27 February 2022

A View From The Bench - 27 February 2022

Is it a dry spell, or am I just too busy? I honestly don't know for sure. Probably a bit of both. Sometimes you can get tired of writing and just need to turn your brain off for a bit. But I do have to say, on review, I do have a lot of little radio projects going on. 

  • DSTAR. I mentioned in January that our local DSTAR repeater is still operating, but has been disconnected from the internet. It was a business decision our club made after we lost use of a cheap Sprint hotspot for the wi-fi connection. The repeater will be back on the internet later this year, but until then if club members want to work the DSTAR reflectors they'll have to do it through a hotspot. Which is why I bought one. The ZUMSpot USB dongle finally arrived from HRO. I'm using PA7LIM's BlueDV application on my laptop to control the little gizmo, and I've got both my ID-51 and my ID-5100 mobile set up to talk through it. I gotta' say, it works pretty neat! I never really 'got' the need for a digital mode hotspot until recently, but I actually feel a bit better having one vs. having to rely on the local repeater. One more tool in the hurricane season toolbag!
  • Speaking of computers (were we?), my Winter Field Day experience, and the difficulty managing the Trimble T-10 (lousy keyboard, no backlit keys, doesn't stand on its own, not enough USB ports) has me re-engaging with my Dell 5414 ruggedized laptop. This means upgrading all the applications (like Winlink), adding new apps like BlueDV, transferring data over from the Trimble, etc. We'll see how it goes. I still like the Trimble - a LOT of capability in a small, exceptionally rugged package, but until I can come up with a better keyboard and stand solution I'll be using the Dell.
  • For the past few weeks I had been wondering why the ID-5100 in my shack was having difficulty getting a good signal into our local repeater (KK4GQ - 145.210). A few days ago I walked around the side of the house and found out why. The antenna was laying on the ground under an inch or two of leaf litter. Hmmm... maybe that had something to do with it? 😒 The antenna is an Ed Fong DBJ-1 that was hanging from a convenient tree limb. The tree limb decided it was time to give up the ghost, and down came the antenna. That I could hit the repeater at all is one heck of a testament to Ed's design. So on Sunday I went back out with my slingshot and put a line up over another, higher limb and the antenna is back up. The SWR is a touch higher that I'd like - about 1.8 on the repeater frequency, but for now I'm happy.
  • A few weeks ago a rare unicorn came up for sale on eBay at a very reasonable 'buy it now' price - an SCS 7800 P4Dragon Pactor modem. The seller wasn't giving it away - he knew what he had - but his asking price was about $500 below what a similarly configured new modem would cost. He was the original owner and was willing to chat about how he came into the modem and why he was selling it, and he assured me it was in like-new condition. That increased my sense of comfort that this was a good deal, so I took the leap and now find myself the owner of a shiny, nearly-new Pactor modem. I used a borrowed 7800 several months ago to test the new SCS ALE2 firmware, so I had a good base of experience with the modem and how it interfaces with Winlink (very nicely , thank you). I've got it set up with my IC-7200 'FrankenRig' (MARS mod, quiet scan mod) for testing. 

The modem works like a champ on Winlink, but I'm still working through some configuration issues on ALE. I'll have more on this topic in a later post.
  • Speaking of ALE, Devin Butterfield, the developer of the Ion2G ALE application released version this week. This release introduced a number of neat improvements and upgrades. I've said this before - Ion2G is hands down the best software-based ALE application available, and may even be better than the hardware based implementations in devices like the SCS modems (above). I've personally run Ion2G, the SCS ALE application and MARS-ALE (a derivative of PC-ALE). Ion2G is by far the easiest to get up and running, and offers the best support (via the Groups.io reflector). If you have an interest in ALE, there is no reason to not try Ion2G.

That's it for now!

W8BYH out

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