3.29 and some radios had problems completing the update.

Per Facebook and Flex Community postings the internal SD Cards in a limited amount of mostly older original series radios (6300/6500/6700) are vulnerable to fatal corruption.

The solution is a replacement SD Card from FlexRadio, which they can either send to the operator or the radio can be sent in for an SD Card replacement.

As usual the posts about the small percentage that develop this temporary problem are emotional. Bluntly some folks are “drama queens” or worse.  Their core need and problems are exactly the same though from reading of their woes the certainly have personalized the problem.

About these SD Cards:, first a FlexRadio discussion about SD Cards:

Personally, I have had a SD Card fail in one of my radios. This one failed in Alpha Team testing, so it wasn’t at the same time other groups of radios had problems.

A bit of background, while a robust technology SD Cards are designed to be read and wrote to, over and over. The SD Card market offers a lot of claims about performance and durability not always achieved in field use.

So as a part of upgrading there is a bit of Stress Test through all the upgrade manipulations that can identify iffy SD cards, and some SD cards simply will fail.

Inconvenient but not horribly catastrophic – if the SD card fails you open a Help Desk ticket and FlexRadio sorts you out a fresh SD Card.

Your radio usually will be inoperable until the new card is installed, but it is NOT permanently bricked as many hand wringers lament.

Some lament why doesn’t FlexRadio offer an image that could be downloaded so the operator could roll-their-own new SD Card?

FlexRadio Systems is all about their customer’s experience, and their served customer base includes hams who understand every nuance of the radio’s design, have the techniques to deal with every level of repair – a the way through to – customers who on their own shouldn’t be inside the radio.

The image files appear not to be one-size-fit-all, and have evolutionary differences. I am uncertain if they are the same across all the world wide market of FlexRadio.

FlexRadio is using high grade SD Cards selected to best perform in their radios. While the SD Cards you buy from Amazon or other vendors could be the same, they also might not be at all the same.

So FlexRadio has kept the variables to a minimum by being the image-loaded SD Card supplier for the radios.

Not working for FlexRadio I am not privy to how big is the SD Card matrix they work with. The impression I have gained is that there are a lot of considerations for what version SD Card image is the right one for your particular radio.

My theory on why SD Card problems show up despite a huge testing processes is simple – there are radios which had SD Cards out in the general user population, where the test team with all their upgrade/downgrade/test processes largely have weeded out the suspect SD Cards long ago.

I think that is what happened to the SD Card I lost.

So in summary, if your SD card breaks during an upgrade:

  • Open a FlexRadio Help Desk Ticket
  • When you new SD Card arrives, install it
  • Then you will be able to complete your upgrade process.

Additionally (or Pro-Tips learned the hard way):

  • When an update comes out, unless you want to be bleeding-edge up to date, consider letting others “break trail” and wait a few days.
  • Never Ever – REPEAT NEVER EVER – even think of updating right before (or during) a contest you are participating in, or if you are about to do some important operating like a special DX chase or a shack tour.
  • Think about when in the week you want to run your updates – I try to do them late Sunday or on Monday, just in case.
  • If your budget allows, consider having a second radio (Flex-6300s are at a nice price point secondhand).  Some hams have a full set of duplicate gear so they can plug-n-play if anything goes down, though that strategy requires deep pockets.

Hoping your updates may always be successful and easy!

 

73

Steve
K9ZW

Eight-Band Propagation Continues

It is fun to have some better band conditions. (21 JAN 22 starting at 1300 UTC)

Working FT8 remote to my home station (Flex-6700 to a ZeroFive Flagpole vertical antenna in this instance) I was in fairly quick order make exactly 8 QSOs, one per band, before I switched to working for DX on 17m:

KB9ZM EM57 1.840861 mhz (160m) FT8 Sent: +04 Rcvd: -02
N5IF EM11 3.574155 mhz (80m) FT8 Sent: -07 Rcvd: -21
AI2D FM29 7.074821 mhz (40m) FT8 Sent: +02 Rcvd: +10
W2AOC FN20 10.137057 mhz (30m) FT8 Sent: +12 Rcvd: +05
N3DNA FN20 14.074903 mhz (20m) FT8 Sent: +05 Rcvd: +19
KP4JRS FK68 18.100200 mhz (17m) FT8 Sent: +01 Rcvd: +00
F5ADE JN06 21.075078 mhz (15m) FT8 Sent: -08 Rcvd: -15
CO8LY FL20 24.916068 mhz (12m) FT8 Sent: +03 Rcvd: +03

The remote setup lets me run some QSOs when physically not at the home station, by basically adding an internet link from my home station to where I am actually at.

My current series of QSL cards allows me to indicate which physical station I am using and also indicate where I was when I made the contact.

One of the new QSL Card Designs

While I much prefer being in my shack to make SSB QSOs, these remote digital QSOs are miles better than not being on the air at all!

73

Steve
K9ZW

Another Portable HF Option – Elecraft KX3 for Portable Activations

Elecraft KX3

 

Looking into 2022 I hope to participate in a few activations.

With Tom K0TTC scheming to do a newer park on Detroit Island (which is a Wisconsin island in Lake Michigan – you have to love the reuse of names across the Midwest). Hoping we can catch a few other nearby Islands as well.

Having missed having a nice simple portable HF setup on my recent trip around Lake Superior, I’d like to be ready for some HF on an envisioned Lake Michigan circle trip in 2022.

I’ve had three radio options I could use. The Flex-6600M could be pulled from service at my work QTH station, I’ve used a TenTec Jupiter (and Pegasus) for this in the past, and I have a SGC SC-2020 that could be used.

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What Big Ears you have! – Being Heard – the All-FlexRadio (AFR) Station

I mentioned the great reports I was receiving with the AFR station (All-FlexRadio), and as being heard is the the easy part of making QSO’s, it seemed a good time to talk about the “Ears” of the AFR station.

There are two parts of most aspects of reception – hearing the raw signals and having a method to reduce the signal to a particular station which you want to make a QSO.

Across the panadaper SSB signal traces crowd the screen.  Use of the various signal processing settings mitigates some of the crowd, but there remains a lot of signals to pick through.

Think of this like going to a crowded party where everyone is talking.  There are so many simultaneous conversations that one has to concentrate and focus to pick out just one.  A hard of hearing person may hear only a fraction of the conversations, and because of their lower ability to hear also misses much of the general “conversation buzz” that good ears need to work to pick through.

The AFR station is good ears for sure.  And I need to carefully use the software tools and my own hearing processing to pick out stations.  The challenge is to focus in on just one station.

FlexRadio has a number of videos on how to manipulate SmartSDR to achieve optimal QSO rates.  As fair warning, if you want to simulate the deafness of legacy radios you will need to work harder at tweaking settings in SmartSDR.  Conversely if you want to have run rate with the leaders in the pack, your SmartSDR settings will be less intrusive.

One obvious factor in this listening part of the equation, is the great performance of the Tennadyne T-12 Log Periodic Antenna.

I can hear you now!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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