Friday, May 29, 2009

LOTW & eQSL Progress

Received my postcard, entered the password, got my .tq6 file, signed my WW2PT/2 log file, uploaded the .tq8 file... I'm still not grokking the whole process, but in the end it worked and my QSOs from 1998-2002 are now online. Not much in the way of confirmations from that period, just 9 DXCC countries. Now I'm waiting for my postcard for the N2HIE call so I can upload the rest of my log (1988-1997).

On a related note, I received my first bad confirmation on eQSL -- 4Z4DX station sent me a card confirming our QSO in October 2008. Quite a feat, considering that I haven't emitted any RF since moving down here in August '08. Probably copied the call wrong. I rejected the QSL.

Also: I received AG certification from eQSL for all three of my call/QTH combos, whether that means anything or not...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Concerning Computers...

The Mac is back in the shack, and I'm ready to rock n' roll.

Digital Modes:
Once again I've been bitten by the RTTY bug (or in this case, the PSK31 bug). Now considering the best method of bridging the audio gap between the MacBook Pro and the K3. I've narrowed it down to three possibilities...

The cheapest route would be to just run a couple of audio cables to the KIO3 from the Mac's mic input and headphone output; not the best way to do it but Elecraft does say the audio inputs and outputs are transformer isolated. Transmit would be via the K3 line input keyed via VOX. It should work, just not sure how well.

A second option is the SignaLink USB, basically an $100 external sound card device that passes audio to and from the computer via USB. However, it would be useful for AFSK only, as there is no facility for keying the rig in true FSK mode. Nor is there any way to control the rig without using a second USB connection to the K3's data port.

The third and probably the best option would be a MicroHAM device -- the USB Interface III, DigiKEYER, or MicroKEYER II. These are far pricier options ($159, $329 and $429 respectively) but offer the advantage of being able to use a single USB port for both audio and rig control, and in the case of the DigiKEYER and MicroKEYER II the ability to utilize true FSK keying. The MicroKEYER II will also support the KRX3 second receiver option if I ever add that to the K3. It all comes down to how much I want to spend.

Computer Control: After many years of running MacLogger DX (which I really like) I've grudgingly come to admit that the best piece of Mac software for controlling my K3 is... a Windoze app. That is to say, Ham Radio Deluxe, a freeware program by Simon HB9DRV that is simply amazing in its scope and capabilities -- rig control, logging, DX cluster, and a slew of related programs for sat tracking, digital modes, mapping, and God knows what else. Simon appears to be a busy guy!

Using HRD requires running the Mac in Windoze mode (I use Parallels, but other options are available). I've tried HRD before, a previous version that did not fully support the K3's full command set (it supported the limited K2 command subset); the most recent beta version (4.1b1989) is a marked improvement. The more I poke around, the more I say, "Whoa!"

Ham Radio Deluxe running on MacBook Pro
I'm a knobs-and-buttons kind of guy, the idea of using a computer as a radio front panel never appealed to me for more than about 6 minutes, by which time I grew tired. Not so much with HRD -- it interacts extremely well with the front panel controls of the K3, providing instant feedback when I make any sort of manual adjustment to the radio. HRD functions as an extension of the radio, not something that takes control over it and forces you to use the mouse and keyboard (like MacLogger DX does with the JST-245).

There is much to like about HRD. The bandspread scales on the main display are superb, they let me set up markers along the scale for whatever purpose (DX pileups, net frequencies, band edges, beacon frequencies, etc.) and a quick drag of the slider lets me scan across an entire band for activity way faster than I could possibly do by spinning the tuning dial.

Bands can be user defined -- I set mine up as separate CW/Data and Phone segments of each amateur band. Band files can be loaded easily, so it's possible to set up individual files for shortwave broadcasting, HF aeronautical, or whatever, and load them as needed.

A self-centering fine tuning bandspread is adjustable in range (1 kHz to 100 kHz) and tuning rate (10 Hz to 50 kHz); a second fine tuning scale can be switched on with it's own range and rate settings. Placing the cursor above any of the fine tuning or bandspread scales lets you tune with the mouse or trackpad. Superb!

Ham Radio Deluxe Main Display
(click to enlarge)

Sliders at the bottom of the main window are for AF and RF Gain, and filter width and offset. More sliders can be added (AF/RF Gain for Sub RX, Squelch, Keyer Speed, RF Outout Power). There seems to be an infinite number of tweaks one can do to customize the layout; I haven't done too much other than adjust the colors a bit to make it easier to see certain things. All custom layouts can be saved and loaded on demand.

HRD's integrated logbook is functional, not a contest-grade logger like WriteLog or TR, but should certainly work OK for a little gun like WW2PT. Log entry lets you view partial and exact calls to help check for dupes during contests, or just to check whether and when you last worked a station. Multiple tabs let you add extended info on the station and operator, QSL details, propagation data (downloadable from WWV),

It's not all wine and roses, though. One disadvantage of running HRD in Parallels is, every time the Mac puts itself to sleep or even engages the screen saver, I lose the USB connection to the K3 and I'm forced to restart Windows. Also, having HRD running in full-screen mode on a second monitor, it's easy to lose track of the mouse when going back and forth between the big display (HRD) and the laptop screen (everything else I'm working on).

There are a few bugs (?) that I've found, the most bothersome of which is the inability to choose DATA mode when storing memories (or Favourites, as they are called in HRD); it seems to have been left off the menu. Choosing any of the obvious alternatives (DIG, RTTY, PSK) from the drop-down menu causes HRD to default to LSB whenever I select the memory I set up for PSK31 such as 14070 kHz. It's an inconvenience, but one I'm certainly willing to deal with because this program is so friggin' awesome.

I have no idea what level of integration I will have between programs like CocoaModem (for PSK31 and other data modes) in OS X and HRD in Windows, especially if I opt for one of the MicroHAM products which handles both audio I/O and rig control through the same USB connection. Can Windows and OS X share? Or will I need to run a Windoze app for PSK31 and RTTY?

I could set up an old Dell PC that I have to be used solely for amateur radio work, but I loathe the idea of cluttering the desk with an extra keyboard and mouse. Plus the extra fan and drive noise, and heat... ugh. Using the MacBook Pro is just too slick an option for me, so I'm going to beat this horse to death and hopefully work out the issues before downgrading to a dedicated PC.

LOTW & eQSL: I've been telling myself for a while that I've gotta get this Logbook of the World thing sorted out. A few years ago I applied for and received the Trusted QSL certificates for my old N2HIE and WW2PT logs covering 1988-2002, but for whatever reason I never managed to get the log files uploaded. This weekend I decided to try again, but the certificates had expired. Following the instructions for renewing my certificates fell short -- my TQ6 files did not show up in the Trusted QSL Certification program, thus preventing me from selecting them for renewal -- so I reapplied for new certificates, and promptly received the following message:
"Your new certificate request contains a QSO date range overlap with an existing certificate or request. LOTW does not allow two amateurs to hold overlapping date ranges for the same callsign.This will be manually verified and you will receive further instructions. Your certificate request processing is completed."
Clearly not. So I'm dead in the water as far as LOTW goes. I have no idea what to do next. I'm a fairly clever guy and somewhat computer savvy, but the LOTW process just seems to be overly complex. Perhaps for good reason, but still...

Then I checked out eQSL, entered my calls and was informed that there were 8 QSLs waiting for WW2PT and 11 for N2HIE. So I signed up to take a look. Very easy to register (maybe too easy...), and easy to set up multiple linked accounts for my 3 call/QTH combinations (N2HIE, WW2PT/2 and WW2PT/5). Once the accounts were setup I simply uploaded my log files in ADIF format, and we're up and running.

The basic eQSL service is free, but I sent a $30 donation to give me Silver Member status. This lets me upload my own QSL artwork rather than use the basic and ugly default QSL. The design tools are limited but I was able to make the cards look OK.

Ham Radio Deluxe offers the option of instantly uploading logged QSOs to eQSL, something I will certainly do in the future. I uploaded scanned images of my past and present licenses for Authenticity Guaranteed certification, which has been granted. I'll probably have more to say on eQSL and LOTW later after I've used them a bit.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm Back...

I've been neglecting the radios for quite a while, distracted by other things. The shack was a disaster -- piles of magazines and papers, telescope stuff, books, bags full of cameras and lenses, and such -- but after a thorough spring cleaning and a bit of furniture rearrangement I've made the place a whole lot more hospitable to human inhabitants. And hams.