Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter My Favorite Time

Its been a while since I checked in here. My schedule has changed and we are in the process of getting a new practice off the ground so I have not been as devoted to my hamming as I was in the past. I was awakened by some alarm in my house probably my kids clock or something. It was going off every 10 minutes so I got up to investigate. Of course as soon as I got up it never happened again, but it did get me into the shack.

This morning as I was tuning 40M, I realized the whole world seemed to be open I was hearing the terminator come across EU as those folks were waking up, and I was equally hearing Asia as those folks were heading into the dark. I was also hearing South America and Russia. In fact it was interesting as some of the EU stations were calling CQ directly on top of some of the Asian stations,. Eventually some of them hooked up. My line noise has finally disappeared and I was able to hear all this with my noise blankers turned off for once. The ambient noise is higher than I am used to by an S unit, but virtually no static was to be heard. The F5K has a very quiet receiver and is easy on the ears for extended periods of listening to the band noise trying to dig out those coherent beeps.

This is the time of year I like best for hamming. It reminds me of days gone by when its cold outside. The sky is very dark and the heavens are full of stars bright. I would come flip on the radio and hear what I could hear slowly tuning from bottom and up. The bands are quiet but unfortunately not too many stations are out there it seems

As you can see skimmer is virtually empty. I didn't hear anything exotic but I just had a good time beating the bushes. I think there are probably more of us just waiting to pounce than calling CQ. Stations heard ZL VK SM F UA BA JA HK BY KP4 SM SP G EI Like I said the whole world

If I don't get back to this before Christmas I want to wish each and every one of you Merry Christmas and good DX from W9OY


Friday, October 15, 2010

How my station works

I was up early again. I've been having some trouble with shoulder impingement syndrome and the pain sometimes wakes me up. It's hell to get old but it can help the DXCC situation. This morning I was knocking off some of the PJ- stations on different bands. Displayed is my setup on PJ6A. I received an email yesterday from Jeremy KB7QOA who wondered a little about my setup. I realized I haven't spoken much about that lately and I probably have some new readers who are interested. Jeremy has a good old FT-857 now but is interested in SDR, so I thought I might showcase how my SDR setup works for him and for other readers

My station consists of a F5K, a F3K, a ALS-1300 solid state amp and several verticals that are fed from an Ameritron RCS-4 antenna switch which I have modified for automatic antenna selection, a horizontal flat top openwire fed on 80-6M, and two other verticals that are on independent coaxs, one that auto switches between 80 and 40 and one that is a base tuned 45ft wire vertical. You can look at my antenna selection on the above links

The F5K has many antenna ports.

I brought out Ant 1,2,3 and RX1 and RX2 to SO239 barrell connectors on a patch panel, and I can hook up any of my antennas to any of the various ports simply by plugging into the patch panel This allows me for example to quickly set up various antenna combinations for SO2R operation or for diversity reception, or unplug all antennas when a thunder storm is lurking. The antennas are chosen by software i PowerSDR

Here I have the high performance multiband vertical connected to Ant 2 and the 45ft vert to Ant 1. I can remote tune the 45ft vert simply by switching the transmit ant to 1 and sending 10w down the line

This is how I tune this antenna which I primarily use for diversity reception.

My ALS-1300 and modified RCS-4 are connected to my system through this $19 board

from United Microsystems

This allows my amp and antenna to automatically band follow my transceiver. In addition I use the DXlab suite of software and I use CW skimmer.

These programs are all joined together by the mack daddy of utility programs DDUTIL

and by a couple of programs that allow for I/O of audio called Virtual Audio Cable (VAC)

virtual serial port (VSP)

With these programs I can run a PSK31 program for example win warbler directly control my transceiver with out any kind of "wires" between the PSK31 software and the PowerSDR software which is the heart of the Flex radio The above VAC and VSP allow direct control between the 2 programs

I can also run a direct I/Q stream out of PowerSDR using VAC to CW skimmer which is why I have such wide bandwidth in Skimmer. VSP gives frequency control between the 2 programs

So back to the above picture of my station and PJ6A. What I do is click on the station of interest in this case PJ6A in my DX cluster client called Spot Collector on the lower left side of the screen. This loads the callsign into DX view (upper left) which gives the pertinent stats about this station and this region. For example I see PJ6 short path is 1354 miles on a 120 degree path, and the station is marked both short path and long path on the world map from my FL QTH. I can see the terminator and whether its daylight or darkness between us etc.

As you can see I've worked PJ6 on both 80 and 40

In addition PJ6A is loaded into the capture screen of my logbook

with some standard RST numbers If the exchange is not 599 I simply enter the correct exchange before I log the contact I can store other info like name etc and this will come up if I work the station more than once so I can call the fellow by his name

In addition when I hit the callsign my transceiver moves to the correct band and freq, as do my amp and antenna The split is set and I am ready to transmit

If you look at the skimmer part of this picture

There are 2 ways to determine where the DX is listening BEFORE you transmit. One is to copy the callsign if the station he is calling and look for that station in the list. The other is to look for the red 599 If you study these clues you can tell if the DX station is moving up or down the pileup or staying on the same freq. You can immediately tell if he jumps from the top to the bottom of the pileup. You can tell if he is working stations 2 khz ABOVE the main body of the pileup and all the other tricks DX stations do to spread things out and make sense of the mayhem, and you can do this without transmitting. When you do transmit you can target where you will have the highest likelyhood of paydirt. Sometimes this does not work and you just have to bang away with the rest of the crowd but most times you can limit your calls to a very low number of tries and bingo he is in the log.

This is what fascinates me the most about SDR, how it orders the chaos by providing a new depth of information. I call this information 3 dimensional as compared to the old one dimensional method of previous radios. Old radios use first in first out linear tuning PSDR uses point and shoot. You can precisely point your signal where you want it in the band and you don't have to bother tuning up and down. The panadapter is 2 dimensional as opposed to a knob which is one dimensional. The third dimension to making sense of the chaos is the ability to quickly decode the data contained in the pileup as a whole This dimension is the dimension of knowledge. It is a quantum that allows you to place yourself in the chaos based on a high degree of probability and not just blind randomness or guessing

The ibuprophen is finally kicking in so I'm going to try to grab another couple hours sleep Hope you enjoyed a foray into my ham radio world


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The bands are jumpin

Above is the 80M pile up on the 5V7TT Togo DX-pedition I managed to work them on 40 and 80 tonight along with a bunch of those new PJ- stations and 7Z1HL and RI1FJ in Franz Joseph land all in the space of about 45 minutes

I've been busy with life and haven't had much time for hamming lately Hopefully things will settle down The other good thing is the miners are all rescued. This was a flawless and amazing feat I think and it makes me want to become DX in Chile. Our prez could take a lesson from Sebastian Pinera on how to lead I think, and the currency is strong Wonder how the propagation is from Chile?

My 160M ant is down so I need to repair that. I have been thinking of making it a T instead of an inv-L, maybe this weekend Otherwise no real changes to the station I have been testing out some new hardware from flex. It is still in the alpha stages so I won't get into it but it should make SO2R contesting a snap. We have been working on getting the bugs out of the N1MM interface and the behavior of that has improved. There are still a few changes to be made to PSDR to get that running

Get on the bands they are hotter n a pistol


Saturday, August 14, 2010


I was up early and tuning the band and heard HL0NHQ on 40. It was perfect gray line time but the storm QRM kind of precluded my contact. I was able to hear him but he was dish water weak so I decided to make a blog entry

I got into a recent pissing contest over on EHAM with old Stan K9IUQ regarding the "lag" of the CW side tone. A fellow was interested in the F3K and wondered about the "lag". Stan is a bit of a misanthrope who likes to knock the F5K all the while claiming to be objective, so I decided true objectivity could be had by publishing an audio clip the demonstrated how the F5K actually sounds

The reason the Flex radio can do so many amazing thing is because after the signal hits the antenna there is a whole lot of computer processing going on before the audio hits your tympanic membrane and courses into your metenchephalon headed for your consciousness. In the old SDR-1000 days the lag was substantial. There was virtually no way you could use the sidetone in the radio to send code because what you heard in your headphones was "lagged" by at least the length of a dah. It was maddening. What I did to over come in in those days was to have the Flex audio mixed with the sidetone output of my keyer on a 3 channel stereo mixer so I could hear the radio and hear the sidetone from the keyer in the same headphones. That is basically all over, at least to my ear.

After all the kvetching from Stan I decided to make a recording of what my radio sounds like so people can listen for themselves and make a judgment. My keyer is set for 32 wpm


What you hear is a mic recording of the sidetone of my keyer (the 500hz note) and the 350hz note of the side tone in my F5K I have my F5K set for

Audio buffers of 512 and panadapter bandwidth of 96K My DSP transmit buffers are set at 512 and my receive buffers at 4096

I have my transmit delay set to 60ms and you can hear the transmit relay clicking in the background as I send test. This gives you an idea of what hearing between words means, as you can hear the relay drop between words and letter sequences. With the relay set to this delay My rig is semi-breakin and I can hear between words in a normal 25+ wpm qso. The keyer is my USB winkey and I send the transmit signal into PSDR over a serial port into the computer. I do this so I can have 2 paddles attached to the radio, one to the keyer and one to the back of the radio. This has been my keying methodology since the SDR-1000 days.

So now you can put to rest all the opinions from the know it alls and make your own decision regarding the lag issue and the Flex line of radios I have no problem using the sidetone in the radio to send code up to 60 wpm which is the upper limit of my keyer not to mention my addled old brain and my creaky old joints. You can also hear that I have none of the so called "squelch tail" problem with these settings. The audio is clean with no pops added. I don't have a very fancy computer nor do I bother with worrying about latency. My computer is a shuttle core 2 quad and 3 gigs of memory


Saturday, August 7, 2010

So where do we go from here

Sorry I haven been absent for the past 6 months. My professional life has been basically sucking the breath out of my hobby time and I haven't had much time or energy to devote to my ham radio and blogging duties. Hopefully things are slowing down to enough of a dull roar that I can allow my ADD to take over and start to populate this blog with some new information.

Since my last post Flex has released the F1500.

I don't have one yet but hope to obtain one in the near future. I got to play with a prototype at Orlando earlier this year, and if you are interested in learning something about SDR but don't want to invest a lot of money this is the way to go. For $649 you will have a fully functional SDR QRP rig with all the bells and whistles of PowerSDR. More to follow on this little beauty

They also have the UHF/VHF module for the F5K. Above is a picture of this transverter board installed inside the F5K. This module has a VHF UHF transverter of 60 watts each and allows full duplex and crossband operation in all modes supported including satellite, repeaters etc. PowerSDR is already fully complaint with all transverters. I used a TenTec transverter with my SDR-1000 set up and it worked great for SSB and CW

Here is a shot of the transverter set up screen in PSDR

In this shot I have highlighted 5 transverters. Note you can adjust virtually every parameter necessary to get a transverter working LO freq direction of VFO such that a LO that tunes from low to high or high to low will cause the readouts on PSDR to be correct. It controls any preamps and the IF gain of those as well as power output on a per band basis so you don't fry your transverter

Here is a shot of the normal PSDR band switch

Note the VHF+ button in the lower left Here is what you get when have set up the transverter form such as I did above and you tick this button

Pushbutton access to all of your transverters automatically configured.

Here is a shot of PSDR with the 2M button pressed

I do not have my 2 meter transverter hooked up at present so this is a bit of a mock up but as you can see all of the PSDR horsepower is ready to go.

On the other fronts, we continue to work on improving the SO2R nature of the radio and work out a few bugs. Steve K5FR is redesigning DDUTIL's contesting engine into a server client model which should substantially speed up things in the CAT channel and improve responsiveness. We are looking at designing a contest interface that mates specifically with PSDR so with a contest front end and a well honed DDUTIL back end things are getting interesting. More to follow as things progress


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Flex 5000 filters

A new video demonstrating the Filters of the FLex 5000A The filters are all user customizable and all according to mode. I have my 10 CW filters set from 1.2khz down to 13hz My normal CW listening is at 25hz

This is in CWL mode Notice how CWU has a completely different lineup

and notice how LSB has its own lineup of completely customizable filters. In fact each mode has its own filters that are completely customizable

Here is a video I shot demonstrating the filters on CWL


Friday, March 19, 2010

Flex 5000 Antenna switch

I know this is a really mundane kind of topic, but the antenna switch on the F5K is something that gives it immense power. I also have a F3K, which has no extra I/O save one BNC port and as soon as I fire that great little radio up I miss the heck out of all those ports and all the flexibility that implies.


God loves me

Here is a shot of my 160M noise level this morning diversity mode -123 on RX1 and -124 on RX2


Thursday, March 18, 2010

3B9WR 80M CW video

I made a contact with 3B9WR on 80M and decided to make a video of the pileup on him and how I normally have my station configured for DX. I use CW Skimmer and diversity and describe how a typical DX contact proceeds.

If you remember the old Gotham vertical adds:

FLASH JUST SWITCHED TO 40 AND GOT HIM ON THE SECOND CALL He was about an hour into his daylight. The bands are good for this late in the season


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

YouTubin' diversity

My first attempt at You Tube Best viewed full screen


Saturday, March 13, 2010

F5K Noise Abatement E71A, TM27CC

Above is a shot of the 5275 mile path between me and E71A in Bosnia

I've been playing around with a new video screen capture program. This morning I was listening to E71A on 80CW and decided to make a recording of him vs my noise, to demonstrate how well the F5K does at reducing the noise. I used to have a very low noise floor at this QTH but over the course of the last 9 months or so things have gone from good to bad. If it weren't for the capabilities of the F5K I would be sunk.

The station starts out in a 250hz bandwidth and I add noise blanking and go to 25 hz, then add the second receiver in diversity mode then go to diversity plus mode using the phase gain pad (the green bulls-eye)

There are thunder storms out in the ocean and up in NC and SC.

You can hear the difference for yourself. (If you are using firefox, you can increase the size of this video by holding down CLT and using the mouse wheel to increase the size and if you look closely you can see the mouse cursor flying around the screen changing different settings)


E71A 80M CW, 2 verticals about 3/4 wavelength apart

You can hear E71A and I also note when I peak the station he is talking to (lower left corner) I open up the noise again and then turn every thing back on, note the increase is SNR near the end of the video when I enable the "plus" feature. My antennas for this band are 2 verticals separated by about 3/4 wavelength I made the contact and on my 43ft vertical at 100W I was 559 and on my 66ft vertical at 1500W I was 599. I was about an hour into his daylight.

I next switched to 160M, tuned up my diversity antenna, and heard some early risers in EU. G3JMJ was booming in but went QRT before I could record him. I next heard TM7CC in France
a 4500 mile path, and made a recording of him.

This was just after the terminator flew over his head. In this video you can see the storm static is considerable. On 160 the antennas are only 3/8 wave separated so you can see a much greater beam steering interaction between antennas when using the plus mode. He came back first call and gave me 599. Again I go through all the noise abatement features except NR. NR does help some on static noise but I find the improvement is nothing like the improvement from the noise blankers and the filters and diversity and the beam steering that the plus feature offers


TM7CC 160M CW 2 resonant verticals about 3/8 wavelength apart

I belong to the Florida Contest Group and on their reflector (private reflector) there has been a discussion regarding how some fellow wants to configure the K-3 he intends to purchase. Most of the discussion revolves around a 400hz roofing filter followed by a second 400hz IF filter. Given my noise situation, my noise floor on 160M is at best -100dBm at 400hz and it drops down to -115dBm at 25hz. Just one pair of 400hz filters adds $260 bux to the cost of the radio. Its like I now live on a different planet. I can't even imagine living with something as pedestrian as a 400hz bandwidth

The software is called Debut video capture software and I am using the free version. Thus far its the best package I have found and the audio is very good. To make the thing track audio and video I had to reduce the frame rate in Debut to 15fps and I increased the frame rate in PSDR to 30fps


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Notes From SDR

I tend to always head down the Flex path with SDR, but Jim W4GB sent me a link that is worth looking at. It is a compilation of articles regarding the theory of SDR. I covered a lot of this early in my blog, but after close to 50,000 page hits it is worthwhile .

If you really want to understand the heart of SDR I suggest starting with Dan Tayloe's article

Just perusing the articles you can tell what is important in the SDR arena. Things like oscillator jitter and low low noise amplifiers

The other thing that is most important is to understand that SDR is done with DSP digital signal processing. This means the processing is going on in virtual time, not real time. The simplest analogue radio is a crystal radio aka a diode detector. A signal hits the antenna, hits the diode and audio is immediately produced. This is real time. In a commercial ham receiver you add amplifiers and detectors and filters and blankers into the signal path stretches things out a little bit between antenna and ear, but the signal is processed in virtual time with the SDR and that means you can manipulate it much more dramatically (aka mathematically) with far fewer components.

Much good stuff to consider on these pages and thanks to Jim for pointing this site out.


Saturday, February 27, 2010


Steve K5FR has been up to it again!! Steve of course is the author of the fine DDUTIL utility. He has added a memory feature to DDUTIL that expands the memory capability of the radio.

At the bottom of the form are the V<>M Recall, Save, Load and Clear buttons, and some boxes that readout freq mode and memory number. The memory system revolves around 5 tunable scrolling memory slots and a way to get in and out of the memory stack using the V<>M button, and I think this is one of the best features of this applet.

You save memories simply by tuning your VFO to what ever freq you want to save, and hit save, for example

I'm on 7020.308 CWL at 25hz band width all I do is hit save and this is memorized including VFO B data into the next available memory in this case memory 1. The memories are volatile and first in first out, with the idea that you only want to scratch pad the data, not remember it forever, and the oldest data is the least desirable. If you want a more permanent memory you can use the system that already exists in PSDR I can return to this memory at any time simply by queuing up memory 1 by hitting recall to scroll me through the 5 memories and then hitting load to send the chosen memory into the Flex radio. If for example you are listening to a pileup but the pileup is too big, or the propagation still needs to build, you can set up your station, mode filter offset and all that and simply memorize it. You can then continue to tune the band. If you hear another pile up you can memorize that one also and toggle between the 2 memories.

Here is the nice feature, you can also toggle in and out of the VFO. To enter the memory stack you hit the V<>M button. When you do that your current VFO freq is memorized into a hidden 6th scratchpad memory, and the last memory slot you used is then loaded into the Flex radio. This means you can continue to tune up the band, or tune another band and keep checking back on your pileup with just one button click. If you are not ready to pounce on your prey, you simply hit V<>M again and you are placed exactly where you started before you entered the memory stack. Mode and filter etc is memorized so you can be listening to a SSB QSO up the band and instantly check your pile up with a single button click VERY COOL

Here I am listening to a SSB QSO on 7238 listening to some guy give bad advice on antennas

I hit the V<>M button and I am immediately transported to 7.020.308 CWL, the contents of memory 1.

Notice how 7.238 is now displayed in the window next to V<>M which has turned yellow. This informs you that you have entered the memory stack. If you hit the V<>M button again you are back at 7.238 ready to tune up the band some more.

Slicker 'n ______ (you fill in the blank)


Sunday, February 21, 2010


I decided to crank the F5K up in the ARRL CW contest this weekend. I am by no means a die hard contester. In fact I was on call Friday and I was up all night in the operating room and not on 40M. I have spent so much of my life awake all night that the idea of doing it on purpose just to work a bunch of EA's and LZ's going 50wpm no longer appeals to me.

There is a lot of FUD broadcasted regarding the F5K's contesting capability. This is a FINE contest radio, in fact better than my Orion was

Here is the setup at W9OY

I'm using the latest PB-PAL code and drivers, DDUTIL, CW skimmer, and N1MM. I use CW skimmer for the spotting function, and this is the first time I have tried this particular setup. Skimmer can act as a Telnet server and it serves up what it copies to the N1MM band map, so all those stations in the band map were populated in the map by skimmer. You can also have your band map populated by a DX cluster if you like, and this is the way I have run the station in the past. One thing to be sure you HAVE to copy the station before you enter the callsign into the log entry screen in N1MM. Skimmer just decodes what ever it hears, and what it hears could be the other side of a DX contact. For example if UT9DX was on 14.020 and was being called by K3RR you may just as easily have K3RR in your band map as UT9DX, so this is assisted, but not very assisted. What it does do is give you a clear picture of what is on the band at any given time. One thing N1MM does is keep you abreast of new multipliers and that is a good feature especially for SnP and SO2R operations. I decided to run this contest at 100W instead of full power. I don't have great antennas. I have a 43ft vertical to use on the high bands 20, 15 and 10, and I have a 135ft open wire dipole to use on those bands as well, and a 160M 80M, 40M and 20M dedicated verticals. On 20 the flat top is almost always better than the verticals, so I figured running this contest with this antenna compliment and 100W would be a challenge and would be a good example of what the average guy could do with simple antennas.

I ran all bands from 160 to 10, but I only put in about 3 hours total doing SnP. The radio performed flawlessly. Here are some shots of the band noise

Here is 15M

and here is 20M

This is about what my band noise runs on 20M contest or not. There was not ONE beep or boop in the RX passband that I did not expect to hear (as in overload) even though the band was chock full of super strong stations.

Later in the contest I decided to switch from Skimmer feeding my band map in N1MM to the W9AZ DX cluster server. I think over all I prefer the DX cluster feeding the band map and Skimmer over to the side doing its own thing. With the cluster feeding the band map it was super easy to just go down the list one after another picking up multipliers. Using DDUTIL there was no problem controlling the rig either from N1MM or from Skimmer so I just hit the call I wanted to work and BAM I was on freq. For my keyer I used my K1EL USB version, but I ran it from push buttons instead of N1MM

I later switched to the F3K using a laptop, and my 43ft vertical on 20M and used N1MM and skimmer to do the duties. I had this radio set up on a separate power supply as well essentially a completely separate station. Running the 3K single band was basically just like running the 5K except I didn't have all the auto band switching of antennas set up on the 3K like I have for the 5K. My 43ft vertical has a MFJ auto tuner set up at the base of the vertical so I just tune that on any band I want to work.

The F3K however does have the capability to seamlessly integrate completely into my auto band switching station. All I would have to do to integrate it is go unplug the F5K, plug in the F3K into my station computer, change RF output cable on my patch panel from F5K to F3K and plug in some headphones to the F3K For the average guy the 3K is a very good choice for a contest radio as well and would be a good choice to throw in the bag and take on an island DX pedition. The receiver in that radio is superb.

I was only able to operate a scattered 3 hours 10 minutes total time during the contest but it was a lot of fun. It was great to see activity on 10 and 15. There was an amazing number of 160 and 80M stalwarts holding the fort and 40 and 20 were just nuts

73 W9OY

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Orlando Hamcation 2010 plus F3K post script

I attended the Hamcation this past weekend and had a great time. The attendance seemed a bit down, but I was speaking with some vendors who said business was pretty good so maybe that's a good sign for the economy. Everyone of course was there with their version of some kind of SDR

Yaesu was there with its latest 5000 radio, my impression HO HUM

Elecraft had their little answer to the pan adapter, what a joke. It was a little screen maybe 9" and made the radio look like a toy. The quality of the display was horrible.

I swung by the Flex booth and met Greg Jurrens and Steve Hicks and they had the Flex radios set up on 40" 1080p monitors, one on the F5K and one on the F3K and it totally cracked me up to see the difference in performance. The displays were beautiful (of course no prejudice here :)

They also had the F-1500 on display. Man what a cute little bugger. It was a little bigger than I anticipated but still quite small. I think this radio will definitely be a winner. I'm not a big QRP kind of guy but I still can't wait to get one and give her a try. This will make a very nice TINY little rig to hop on a plane and use for a contest. You can see the block diagram of the radio here

When I got home from the hamfest I was thinking about the contest aspect of the Flex line and decided to see how small a set up I could come up with. I took my F3K out of the shack and grabbed a Samlex 25 amp switching supply I had in the drawer and unplugged my Begalli Graciella paddle a mic and some headphones, and decided to set up a radio station.

I set up the F3K on a couple of hook up wire spools to get it off the ground.; For an antenna I used my 45ft end fed wire vertical I had hanging out of a tree in my front yard

You can see the ATU sitting at the base, here is a closer shot

In the Ammo can is a MFJ-929 auto antenna tuner. I run power to the tuner over the coax and I initiate a tune by applying 10 watts to the tuner from in the shack. The tuner will tune this wire from 160-6 meters and I have made contacts on all the bands (except 60M, NO CW). I turn down the power some on 160 because you can generate a LOT of reactive voltage at 100W, but I have run 100 W with this setup on 160 with no problem. This could easily be an antenna you could take out to the field or on a DX pedition

For a computer I used my kids Lenovo R61i laptop. I bought it from NewEgg a couple years ago for $450. It is a 1.7ghz dual core mobile computer with 1mb L2 cache and 1gB of memory with a 15" screen. Their computer was virginal as far as SDR software is concerned and I wanted to see how hard it would be to get this system running.

First was the .Net frameworks that had to be installed. I googled .Net 1.1 and and .Net 3.5 and installed both and the SP updates. Next I downloaded the latest driver, F3K firmware and Release version of PowerSDR from the Flex download page. I decided to time how long it would take to set up the radio, from driver, firmware, PSDR, to first contact. I started the setup at 18:15. I loaded the driver, which required a reboot. I next powered up the radio and the computer recognized the F3K and intalled the usual 3 parts of the driver. Once I was talking to the radio I updated the firmware, and then installed PSDR. Once installed I went to setup and setup my usual preferences. I often download the alpha code which sometimes requires a new database so I don't have a lot of customization in setup, but I do like to optimize CW so I set the audio buffer to 48khz and 512, and the DSP buffers to 4096 and 512. I measured the DPC latency at about 200 for this computer. After I closed setup I turned on the radio and switched to 40M and heard EA6UN on the Balearic Islands calling CQ. I worked him first call with a 599, 100W to my trusty wire vertical. He was in the log by 18:29 14 minutes from setup to completed contact. Not too shabby.

The radio prompted me to do a re-calibration after the new firmware install, so I did a CTL-SHFT-P and brought up the calibration screen. I put a dummy on the antenna, checked off the recal tests I wanted to do and, hit the start button and went and got a coke. In about 20 minutes I had everything recalibrated and all screens were green and the new data was saved in the EPROM.

With my newly calibrated radio I next set up SSB using the metering choices provided. I set up the mic gain to 0dB and set up the EQ and the EQ gain, checked the leveler and the ALC and set up the compander to +3. I looked at the waveform on the scope and found it to be acceptable and listened to the audio in the headphones. I switched up to the phone band on 40M and there was YU7ZEX over in Serbia. He had a little pileup going, and I gave him a call. He came right back and gave me a 59 and good report on the audio. I next switched to 80M and worked US7WW on CW, 559 both ways. By now it was closing on 19:00, so in 45 minutes I had 3 DX contacts in the log basically starting from nothing except having the .Netframework already loaded.

I next installed VAC (virtual audio cable) and VSP (virtual serial port) and configured these and linked them to PowerSDR. I next installed DDUTIL, CW skimmer and the entire DX lab suite. I setup winwarbler and made a PSK31 contact. Instructions for setting up winwarbler with PSDR are here in the Flex knowledge base Note that there are no added physical modules, weird little panadapter boxes or extra cables to get all this going. It's all done in software.

I found that as I added software my CPU usage started to climb. It was around 15-20%, went up into the 30% with Skimmer and went up into the 60's with DX lab with SpotCollector running and around this level is where you start getting dropouts. So my kids little $450 computer does have its limits. I did nothing to optimize this computer just loaded the software and hit start so I could probably get some improved performance by shutting unneeded stuff off, but since this is my kids school computer and they use it online for classes I decided to leave well enough alone. With the addition of DDUTIL this radio becomes frequency agile and you could use the LPT port to drive antenna switches and Steppir antennas and amplifiers to automatically band follow you as you change freq. The receive quality was marvelous, basically as good as my F5K in this environment. There has been a lot of improvement in CW switching as well. The weight of the entire station comes in under 20lbs excluding coax and the ammo can. If I was taking this station to field day or something I would simply wrap the tuner in plastic and save the weight, but I have found the ammo can to be basically indestructible and bone dry even in the wildest FL deluge so it has worked out to be a good choice

For fun I decided to see how the station would look with the radio in the cabinet next to the desk. I occasionally see people requesting info on a small radio they could use in the office for example, HERE YA GO high performance radio with virtually no footprint


Monday, February 8, 2010

End of an Era

This entry is not about ham radio. I live and work in a town that is scattered with remembrances of manned space flight. One of the local high schools has a 2 stage rocket in front of it. The other high school is named "Astronaut". Many of the grade schools hold names like Apollo or Challenger. We have parks with monuments to Mercury and Gemini.

If you look across the river from the hospital I work in, you can see the VAB the vehicle assembly building, where the shuttle is readied for launch.

The VAB is 525 ft tall. The Statue of Liberty is 305. The volume of the VAB is 129,428,000 cub ft. The volume of the Pentagon is 77,025,000 cu ft. The VAB equals 3.5 Empire State Buildings. It covers 8 acres. To paint the flag on the building required 6,000 gallons of paint. It is hardened to beyond a cat 4 hurricane, something greater than 140mph sustained winds

The Space center sits on a little jut of land called Merritt Island that sits next to the Atlantic:

You can see launch pad A and B next to the ocean I live out in the sticks in the upper left corner of this picture in a place called Turnbull and I work in Titusville a few miles south.

At a little past 4 this morning I witnessed the letter perfect liftoff of the last night launch of a manned space craft this country will likely ever perform, and it made me feel very very sad. The temperature was about about 45 F and 63 seconds after the candle was light, the tremendous wave of noise that is put off by the explosive power of such a device hit my house. Because of the cool temp the air was particularly dense and the rumble was very loud, and in that instant I realized I would hear that rumble only a couple more times until it would go silent likely forever. (63 sec*1100 ft per second at sea level =13 miles = the distance between me and the candle)

What started with Kennedy will end with Obama because there will be no political will to start up the program once it has closed. The energy barrier to reignite manned space flight will be too high. The thousands of trained technicians will disperse into the world, perhaps to places like China and India and Russia to man their space programs. The engineers and scientists will disperse as well and the whole superstructure of human capital will be laid to waste, and the expenditure of energy required to reignite manned space flight will never be expended. Other countries will take up the gauntlet, and other countries will reap the rewards, and yet another thing in which we presently lead the world will be no more. I think it's very short sighted.


Saturday, January 30, 2010


I spent some time with the new SO2R setup on 160m this weekend. You may ask how can you runs SO2R on the same band? The answer is two receivers. With DDUTIL set up like this:

Note the 160M entries

I'm using the same amp and the same antenna for both VFO's. In order to get this to work I needed to parallel the AmpKey outputs from the F5K into my amp. All of AmpKey ports come out to a patch panel, and all the Key ports from my amps come out to the same panel, so it was a simple matter to parallel a 2 into 1 cable made with 1/4" phone jacks to get the amp to key on either VFO. As you can see the way I have it set up I have the "RUN" station set up on VFO B (the upper N1MM screen) and I have the Search and Pounce station set up on VFO A. VFO A is controlled by Skimmer and N1MM and is the lower N1MM screen. This way I can be calling CQ and click either the band map or Skimmer and the radio switches to VFO A.

Presently the N1MM band map data is being fed from data decoded by Skimmer over the local host telnet connection

I can also feed the band map in N1MM from the telnet connection I have to the W9AZ DX cluster connection, but I wanted to see how well the Skimmer:N1MM pair would work. The advantage is if you click the band map in N1MM, what ever call sign you click is cued up and that call is entered into a precontact area on the N1MM data entry port (in this case LZ2UZ)

once you grab the contact you simply click the call sign:

and you are ready to plug the data into the log book and immediately click back to the RUN VFO to continue CQ-ing

I have the audio for both VFO's in the head phones

Running this mode is not quite second nature yet, but I can nearly do two things at once. THe disadvantage of Skimmer is that it is not 100% perfect in its deciphering of CW so you can't just blindly click the button You have to make sure what you are logging is accurate, but you have to do that anyway in a contest. It's a very slick little interface even when looking for multipliers while running the CQ machine, and you can get 1500W on the wire all over the band. The rules for single op assisted class state:

Only one transmitted signal is
allowed at any moment in time. Maximum power is 1500 watts
total output or the output power allowed by your country,
whichever is less.

Passive spotting is allowed.
Passive Spotting is defined as (but not limited to):
DX spotting nets or QSO alerting assistance of any kind.
Over-the-air nets or stations that provide frequency and station
Any device or person that provides frequency and callsign
information of any station during the contest period. This includes
band skimmers or similar devices. Passive spotting does NOT
include band scopes, SDR receivers, or the like, which provide
no information about the signal other than its presence, which
is allowed in all categories.

I'm just playing with this contest to see how the SO2R system works in real contest conditions. For this contest you do NOT need a freq agile amp of freq agile band switches since everything is taking place on the same band. You don't even need 2 amps. What you get are more contacts and more multipliers in the log since you can effectively be 2 places at once

My impression?