During a small road trip through Montpelier and Burlington VT Jen and I decided to stop at Hubbard park to go for a walk and try some radio nerdery. I failed to get pictures on the beautiful snowy walk through the park, but it was wonderful and near sunset. I ended up trying to use my Yaesu VX-6R and Mobilinkd TNC3+ to send position reports, and was ultimately successful from the top of the tower we climbed.
As you can see from the screenshots above I was able to receive a bunch of stations from the tower and was able to get out a position report as well as some SMS messages via SMSGTE. Oddly I never got ACKs for my messages, but I did get a reply from SMSGTE as expected when using the “?” after the destination call. The previous messages were from tests.
As you see from the screenshots I did finally have some success sending messages from the VX-6R, but it’s not as reliable as I’d like. There’s some work left to go. As a side note I did eventually get some bi-directional messages going through SMSGTE that aren’t shown in this screenshot with Kevin, K7AJK. With enough elevation I was able to overcome the shortcomings of this setup. In the screenshots my call is K7JLX-15 and the icon I’m using is a red “X”.
Howdy! This post is one that’s been in the drafts list for a hot minute, but I took a trip to NE VT to visit a partner and on valentine’s day we went out in the woods behind her place to radio for a couple hours. After a hike that seemed much longer up hill than down we arrived a higher spot with a clearing that would allow me to set the Superantenna up. I wanted to test my new Yaesu VX-6R with a Mobilinkd TNC3+ for APRS operation. I was hoping to make some contacts with Canadian stations since I was less than 1.5 miles from the border on the hike, but alas I don’t have something set up right.
To add a bit of fun the shoulder strap on the Superantenna bag failed as seen in the photo below as we hiked up. Unfortunately that meant we had to hand carry the unit up and back down.
After getting the setup ready to rock I tried some phone operations on 20m SSB, but was ultimately not able to make any contacts despite being able to hear a number of other stations. There was a contest going on so it was hard to reach other stations. I haven’t been having a lot of luck with the Superantenna lately apart from using for SWL. I kept the 4.5AH Bioenno battery wrapped in a warm shirt within my black Chrome bag to keep it as warm as possible rather than leaving it in the ammo can. I just ran the power cable out of the top of my bag and left it rolled up when we found the spot to set up. The only ill effect the cold seemed to have on the TX-500 was that the LCD screen was a touch slow to respond to changes, but I was able to tune to stations without issues. I was surprised not to see a bunch of frequency drift despite the weather.
I used the VX-6R with the Mobinlind TNC3+ in conjuction with a duplexer going to the Superantenna with a 2m load coil set up.
Superantenna and Chameleon Mil Whip 2 set up for 20m and 2m operation
In conclusion I made no contacts whatsoever and it was cold as hell, but it was a fun hike/bushwack and my winter gear held up very well against the cold. I’d like to try this again someday, but with the trail friendly 10/20/40m endfed. I also have more experimentation left to go to get my Mobilinkd TNC3+ working properly to do APRS. As a note it wasn’t nearly as difficult to deal with the Superantenna ground plane wires as I thought it might be. The main problem I had was that I’d wound them in a way that allowed them to get tangled up and deploying them was difficult. Rolling them back up wasn’t too difficult even when the sun was behind cloud cover.
This post is a bit of a quickie, but it covers an attempt to some of the basics about working ISS’ voice repeater and APRS digipeater. During this attempt to work ISS I wasn’t able to make any voice contacts, but I started with the following:
An Arrow handheld dual band 2m/70cm satellite antenna with built-in duplexer
As ISS or any satellite orbits earth in a non-geostationary orbit you’re likely to eventually have a certain number of passes over your location, depending on how the satellite is orbiting. You can use software to predict orbits, and therefore you can be ready when the satellite passes overhead. Ideally you’ll have the transponder frequencies of the satellite you’re trying to reach pre-programmed into your radio along with some doppler-shifted frequencies to try to reach the satellite as it approaches and departs. I didn’t do that, but have had decent luck without the doppler-shifted frequencies. Passes typically last minutes. What’s happening is that a lot of satellites have an uplink (ground -> space) and downlink (space-ground) frequency. Your radio must be able to transmit on one and listen to the other to make contacts. There are some cases where that’s not necessary such as working satellites with APRS digipeaters, or just receiving signals.
I used the ISS detector pro app to find a longer pass (this one was about 6 minutes long). Before the pass I set my antenna up, connected it to my radio, and made sure it was in working order. After that I taped the phone to the beam of the antenna between the first 2m elements where it would fit using a piece of duct tape folded in on itself. Taping the phone to the boom enables me to aim the antenna using the app (screenshot later). I also configured the frequencies for the APRS digipeater on ISS, the crew communication uplink and downlink frequencies, and the FM repeater frequencies. As a side note sometimes astronauts, who are also licensed ham radio operators, will man the radios and talk with folks on the ground. In addition to programming frequencies you need to also program your APRS radio to use the digipeater path ARISS, otherwise the digipeater won’t send your packets back down to other stations.
Now it’s time for action! There’s a very narrow window to hit the ISS, so there’s a need to be quick and prepared. I went out in the street near my house a few minutes early with a clear-ish view of the sky and aimed the antenna at the satellite using the app. A screenshot below shows what the aiming screen looks like. The yellow circle is the direction the top of your phone is pointing and that should be aligned with the satellite on its track, the blue line with dots. The center of the screen is up and the and the outer ring is down. As the satellite passed I just aimed the antenna with the aid of the phone and tried to use the repeater. I didn’t hear anyone, but was able to switch to APRS and sent a beacon. I saw that the packet I sent was digipeated by ISS! Following that I checked the ARISS page and saw my call sign! You can also check https://aprs.fi and see your location as well as the path by which your packet arrived. The first hop for my position report was the ISS.
It’s been a while and this will be a big post! My partner and I were able to go camping over the weekend, and if you’ve read any of my blog posts you won’t be surprised that I took the opportunity to practice some comms and off grid operating. I wanted to work HF, do some shortwave listening, and see if I could do any UHF/VHF communications. Additionally I wanted to run off of the 100AH battery box for a couple days to see how well it held up under constant use. This is also the first camping trip I brought the speaker stand antenna mast setup on.
On the way out I ran APRS with the Kenwood TM-D710G and the COMET-NCG CA-2X4SR antenna that mounts on the hood of the 4Runner. I noticed that on the way out that I had APRS coverage nearly the whole way out.
The first night we arrived late so I did a bit of SWL. I mostly got Radio Havana Cuba, Radio Nikkei, a distant station broadcasting in Mandarin, and Radio New Zealand International.
The next day I set the antenna up following a fun walk in the woods below the camp site. Most of my work on HF was done using the usual Endfedz Trail friendly 10/20/40m antenna. I strung it between the 4Runner and my portable antenna mast. I also added a 6m end fed dipole to the setup to see if I could reach Kevin, K7AJK from my camp site on the Lab599 TX-500. We had no luck. I wasn’t actually able to make any voice contacts on 20m with this setup even running at 10W, but there was a contest on the band so it was both congested and I suspect folks were running at fairly high power levels to make contacts. As you’ll be able to see from photographs I did a little hack with a stick I found to push the antenna higher off the ground on the truck side. It was especially helpful in preventing the hatch back from striking the antenna.
After a few hours of having no success running phone I decided to switch to packet. Moving the radio into the vehicle reduced the SWR and allowed me to run the entire setup from the 100AH battery since I had used the 4.5AH battery quite a bit for SWL already. I had also been simultaneously been running my 2m rig and APRSDroid on the tablet connected via Bluetooth to the mobile radio with a Mobilinkd TNC3+. I was able to send a number of text messages back and forth between friends using SMSGTE, which was nice given the complete lack of cell service. At this point I was still using the antenna on the truck.
After quite some time operating on digital I decided to test some configuration changes I made to js8cli to increase the accuracy of maidenhead coordinates I was submitting to APRS-IS via Internet-connected stations running JS8Call. I had some pretty good luck as my position was accurately reported.
Apart from all the fun I had on HF, and walking around the forest with my HT (where I was reliably digipeated at 5w) I also figured I’d try to see if I could hit some of the repeaters in the Portland area, so I swapped the vertical antenna on the vehicle for my collapsable J-pole and speaker stand antenna mast. Much to my surprise I was actually able to get into the repeaters in the Portland area at 5w, but it was a bit sketchy as sometimes they wouldn’t key up. Apart form that I could get a bunch of APRS stations and digipeaters as well as some folks on the 2m calling frequency. I actually ended up having much better luck on 2m than on HF this time around.
As you might have noticed from the pictures above I ended up moving the antenna because winds were getting higher and I was afraid the antenna might move side-to-side on the bumper’s tubing. I ended up shifting it toward the driver’s side where I could secure it to both the tube running horizontally and to the spot where the tube split, meaning the mast wouldn’t shift from side to size because it was secured with the paracord on both axes. since the antenna mount on the vehicle uses the same connector as most of my coax and the J-pole I was able to just connect the J-pole directly to the existing cabling in the 4Runner. Easy!
For the entire trip apart from doing some SWL with the TX-599 on its 4.5AH battery away from the truck and by the fire ring I ran all the lighting and radios from the 100AH battery box. We charged the tablet, my partner’s phone, and my phone from the battery box as well. We only drew down to 96% in two days. One day had a lot of heavy radio usage as well so that’s all a good sign.
Some witch’s butter we found on a stump near our camp site
Hello all, after leaving my last post in draft for a few months and not finishing it I figured I’d move right along and write another one! I had already set up my superantenna last night to do some SWL, but because the space weather is so good I decided to set up the Par EndFedz EFT-10/20/40 antenna to do some work on 20m. For today I used the arborist’s weight to hang the far end of the antenna in a tree in the back yard and connected the transformer end to the deck. The antenna was an estimated 20′ off the ground, and was oriented diagonally SE to NW across the yard. I had intended to run the antenna north to south but was unable to because the antenna was too long to be stretched from the deck to the right tree. I ended up moving it to another tree diagonally across the yard.
I made a partial contact with a Canadian ham out of Victoria, BC that suggested the solution to someone interfering with him was to “invoke the 2nd amendment” and solve the problem with a gun. Following that gem of a first partial contact of the day I decided to get off phone at that point and start operating JS8Call on 20m.
I connected the Raspberry Pi to the battery and Lab599 TX-500 and fired it all up. One of the first things I noticed was that the system clock was wrong. After using “timedatectl status” I saw that my hardware clock was right but on boot it failed to update the system clock. At that point I did it manually (“sudo hwclock –hctosys”). Since I had connected the Pi to the wifi at the house the previous night to run updates I was able to set my tablet up in the kitchen and leave the radio outside while I operated as there wasn’t enough cable to bring the radio inside. The family was around inside and it was considerably warmer in the house than it was outside so I could make QSOs and still talk with everyone that was inside. That’s one of the nice things about using keyboards and a slower mode like JS8Call – you can still talk with people while messages are being sent and received.
I made a few contacts but had a nice long QSO with W7SUA in AZ. Apart from that I was getting two way communications with stations over 1,800 miles away though they were generally automated requests for signal reports and locations.
Hello all, I wrote a new utility for JS8Call. It can be found at https://github.com/ThreeSixes/js8cli. JS8CLI has been in the works and moving slowly for the last couple months. This new utility replaces the some of the functionality of the JS8CallTools GUI with command line functionality and can run as a daemon in the background. I also added a few features to this that probably should already be in JS8Call such as automatic GPS location support and the ability to update APRS position information via JS8Call automatically and periodically. This utility also allows you to send SMS messages via APRS from the console over JS8Call.
This utility leverages JS8Call’s API and can run in either TCP or UDP mode. I also wrote a Python 3 class that can be used to interface with JS8Call’s API which isn’t really documented though it’s fairly simple to use (see mainwindow.cpp). It’s mostly just JSON sentences sent over a network stream to the application.
The JS8CLI application is also a good citizen and leverages GPSD to share the GPS with other applications rather than bogarting the serial port. This also makes it possible to get position information from another host on a network. This could be useful in fixed or networked applications or cases where a GPS needs to be remote. The SMS functionality doesn’t require GPS capabilities at all.
So, the weather in Portland has been pretty snowy which is a touch unusual! As most folks have been inside and not out attempting to drive on icy and snowy roads which are not plowed I decided I’d take my HT for a walk in the cold weather and test methods of keeping it warm enough to not have the battery fail as the temperature is dropping to ~18F with wind chill. My partner and I have been walking to the grocery store and taking our dog out so I decided to test an external antenna I’d built to mount on my backpack a year ago in the gnarly weather. I did some tests with APRS and some 5w FM phone as well. The theory here is that keeping the HT inside the fairly sealed bag would preserve some amount of air that’s warmer than the bag’s surroundings. It seemed to work as I was out with this setup for a few hours at a time and battery performance was within expectations.
In order to not go stir crazy I’ve been taking walks with my partner and we’re close enough to a grocery store to just walk and pack our food in our bags which is very fortunate. I’ve taken the opportunity to test different ways of carrying the HT so it doesn’t get too cold, and to test a MOLLE antenna holder with a simple antenna and counterpoise setup. During the grocery store run pictured below I was able to reach stations in SE and NE Portland with a strong signal. I was between 2 and 9 S units into a station in Battelground, WA as well depending on structures around me. The antenna I’m using in this picture is a Nagoya NA-771. I used that instead of my Signal Stick because the signal stick doesn’t stay rigid in cold temperatures and will curve and lay over giving poorer performance. The speaker mic was used as both a speaker that I could hear outside the bag and as a sacrificial component in the event something gets too wet. A $30 speaker mic is much cheaper than a new HT. I did test the SWR on this setup and 2m performed very well near 1.2, but 70cm performance was poor with the SWR being near 2.8.
The small bit of orange paracord is used to secure the speaker mic for cable routing purposes. When the mic comes un-clipped intentionally or on accident this cord makes it easier to grab and replace or remove and use. The longer orange paracord holds the weight of the HT in side the bag so the antenna cable and speaker mic don’t hold it up. It’s also necessary to hold it up in the bag to make sure there’s enough speaker mic cable to reach outside the bag and to my shoulder.
The HT holder inside the bag is suspended by the longer bit of paracord that runs through a loop on the HT holder. This suspension system also makes it easy to load the bottom of the bag with heavier items that might otherwise crush the HT or damage connectors.
The above gallery shows the antenna assembly set up but not mounted to the webbing on the backpack.