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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 This is obsolete but Ubuntu has drivers built in for this device.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.