09 April 2023

A View From The Bench - 09 April 2023

Happy Easter!

The way things are going, I'll be dead before I get all my ham radio projects out of the way. I'm guessing that's a that's a good thing? It means I'll be busy right up until the end.

The view from the bench is... messy

I've already told my employer that I intend to retire around Christmas 2023. The retirement finances are lining up (as long as the current administration doesn't screw things up even more) and my wife and I have decided it's just the right time.  There's so much stuff we want to do while we are physically able to do it.

That includes more radio projects. The way these projects are stacking up, I'm beginning to think I should have retired a few years ago.

  • I've built a HobbyPCB HardRock50 amplifier for use with my Yaesu FT-818, KX2 and IC-705. The kit I bought from a seller on QRZ.com was new-in-the-box. It seems to work fine with the FT-818, but now I need to finish putting together the tuner. It's a project I've been putting off, and off. Time to finally get it done so I can test it with the Icom IC-705. That's a radio badly in need of a good 50 watt amplifier/tuner.
  • How about a TNC for the IC-705? I'm still trying to figure out how to get my Mobilinkd TNC3 working with the IC-705, so I can do VHF packet (and maybe APRS?) on it. Any ideas?
  • As for APRS, there's more to do be done. I'm increasingly curious about APRS and its potential use for emergency communications. Sadly, there are few good out-of-the-box solutions. The biggest issue is the difficulty of composing and managing messages. This is where the Yaesu FT-3DR (and, I suspect, the FT-5DR) fails. Spectacularly. To be fair, offerings from other manufacturers like the otherwise great Kenwood TH-72D and 74 had the same issue: lousy messaging interfaces. The best solutions I've seen so far are third party apps like APRSDroid for Android and APRS.fi for iOS, linked by Bluetooth to a TNC like a Mobilinkd TNC4
  • Speaking of Yaesu, Kenwood & Icom, things have been very quiet on the new announcement front. While not normally a bad thing, these are not normal times. Yaesu has done a good job of keeping interest going in their radio lineup with some new releases like the FT-5DR, the FT-DX10 and the FT-710, but there's been almost nothing out of Icom, and Kenwood has been silent on new releases since before the pandemic. With the announced demise of the IC-7100, Icom has a huge hole in their HF/VHF offerings. Specifically, Icom has no high power HF DSTAR offering, a significant market gap for a company that has hitched it's ham radio star to DSTAR (pun intended). All eyes are on Hamvention!
  • Web map development. The ARES Southeastern US Situational Awareness Map is slated to receive a major clean-up, where I'll be pulling selected data layers from the map to improve performance. Many of the more esoteric layers that get little, if any, use will be dropped in an attempt to improve map load and refresh times
  • I've about finished my hunt for the perfect laptop for use during outdoor activations, and I've got an upcoming post on the topic. After spending over a year testing and evaluating I've found my ideal. And it's not just good - as Tony the Tiger says, "It's great!"
  • I'm getting back to an earlier interest in HF-based off-grid emergency communications. I covered the topic in some depth a few years back, but the new player on the scene - VarAC (Vara Chat) - looks like it's lapped the previous HF chat application leader, JS8CALL. Back in October I did a short post on it, but since then the pace of development on VarAC has been almost frantic, as the author and his supporting developers rush to incorporate new features. As a result the application interface has gotten a bit messy. My feeling is that the developers now need to take a pause and work on the interface and do an overall look and feel improvement
  • And last, sometimes the simplest works just fine. Yesterday I had a limited window of opportunity to 'play radio' in my back yard before a cold front with rain pushed through. I wanted to do some Winlink and if possible a few VarAC sessions, but I got caught up in some antenna issues. After fumbling with various configurations I just said 'screw it' and stuck a 17' Chameleon collapsible whip on a tripod with one counterpoise. I was surprised to find that combination worked just great on 10 - 40 meters (using a tuner, of course). I was hitting Winlink RMS nodes up to 400 miles away on 10 watts. I'll take that!
Chameleon 'mini' base with a 17' collapsible whip
and one counterpoise

The battery powered Ryobi fan does a great job of
keeping the little biting buggers away and the
operator cool. Runs almost all day on a
4 ah battery

Have a great day! W8BYH out.

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