Category Archives: K9ZW Just Rambled

K9ZW Station Evolution – The Direction K9ZW is Heading

That questions would come my way on what I was doing after hams read the extensive list of excess equipment I’m selling off was expected.  That the questions would start within hours of posting the list of gear for sale wasn’t expected though!

Both my Home QTH and Island QTH stations are becoming FlexRadio focused.  I’ve not used the backup radios (TenTecs) in a long time, and have rarely used the vintage stations.

I’m also actually in the final stages of completing a third station at my workplace, and of course with the Home QTH house move the Home QTH Station is at the starting stages of being redesigned & rebuilt at the new location.

Going forward, each of the three stations will have a Flex-6000 and a local computer.

Presently I have four Flex-6000s – two 6700s, a 6600M and a 6300.  Work QTH will get the 6300 and must likely each of the other stations will get a 6700.  The 6600M will be a hot-swap backup radio, and will fill much of need for a transportable HF rig.

Island and Home QTH’s will have FlexRadio PowerGenius XL amplifiers, AntennaGenius antenna switches, RotorGenius rotor control of AlphaSpid Rotators, Studio-Grade Microphones with Behringer amps, Radiosport Headsets, and roughly similar antenna arrays.

The Work QTH station is not getting an amp and will be limited to a HF vertical antenna only.

As the present Vintage Collins Stations are simply are not being used, they are on the block.  When both sell I will be looking to replace them with a single “very mint” station of a TBD configuration.  Basically I don’t have shack space for gear I can’t make time more than a few times each year to operate.

The TenTec units once were my mainstay, as they have excellent RX and decent TX, are light and robust.  But unused since buying the Flex-6000 transceivers, again how many extra radios can a guy have?

The Alpha-9500s are being replaced with FlexRadio PowerGenius XLs.  The Alphas are awesome amps by any measure, and I’m not 100% certain I should even be letting them go – especially as they are in short supply at the moment.  But again I don’t have the room to store them.

I’ve really enjoyed the PowerGenius XL I have had since being able to buy one as an Alpha Tester very early in the production.  I have a second PGXL I ordered I deferred delivery to let somebody else have an Alpha Tester opportunity, though I hope to get that unit this Spring.  Eventually I expect to order a backup third PGXL at some stage.

So I’m standardizing equipment between QTHs, rationalizing any extras, and cutting back the excess.

End result is to spend more time on the air of course!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Excess Gear for Sale – November 2018

I’ve not been very good about getting rid of excess gear, and I’m overdue clearing several excess rigs & bits from my shack.  This gear really should find a new home:

  • TenTec 1253 Shortwave Receiver – Built from Kit by an SK, looks unused – $75 plus shipping
  • QRO King 6 meter full Kilowatt Amp built on a Heath SB221.  I lack the room for this outstanding amp in the shack.  – $1200 plus shipping.
  • ATS 909 SW Receiver – Like New – $150 plus shipping
  • W2IHY 8 Band Audio Equalizer/Noise Gate and EQplus set with Ten-Tec Cables – $600 plus shipping
  • W2IHY 8 Band Audio Equalizer/Noise Gate and EQplus set with Flex-6000/Yaesu Cables – $600 plus shipping
  • TWO NEW 4o3a Antenna Genius 8×2 Antenna Switches, SO-239 connectors.  I had ordered N-Connectors and the replacements arrived before I used these in the field. $650/each plus shipping (I’ll pick up shipping if someone takes both of these).
  • TenTec Pegasus Transceiver – Excellent NOS Like New Condition – Purchased as NOS and only Tested on air – original box, manuals and disks. Includes a 302 remote tuning pod. (This Pegasus does not have the internal AT, but is like new) $500 plus shipping [Had been retained as a Back-up]
  • TenTec Jupiter, original version but black case, updated firmware, includes an uninstalled Internal Antenna Tuner kit, $700 plus shipping
  • TenTec Jupiter, original version grey case, with factory installed Internal Antenna Tuner, $700 plus shipping
  • TenTec Jupiter original version grey case, no Antenna Tuner, $500 plus shipping
  • Alpha-9500 Amplifier, second version, low hours, has been retained as my back-up Alpha-9500, picked up or price plus shipping $5800
  • Alpha-9500 Amplifier, second version, also low hours, has used as a back-up to a FlexRadio PowerGenius, picked up or price plus shipping $5800
  • Collins KWM-2A station, including 30L-1 Amplifier, 312B-5 Remote VFO, Collins Power Supply, second Collins portable power supply (the one that goes on the back of the KWM-2A, and D-104 microphone, with interconnect cables  – this is my Island QTH Collins station – $2200 plus shipping
  • Collins S-Line station, including 75S-1, 32S-1 ( the receiver/transmitter pair), 30L-1 Amplifier, 312B-4 Remote VFO, Collins Power Supply, Digital VFO (uninstalled, see ads in Electric Radio magazine), Speech Processor (uninstalled), and Collins SM-1 microphone with interconnect cables  – this is my home QTH Collins station, unused since gathered from known working components – $2200 plus shipping
  • Palstar AT-Auto Antenna Tuner – unmolested original, modest hours, updated firmware, $800 plus shipping
  • Palstar Kessler AT-Auto Antenna Tuner, withe most Kessler mods installed by Kessler, unused since upgrade, $900 plus shipping
  • Murch UT-2000 Antenna Tuner(s) – I may have two of these in storage, but for sure have one left.  Working except usually meter problems.  $250 each plus shipping, or $500 for the pair shipped.

Contact me for more details. You can find lots of information on these tuners & radios, including photos, at eHam, the manufacturer’s websites and by google.

I’ll leave these posted here for a couple weeks or so before putting out eHam & QTH ads.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Moving stuff – including station move planning

One dreads moving.

One really dreads moving their Amateur Radio station.

Even knowing the end result will be a much better station, the logistics are daunting.

My move involves taking down a couple Log Periodic Antennas, and the tower, then removing feed lines, control cables, moving the actual shack gear and spares, moving a spare tower (Skyneedle) that will end up at the new QTH, moving all the other accumulated ham gear and spare antennas, then getting things set up again.

Thinking that for this winter I may revert to a vertical and a dipole, leaving tower erection to next spring.

That will give me enough time to properly develop the station plan and do things less rushed.

May be a challenge to operate this way in poor band conditions, but such is life.

One dreads moving…..

73

Steve
K9ZW

Moving the Main K9ZW QTH – Part 1

Letting the cat out of the bag – the main K9ZW QTH is moving.  Bought a nicer place, with 16 acres and a ham-friendly workshop building about 10 miles west of my present main home QTH.

Until the old house sells the present station will stay running, and I will be accessing it remotely from the new QTH.

The new QTH is getting a fiber internet run between the house and workshop installed next month, just in time to move the radios.

Initially I will be operating with a couple vertical antennas.  The planning and replacement tower base delivery process most likely will put off erecting a tower until Spring 2019.  May be two towers actually.

Both Towers and the antennas will be stored on bucks at the new QTH.  Unfortunately I forgot to order a replacement base for the 56 Ft Tashjian and have decided to do more preventative maintenance on the 70 ft Tashjian Skyneedle even though I otherwise have everything to put it up.

At the Island QTH a 48 Ft Extra Heavy Duty Rohn BX that had been a temporary tower (up about three years) for an area provider is likely to be pressed into duty under the Hexbeam there.

I am presently undecided whether the very large custom Radiowavz Hexbeam will be the Island antenna or if I will keep using the DX Engineering Hexbeam there, diverting the big one to the new home QTH.  Time for some contemplation and some modeling analysis?!

The New QTH is largely wooded, so it is going to take some thinking to make an antenna layout work with the limited area of clearings not directly adjacent to the house itself.  On the plus side there is nearly a mile of jeep/golf cart sized roads mostly built of gravel, which makes access very easy.

A lot to think of and plan…

73

Steve K9ZW

Maestro Versions – where’s the power button?

I’m often asked what is the external differences between current Maestro production and the earlier series?

Making the switch over between versions less clear cut are several field reports of Maestro units produced in the transition from what I’ve heard references as Maestro-A (the Early Production units) and Maestro-B (the current production units has of 2018).

Easiest external indicator is the location of the On/Off switch.

Maestro-A (Early Production) has the switch on the top, to the far left:

Early Production Maestro-A Top On/Off Switch Location

Maestro-B (Later Production) has the switch on the Left Side of the unit:

Early Production Maestro-B Left Side On/Off Switch Location

Internal differences haven’t been spelled out more than the improved resolution of the Maestro-B screen and assurances that the Dell OEM module of the Maestro-A was replaced by a better new OEM component.  (The original Dell module had product nuances that Dell may have considered “features” in their own use as a tablet, but were not the way FlexRadio users (or FlexRadio itself) expected the module to perform when used as an OEM component in a complex product.)

73

Steve
K9ZW

Thoughts on Remote Station dependencies in Emergency Use

Whether Emcomm, Freecomm, or just for personal use, can a radio amateur depend on a remote station when the “chips are down?”

There are some compelling reasons that a remote station would be a useful tool in an emergency.  Whether it is to access a station unaffected by a localized emergency event, whether it is to gain a high performance remote station’s capabilities while being relatively mobile, through concepts like minimizing personal risk through DF (direction finding) & retaliation in a confrontational emergency – there are dozens of rationales making access to a remote station a consideration. Personally I find the idea a single operator might be able to access any one of several remote stations compelling.

By definition remoting a station requires the operator to establish a link from their location to the remote station.  While there are several types of connections available the contemporary remote station depends largely on internet connectivity to create the “bridge” between the operator and the remote station.

I’d like to talk about this ‘internet bridge’ in general reliability terms.

Robustness, Reliability and Latency are the keywords to define what works best.  Most Robust, Most Reliable and Lowest Stable Latency are the goals we need for an effective remote operation.

All current solutions depend on our operator to remote station bridge traversing multiple internet connections.

Often the most Robust, Reliable and Lowest Latency is technically complex and involved.

Largely solutions fall into a couple classes:

  • Direct Login – where the operator directly does a login to the remote station.  These are fairly simple, but often have data throughput issues and often require dedicated hardware at both ends.  The setups may be technically more challenging than any challenge in actual use.  (Geeky to configure, but easier to run later.)

 

  • VPN Tunnel – where an internet tunnel is created between the operator and the remote station.  These are more complex to setup, often requiring special software/hardware, but largely are workable.  A lot of folk find this solution more Geeky than they are ready to undertake.

 

  • Brokered Connections – basically allows the ease of an Direct Login brokering behind the scenes the advantages of a VPN Tunnel.  Basically the operator (and radios at the remote station) end up all connected to a server service that then gets the operator and remote station pushed off to their own VPN.  When they want to renegotiate a new connection the server service is called back in to handle those new negotiations.  Actual traffic doesn’t pass through the server service (that would be wasteful and add too much latency) but the service provides some levels of overwatch.  FlexRadio’s SmartLink is the widest known amateur radio Broker Connection product.

Some solutions require the remote station to have a computer interfacing towards the wider internet, others allow station components to interface directly to the internet.

The remote station interface computer can range from a separate PC class machine to a dedicated processor integral in perhaps a router (thinking VPN here folks) or even a board-type computer like a dedicated Raspberry-Pi acting as the interface.

If you visualize this remote station to operator ‘bridge’ from end to end, many components are single, dedicated, unique to that ‘bridge.’  These are often called “single points of failure,” meaning that if they fail the entire system will fail.  You can do a lot of research on “single points of failure” and suggest searching on it (you might want to use the “SPOF” shorthand and “single point of failure mitigation” to get a start on analysis/solutions.)

There is another consideration concerning the Robustness of parts of the ‘bridge.’  While we try to build our remote station ‘bridge’ using the most robust components we normally frame the expected reliability under the concept that whole system is only as good as it’s weakest link.

Actually the whole system – that ‘bridge’ – isn’t even as good as the weakest link.  Reliability Engineers multiply each uptime percentage with all the other SPOF reliability factors to get an overall system reliability prediction (see Lusser’s Law.)  This means we shouldn’t consider a ‘bridge’ 95% reliable that crosses say seven different 95% reliable SPOFs, rather we should consider that ‘bridge’ only roughly 70% reliable (the product of the seven 95% rounded off).

Actually this sort of math is fairly tedious and may only offer a reliability indicator in the end for our purposes, as we seldom have actual measured individual reliability factors.  One certainly wouldn’t want to build a reliability prediction based on marketing claims – that is why we intuitively put more stock into the real world experiences we can get information on.

A lot of Emcomm/Freecom station address the know SPOFs that face an emergency station – redundant gear, radios, power, manual paperwork/procedures to replace the automated ones, repair supplies & tools, and maybe even a cached complete redundant station in a different location in case the main station was damaged.

Things quickly get complicated when we remote though.  It is a lot harder to say swap in a good antenna switch when lightening damaged our usual switch when we are operating remote.  Like it isn’t likely to happen without feet on the ground at the station itself.

Then can we depend on traversing the WWW Internet to complete our ‘bridge?’

The impetuous to write this article has been a rare outage in Microsoft’s Azure, the backend product behind FlexRadio’s SmartLink.  SmartLink became unusable for part of day when lightening created a power surge that damaged the cooling in a major Microsoft Azure datacenter.  The loss of cooling led to the servers protecting themselves and going offline.  While established SmartLink ‘bridges’ appeared unaffected, there was a loss in SmartLink’s brokering new connections.  Establishing new remote connections via SmartLink wasn’t possible.

That brief outage led to a lot of thinking about whether a remote station is a good Emcomm/Freecom solution?

In my case I do keep a SoftEther VPN backup in the ready.

That is a Parallel alternative to the brokered SmartLink connection.

Parallel systems improve overall reliability with every completely separate parallel system available.

Mathematically say we have three 95% options we can calculate the overall reliability using the formula

Overall Reliability = 1-(first system’s failure rate x next system’s failure rate….)

That would give us in our example

Overall Reliability = 1-(5% x 5% x 5%) which equals 99.9875% calculated Overall Reliability

(If you think you’d like to get into more on this subject, including guidelines on how to calculate combined series/parallel system reliabilities I can suggest http://reliawiki.org/index.php/RBDs_and_Analytical_System_Reliability for a starting point.)

The math should guide us – if we have truly parallel redundancy we minimize the SPOFs we can control.

The remaining wildcard is how reliable we can consider the WWW Internet in an Emcomm/Freecom situation?

Whether the internet is interrupted by the emergency event or is disrupted separately, can we depend it to allow our proposed Emcomm/Freecom remote operations?

Recently in the amateur radio news the MARS folks have announced they want their people to both have the capabilities to operate and drill without internet connectivity.  As a great many MARS stations use a computer, they have asked that this computer be ‘air gapped’ – meaning physically disconnected from the internet.

I’m thinking it would be best practice that any Emcomm/Freecom remote station also have a parallel system to ‘bridge’ between operator and the remote station that is also fully ‘air gapped.’

Otherwise my take is we are just fooling ourselves as the greatest part of the ‘bridge’ is across systems & hardware we neither control or can access.  In most cases we may note be able to even figure out exactly what the ‘bridge’ topography actually is.

If that ‘bridge’ topography is altered to bypass damaged components (or for other reasons) it may pick up an unacceptable latency compromising our ability to operate remote.

In a future post I’ll cover ideas on possibilities for an “air gapped bridge.”

73

Steve
K9ZW

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