Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Perpetual” motion, maybe?

I know “perpetual” is over egging it, so don't shoot me down. However, this is a fascinating example of how long a well balanced object can oscillate.

I've always been fascinated by those instances where simple objects can oscillate for ages with no external input of energy. I've seen it with a bunch of keys; where one is in the lock and others are hanging from the ring. The bunch oscillates for ages, rather than being damped quickly, as one would expect.In this case, I was making the morning tea and was attracted by the tiny ringing of one spoon on the other. If you listen closely, you can hear it, and you can see the left hand spoon is oscillating in sympathy as it is excited by the larger spoon. Actually it's two spoons on one ring.Apologies for the clock in the background.

 

Migrating Amateur Radio to Linux – Day One

This is the second in a short series on my experiences moving my Amateur Radio station from Windows to Linux, and later to Mac OS/X. The first part can be found at Migrating Amateur Radio to Linux, Part One – Requirements

Day One – Installing Linux, CQRLog and FLDigi

I opted for Ubuntu as the distribution. I’ve used many of the others, including the recent Mint, but I know Debian based distributions and I quite like the new UI used by Ubuntu as it’s similar to OS/X.

Hardware

My target PC is an old Lenovo Thinkpad T60 that has Windows 7 installed on it. As the Thinkpad has no built in serial ports, I use a Belkin USB Serial Adapter, type F5U103. This is obsolete but Ubuntu has drivers built in for this device.

The serial port is connected to the RIGblaster Pro that interfaces the PC to the radios.

Audio is handled using a Plantronics headset USB adapter that I had laying about the shack. Again, Ubuntu has drivers for this.

Installing Ubuntu

I used GParted to shrink the Windows 7 partition to make space for Ubuntu. I created a 32GB root partition and a 2.5GB Swap partition and then installed the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 13.10 ‘Saucy Salamander’ as the T60 doesn’t have 64-bit support.

One advantage of installing this way is that I get full access to all the files on the Windows 7 partition as well.

Basic setup

After updating the operating system I installed my basic necessities:

The only program for which there isn’t a decent Linux client is Evernote. I use Evernote all the time and the absence of a decent Evernote client would be a big problem for me in my business life. It means I could never migrate 100% to Linux. That said, I can use the web client, and for my Ham activities, that’s fine.

Chromium and Dropbox were both installed from the Ubuntu Software Centre.

Installing FLDigi

FLDigi is one of the better known programs for the many digital modes that exist on the radio waves. It is actively developed and there is a well established support community. Installation was a breeze as it’s in the Ubuntu Software Centre.

Installing FLDigi also causes HamLib to be installed. HamLib is a community project to develop an API that can be used to control radios over a variety of physical media and communications protocols. Both my radios support Yaesu’s CAT communications protocol via the Rigblaster Pro and HamLib has an ‘alpha’ driver for the IC-756ProII.

Configuring FLDigi was a bit of a test as I needed to make sure I was using the correct tty device for the Belkin adapter and the correct audio devices for the Plantronics headset adapter. In my case, I opted to use the specific ‘/dev/serial/by-id’ device for the Belkin adapter to avoid a Linux ‘feature’ that can cause a USB device to be mapped to a different tty device if it is re-plugged for any reason. I then told FLDigi to use Hamlib to control the radio using this device.

I set FLDigi to use the PulseAudio system and used the appropriate Settings applet to select the correct audio.

The one area where I did need to play about was getting the Rigblaster to send audio to the radio. Initially, I told FLDigi to put the radio in TX mode using CAT commands, via Hamlib. The radio went into Tx mode OK, but no audio was received by the radio. This was because the Rigblaster needed to be told to switch the audio path from the microphone to the audio in feed from the PC. This needed RTS to be asserted by the PC.

I needed to tell FLDigi not to send ‘PTT via Hamlib’ but to use ‘Hardware PTT’ and a ‘separate serial port PTT’ and use ‘RTS’

Once this was done, FLDigi could control the radio and I could send and receive data modes. Tick!

Installing CQRLog

I did some research into Logging programs for Linux and CQRLog seemed to be the best for my needs. It’s a fairly basic logging program in concept, but it can use HAMLib to control a radio and integrates with FLDigi.

CQRLog is also marked as being “in progress” on the HRDLog site, which implies that it will integrate there as well at some point in the future. Once again, CQRLog was in the Ubuntu Software Centre so installation was a breeze.

Configuration was also pretty easy once I told it where the rigctld was installed (/usr/bin)

The only slightly tricky bit was getting my existing Log imported into CQRLog. This involved logging on to my account at HRDLog and then ‘restoring’ my log. This caused an ADIF file to be created, containing all my log entries. I then imported this into CQRLog.

Unfortunately, not all entries imported first time as CQRLog didn’t recognise some of the modes I have entries for (Domino, Thor and QPSK). I had to add these modes manually to CQRLog’s configuration preferences and then re-import the offending entries.

Once this was all done, I could simply tell CQRLog that it was operating the rig ‘remotely’ and it connected to FLDigi. Now, when I log a call in FLDigi, it gets stored in CQRLog.

After making a couple of Olivia contacts on 5MHz and 10MHz, I called it a day as we were going off to a New Year’s Eve party.

Migrating Amateur Radio to Linux, Part One – Requirements

I’ve been a user, developer and system administrator for Linux based systems, and prior to that, Unix based systems, for years. I think my first contact was with a Unix Version 6 system at my second employer, ITT IDEC back in 1980. It was actually Interactive’s IS/1. Since that time, I’ve used just about every variant of Bell Labs’ most famous operating system. Oddly enough though, I haven’t tried to use it for my Amateur Radio hobby before.

This is the start of a short series on how I’m moving from a purely Windows based operating environment to one that is equally usable on Linux and Mac OS/X. I’m targeting OS/X as well because my own personal laptop is a beautiful, but aging, Macbook Air that goes with me everywhere. As I am likely to start doing a lot of business travelling very shortly, I want to be able to take my radios with me, and that means running my digital modes software on the Mac as well as on Linux. (I don’t use my Macbook in the shack as the shack PC is dedicated to amateur radio operating).

Objectives

So that I can monitor my progress, I’m starting by setting some objectives.

High Level

  • The main objective is to have the same capabilities on Linux and OS/X as I currently have on Windows.
  • The second, less obvious consequence is to be able to operate across both, or even all three, platforms and keep each platform in sync.
  • Given the growing penetration of mobile devices, I’m adding a third objective of being able to operate on Android and iOS devices with the same fidelity of information.

The need to maintain fidelity more or less imposes the need to integrate with some form of Cloud based services. I already use Dropbox to keep files in sync across my various Windows, Mac and Linux laptops and with my iPhone and iPad, so that’s an obvious one to use to keep some resources in sync. The other main integration point would be my Station Log.

All licensed amateur radio stations are required to keep a comprehensive log of all contacts made and all stations worked. If I could find a common logging program across all platforms that used a flat file for storage, then I could use Dropbox to sync this. However, there are a number of Cloud based logging platforms now and as I already use HRDLog on Windows and iOS, it makes sense to see if I can use this on Linux and OS/X.

Priority

The first priority is to migrate from Windows to Linux, so my first objective is:

To create a Linux operating environment that provides the same capabilities as my existing Windows environment, in a form that is portable (at a functional level at least) to OS/X and which keeps operating data synchronised across multiple devices

Required capabilities

My current Windows environment provides the following capabilities:

  • Local logging, using Ham Radio Deluxe version 5
  • Multiple digital modes using the same
  • multiple rig control (Icom IC-756ProII and Yaesu FT-817) integrated with the above, using HRD
  • DXCluster access with spotting and customisable filtering, using HRD
  • Integration of the local log with HRDLog, eQSL and LOTW
  • Propagation monitoring, using Afreet’s Ionoprobe
  • Accurate time synchronisation, using Dimension 4
  • WSPR and JT65A protocol support
  • Echolink support

As you can see, the main requirement is for a replacement for HRD. HRD is an amazing piece of software, but it ceased to be freeware a while ago and while I have no problem paying for good software, it has stimulated this re-appraisal.

Anybody who knows Linux, knows that the Unix approach is to construct small, single purpose tools and then use the operating system capabilities to string them together to form tool chains. This contrasts with the Windows and Mac approach of constructing full function software packages. I have seen the merits of both approaches in the appropriate circumstances, so I’m not going to argue that one approach is better; but I am assuming I will need to adopt the mix and match approach with Linux.

More to follow…