Radio W4KAZ

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W4KAZ Softrock Based CW Skimmer Station – 05) Si570 Programmable Oscillator for Softrock CWSkimmers – or for “Whatevah”

Note: More links at bottom of page:  This is a simple-to-build Si570 oscillator for use with the Softrock Lite kits for CW skimmer and input to the Reverse Beacon Network.  It uses the Si570 chip and an AtTiny85-20 programmed with the PE0FKO firmware used for the Softrock Ensemble kits.

Currently a programmed ATTiny chip is available separately from K5NWA.  The firmware is available for download, so programming the AtTiny is also an option.  The PE0FKO site also provides the required USB device driver, software, and guidance on using them.  (links)  The Si570 is available from Digikey(digikey part#:336-2518-ND,  manufacturer part:570CAC000141DG).(SiLabs 570CAC000141DG part )

The oscillator itself is pretty simple, and is the bare essential hardware required for re-programming the oscillator for a needed single frequency to use with a Softrock Lite II rx.  It is based on what I saw in the the schematic of the Softrock Ensemble RX, nothing original, just pared down and hijacked from the original Ensemble design.  The Si570 part itself is the bulk of the expense of the oscillator, and the cost of the Si570 chip is almost as much as the Softrock Lite kit itself.    The oscillator signal is fed into the divider through a 10K voltage divider as in the Softrock RX.

So why an Si570 Programmable Oscillator ?

The RX Ensemble kit is a viable alternative expense wise.  It really depends on the intended usage.  Using separate Softrock Lites as single band CW skimmers leads to the choice of a programmable oscillator for customizing the center frequencies, especially for the high bands.  The method used for 20m using the third harmonic seems to result in a decrease in dynamic range.  That results in an increase in false mirror images being reported to RBN by the CW skimmer as actual spots.

Using the Si570, the oscillators can be set at the frequencies needed by the Softrocks, i.e. 4 times the center frequency.  (for 96Khz bandwidth the oscillator would need to be: 20m=56.188, 15m=84.188, and 10m=112.16).   A programmable oscillator also allows switching from 96Khz to 192 Khz bandwidth(20m=56.38,15m=84.38, and 10m=112.38).  Keeping just the bottom half of a 192Khz bandwidth CW skimmer would at a minimum eliminate at least 50% of bad mirror image spots.  There are also likely to be fewer stations CQ’ing below the “.096” section of a band(e.g., most often there is not so much regular CWactivity above 28.096 as there is below).  That is the idea anyway.

The Si570 Programmable Oscillator Prototype:

The first version is deadbugged on a bit of board scrounged from the parts bin.  Not many parts, but a bit more PCB real estate would have been better.  Functional rather than esthetic.  The USB connection is via the usb cable end clipped from an old computer mouse in the parts bin(unlabeled black coil in left of photo).   “Engineer the possible”.

Si570 Programmable Oscillator board for 10m Softrock CW skimmer

Si570 Programmable Oscillator board for 10m Softrock CW skimmer

Testing the original prototype board pictured resulted in three build mistakes to debug:  a missing 5v connection to the ATTiny and the reversal in polarity on both zener diodes across the USB data pins.  These mistakes prevented function without damage to the components.  After correction of the build errors the software was able to function with the Si570 as needed for both programming the oscillator(‘startup’) frequency and running as a stand-alone oscillator.

The Si570 when programmed for 112.36Mc was found to have an actual oscillation at close to 28.090 exactly from the Softrock divider, as measured with TS-590 and Elecraft K2.  This was with the oscillator inserted in-circuit as the Softrock Lite oscillator via a transformer(5 bifilar turns on a type 43 torroid core) and a 2.2k resistor.  The frequency is very consistent and stable when the power is cycled on/off.

Setting the frequency is accomplished using either the USB-Sync program by DG8SAQ or via the test program Si570_USB_test from the QRP2000 project from www.sdr-kits.net.  DGF8SAQ’s program is easiest.

Easy measurement of the actual frequency in place is good enough for initial setting up of the skimmer software. A few KC either way will make little difference in a CW skimmer set-up, as final adjustments were done in CW skimmer software to put the skimmer signals ‘on frequency’.  In this case the CW skimmer center frequency is nearly identical to the Si570 programmed frequency.  That has not been the case with the versions using ordinary crystal oscillators, those having a bit more drift off their nominal value.

A new Softrock Lite II is the 10m test bed, with 15m revision to follow.  These two bands suffer the most from poor dynamic range and false mirror images.  The 15m oscillator also has a nasty tendency to drift with temperature changes.  If the modified softrocks perform as desired it will be time to pair these two bands with the best of the sound cards available.  That will be a separate game of trial and error.  The 20m softrock skimmer may also be retrofit, as using the third harmonic for the softrock center frequencies seems to adversely impact the dynamic range.

Photo of 10m Skimmer

Photo of 10m Skimmer at W4KAZ

As an aside, the first 10m center frequency chosen was 28.060 into a 192Kc bandwidth sound card. Horrible choice, as it was close enough to the 15m harmonic that interference spikes were present on both bands every 900hz.  Resetting the Si570 oscillator to place the center Fo for 10m at 28.080 greatly reduced(but not eliminate) the problem.  Currently set on 28.090 as of 20150414.  More tinkering required, and migrating the 15m Softrock over to an Si570 oscillator may help.

The current Skimmer package for 20m, 15m and 10m. 20m and 15m will likely be re-worked to use Si570 Programmable Oscillators.

The current Skimmer package for 20m, 15m and 10m. 20m and 15m will likely be re-worked to use Si570 Programmable Oscillator.

Si570 Programmable Oscillator UPDATE, 2016-11-08

The Si570 oscillator as described was perfectly usable in this application.  However 10m and 15m performance was was poor on the softrocks, the primary difficulty being a low dynamic range.  This is indicated by mirror images that appear when SNR values on the actual signals were higher than 35dbSNR.

The most useful work around for this problem is to scan at 192Khz sample rate, and only use the lower half of the sample for the CW skimmer.  Using the upper 96kc might be easier, as the center frequency could be set at 28.0Mc and 21.0Mc.  The latter may ulimately be the best approach.  There are unlikely to be any useful signals below the bottom of the bands, and those could be readily discarded as false or otherwise unusable(i.e., out of band).

LINK LIST, Si570 Programmable Oscillator :

  1. W4KAZ Schematic

    Schematic for W4KAZ version of Si570 Programmable Oscillator

    Schematic for W4KAZ version of Si570 Programmable Oscillator

  2. W4KAZ BareBones Parts List (PDF) (HTML with links)
  3. KB9YIG Five Dash softrock products page
  4. K5NWA ATTiny85 page
  5. PE0FKO Firmware page
  6. Document:

 

Upgraded to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin)

My testing sandbox server is running on an ancient Dell Optiplex 280 minitower, which has a P4 processor and 2gb of ram.  Its been chugging along placidly on Ubuntu 10.04LTS.  The 12.04LTS version has been popping up for a bit, and it seemed like it was being reported as a very solid release.

The install running in my VirtualBox partition went smoothly enough, but that was only a leap from 11.x to 12.04.  Upgrading from 10.04 is a couple of levels to jump, so the possibility for problems increases.

So with some amount of trepidation I decided to run the upgrade process on the 10.04 sandbox. If the upgrade should barf completely, its not a tremendous loss.  If it works, the 12.04LTS version is supposed to be good through 2017(if I recall the upgrade notes correctly).

The upgrade seems to have been completely successful, with zero impact on the test bed.  Sweeeeeet….. The 10.04LTS was mostly a plain vanilla install, but its nice that it made the leap with so little intervention.

This upgrade went far more easily than a prior upgrade(from 8.10 to 9.04).  Very happy to see the Ubuntu developers have made the upgrade process so user friendly.

Very.  Nice.  Work.

So now the file server is good to go and can remain stable for the foreseeable future.  Time to get back to hacking up some web apps for graphing the Reverse Beacon network data extracts.

Not so happy with the UNITY desktop, but at least it is easy to revert back to Gnome.  Unity is kinda like the new Windows 8 – ButtHole Ugly.  The very last thing I want is an interface that looks like a tablet.  Bleh.

Never have understood why OS developers seem to think that 30 years of accumulated OS familiarity is so readily cast aside for their own vision of ease-of-use.  Too little customer contact….  Most customers want their interfaces to function the same way they functioned yesterday(providing they actually worked yesterday), and changed only if they were broken.  AKA, “New Coke Syndrome”.

Coke Classic pleeze…..add gold rum and lime….

Skimming CW at W4KAZ

Note….Post dated this material to original date written…superseded by new reality…..

“All is proceeding as I have foreseen it…………..”

Been just about four years since the CW skimmer stuff really hit the contest rotary impeller. A bit of review…..

So in hindsight – I’m glad contest sponsors read my blog.  😉

Since the rule-parsing panned out to my immense satisfaction, it is easier to concentrate on the toy itself.  Since then, skimmer stations sprouted, and the Reverse Beacon Network was born.  That is a really interesting project.  Its a great tool for checking propagation, comparing station signals, and getting impartial signal reports.  Outstanding resource.

Unfortunately there is not a local skimmer station that is feeding the RBN.  Spots from MD are not always useful in Central NC.

So it with the moon in phase and the planets approaching the grand alignment, it seemed like time to look into the subject of skimming.

Options

The Skimmer software comes with a component that is designed to work with the QS1R SDR.  That combination is likely the ideal solution.  So all I need is a fast Pentium i7 Quad core, and a thousand samolies……  Great idea, just not possible.

Much more possible….Combine a few Softrocks with some cast off circa 2008 computers.  Yup, that’s the ticket.  Rather than sit on my thumbs….Engineer the Possible.  O’course, the possible is not always completely practical.  Everything is relative.  What tradeoffs are reasonable?  Engineer the Possible.

It has been done before…AC0C has documented the challenges and his solutions.  Despite the validity of his conclusions, it is now possible to cobble together a scaled down version using scrounged computer hardware.  Using softrocks, it is now very practical to put together a skimmer package for 160/80/40/20 meter bands with obsolescent computer hardware.  The price/performance ratio of the softrock is a huge factor.  If they were a mass production commodity, they would probably cost under $10.

15m and 10m may be more of a challenge, so that has been shelved for the moment.  So the softrock solution is not perfect.  But there are solutions to that too.  Future project….

The current project direction

So the game plan is to skim on 160m thru 20m using softrocks.  40m and 80m softrocks are done.  Its not going to be as professional a finished product as AC0C’s, but it should function.  Reclaimed from the off-lease refuse stream are an Dell Optiplex 745sff and a Dell optiplex 360 SDT.  Both of these boxes require low-form-factor cards.  The on-board sound of the 745 leaves something to be desired, but the 360 has an on-board sound card capable of 192khz bandwidth.  So small form factor add-in cards are needed to run skimmer on multiple bands.  Four bands on two computers.

Other Naughty Tidbits….

The Asus Xonar DG is a small form factor sound card that turned out to be a fabulous bargain. It allows only 96khz bandwidth, but has excellent dynamic range for its cost.  Sounds great with music too.  Also had an Asus Xonar DX, which is higher fidelity than the Xonar Dg, and offers 192khz bandwidth with a softrock.  The sound card issue is the real sticking point in this design, but the Xonar cards are able to coexist with the onboard SoundMax devices in the Dell boxes.

Not so much luck with a Soundblaster Live 24.  Experiments installing and using the Soundblaster were problematic.  Compatibility issues with the other sound devices and SDR software crashes. The Asus cards are much higher quality, but attempts to pair either with the soundblaster caused problems.  Attempts to install both Xonar cards in the same system were also buggy.  So the Soundblaster is sidelined for later rainy day experimentation,  the ASUS cards are each on a different host system, and it is fortunate that the onboard sound cards are useable.

The final compromise chosen was to install the 192khz Xonar DX in the Optiplex 745 that has 48khz onboard SoundMax.  The Xonar DG is installed in the Optiplex 360 that has 192khz SoundMax onboard sound.  In testing the Xonar cards work very well with all of the SDR software tested.  The SoundMax cards are noticeably less capable, but not terrible.

Mix and Match

The skimmer sessions sound card pairings in daily usage are likely to be:

  • 160m…48khz on Optiplex 745 onboard sound
  • ……………..Center@????????,Covers ?
  • 80m…..96khz on Optiplex 360 Asus Xonar DG
  • …………….Center@3533950, covers ~3485 thru 3581
  • 40m…..192 or 96khz on Optiplex 745  Asus Xonar DX
  • …………….Center@7055015, covers ~6959 thru 7151@192Khz, 7007 thru 7103@96Khz
  • 20m…..192 or 96 Khz on Optiplex 360 onboard sound
  • ……………..Center@????????,Covers ?

Those pairings should spread the CPU load somewhat.  A live test on 40m and 80m during CQ WPX should give me a benchmark for CPU loading.  CW Skimmer allows the definition of the maximum number of active decoders, and I expect to get some insight on setting those values to help moderate the load.  Currently, allowing 500-600 decoders seems workable.

During 160m contests, the 160m skimmer will likely switch to a wider bandwidth card, at least 96Khz.  The fall contest season will allow more testing to determine if the 192khz skimmers will need to be narrowed during contests or throttled by limiting the max number of decoders – maybe both.  Also, the nature of any given contest may also make temporary changes to the line-up appropriate.  But that’s the basic setup.

Using the spots

The Reverse Beacon Network Blog has info on connecting to the RBN telnet server.  Highly recommend taking their advice on filtering!  The RBN server uses DXSpider documented on DXSpider Wiki.

VirtualBox

When I upgraded the dead computer a couple of years back, I stuffed the current machine(Dell Inspiron 545S w/Pentium Dual-core E5300 @ 2.6ghz) with 8GB of RAM, expecting to do some experimentation with running VMware or some such to tinker with PC based VM’s.  After looking around a bit, other shiny objects attracted more attention.  So, being easily distractable…..VM’s slipped down the memory hole.

Fast forward to present.  Looking over at the Oracle VirtualBox website, a bit of light reading showed that a lot of work has been done on their VM software in the last 18months.  More robust USB support, and a lot of bug fixes.  Its free for personal use, so give it a shot.

The VirtualBox software itself installed on Windows 7  easily.  Within a few minutes after that, A VM for an Ubuntu Linux partition was ready for the OS install.  Virtualbox is able to install an OS from an ISO disk image.  So after a few minutes waiting for the latest Ubuntu 11.10 version to download, the VM was ready to install.  It took longer to download the ISO than it took VirtualBox to install the OS(unusually slow day for the internet connection to blame there).

The quick summary is that Ubuntu runs well inside the VM sitting on a Windows7 host.  I expect that the opposite is likely to be a more desirable arrangement, but living in the real world, there it is.  I expect to use the Ubuntu partition to allow tunneling over to the Linux server box using VNC to control the desktop on the remote server.  Its possible to set that up using something like TightVNC under windows, but the whole thing is a lot simpler to configure in a Linux to Linux environment.  The VM runs on the windows desktop just like another windows application.  Nice and simple.

More complicated hardware interfaces are probably a lot more difficult to configure(if they are possible at all), but outside of some radio control software, I don’t expect to need to delve that deeply.  I suppose there will be latency issues based on some comments from N4AF, but curiosity may eventually point me in that direction anyway.

Unrelated sidenote, but after installing the 11.10 version of Ubuntu, I immediately ditched the “unity” desktop and reverted to “gnome”.  Another “Unity = new coke” example? ? ?  [Comments appreciated on this topic]

A second VM is now set up with a small Windows XP partition using the Windows XP license from the dead desktop.  It turns out that XP was a bit more difficult to install.  The problems were probably due to hardware conflict issues between VirtualBox and the host over the CD-DVD drive.  After ripping  XP to an on-disk ISO, installation made much better progress.

It turns out the XP partition will be handy for running the version of EZNec I have.  Later versions of EZNec have a 32 bit installer, but the last edition I have is using a 16 bit installer which will not work with 64 bit Windows 7.  So now EZNec has a home on the desktop again, even if its inside a shell running on top of the shell.  In fact, the EZNec install on an XP VM runs quite a lot better than I expected – much faster than on a P4 with 1 GB of ram.

So for some select older applications, an XP VM in the VirtualBox world is a viable option.  It’s a kludge, but potentially a very useful kludge.  Another very useful aspect is that the VM’s can be very easily copied.  Useful for backups and migration.  And always having a pristine version saved could be handy.  I’m tempted to start saving pennies for a multicore processor machine with the latest/greatest fast CPU’s and memory, and use a VM for everyday usages.   Also curious if running the VM’s over a Linux host OS ultimately makes more sense.

Latest-n-greatest is wonderful, but I just hate leaving behind programs that work perfectly well.  CT anyone?  OK, maybe not….

O’course the bleeding edge crowd will still descend into hysterics over the concept of “continuing to drive the 1984 Honda Civic”, but I figure they have enough cash in their pocket to not be concerned with the trivial expenses involved in their upgrades to all new replacement software.  If it were not just for a  hobby tinkering project, maybe I’d agree.

“Better” is such a subjective concept, aina?

 

2012 CQ 160m CW Pre-game

Getting the last minute woolgathering in before the contest begins.

Made a last-minute antenna mod to the Inv-L with K2AV FCP.  The antenna matching network has been ready for switching out matching capacitors for over a year.  The missing piece has been a control box and control cable to the feedpoint.  After a bit of consideration of solving this issue before the contest, the brain caught up and realized an interim solution was already in place.

When the Sixpak was added to the antenna system a couple of years back, the existing seven position switch was pressed into ‘temporary’ service as an A/B switch for a pair of 40m dipoles.  But they occupy positions 1 & 2 on the switch.

So why not use the other switch positions to serve double duty?  The switch is about ten feet from the base of the 160m antenna, so its a short run of control cable versus the 80 run needed back to the shack.

So as a quick and dirty solution, I hacked together a plug to mate to the switch control line.  Just plug the 160m switch into the control cable for the seven position switch.

Presto-change-o.  Now I can move the best match on 160m from 1820 up to 1845.  Sufficient for a CW contest, although 1855 would be ideal.  More tweaking needed, but better.

Goals for the weekend are more or less to lay down a good set of spots into the Reverse Beacon Network.  No real QSO goals.  Try to maximize time spent running, and try to do it over two nights.

C U L   de w4kaz

2011 Summer Review – Functional, But Maybe Not Esthetic

One of the things that kept me away from the keyboard was a woodwork project idea.

Several years back, I saw a design for a compact kitchen/breakfast table.  The tabletop folded over to convert the table into a bench.  The basic idea was used to build two outdoor tables of similar design.  They are very functional, but a bit heavy.  One is in daily use as a catch all work table.  The other slightly larger table is on the backyard patio and is used with the tabletop grill.

The eldest son moved to an off campus apartment which has a large deck.  It seemed like a good place for a similar table.  So it was time to pencil out a new design that I could put together for an updated “new and improved” version. Several years of use had made some of the shortcomings of the original tables obvious.  The “new” ideas are that:  1) it needed to fit into the car for transport, and 2) should be made of lighter weight materials to generally make it easier to move around.  This is what popped out…….

Picnic Table/Bench

First attempt at picnic table bench

Not a terribly good photo, but there are a few more coming.

The table has four components: 2 sides, the top, and the bench.  The sides are simply bolted to the bench with 1/4 inch carriage bolts, while the top rests on top of the top arms of the side pieces.  The top is simply pinned into place using 1/4 inch J bolts.  The top itself is formed from boards attached to ribs with deck screws, all countersunk from below keeping the tabletop unblemished.   The table top hinges over on the rear pair of J-bolts to become the backrest for the bench.  Pictures are better….

Picnic table with top folded back as bench.

Picnic table with top folded back as bench.

The materials used are all pressure treated pine lumber.  To give the surfaces a bit of a protective finish, the table top got four or five coats of good old-fashioned pure tung oil, which incidentally has become difficult to find.  I like tung oil – it is more resistant to mold and mildew, so is better for an outdoor application than boiled linseed oil, and I expect it to hold up in the mountain UV sunlight a lot better than a polyurethane.  After its dried, tung oil is also resistant to alcohol and related solvents.  Good stuff.  I suppose it has fallen from favor because of the rise in popularity of the polyurethanes, and the substitution of the less expensive boiled linseed oil finishes.  It was also a bit of an experiment, as none of the other normal finishes are worth a flying-*#%^ on pressure treated lumber, whereas tung oil does a better job on this material and is non-toxic, unlike oils designed for treating pressure treated decks.

So the table top and bench have a nice hand buffed tung oil finish.  Its difficult to tell in these photos, but that experiment was proven to be effective.

The back of the bench

The back of the bench

As it turns out, the selection of pressure treated that happened to be in the bin at the big-box-lumber-retailer included several nice heart-pine crosscuts, which had nice colored grain detail.  The coloration was enhanced by the oil finish.  It really looks a lot better than I expected.  Almost kept this one and made a second table for NumberOneSon.  😮

side view of bench attachment to side arms

side view of bench attachment to side arms

Inside/underside view of bench attachment to side arm

Inside/underside view of bench attachment to side arm

The problem areas in the design relate to the hinging of the table top and its use as a seat back.  The sides of the table are made from deck ballusters.  I’ve found that these are generally cut from knot free sections of clear even-grained wood, and are quite strong.  Also relatively inexpensive.  So the side sections are held together with deck screws and waterproof polyurethane exterior construction adhesive.  The top rail may not be strong enough for the hinge, and may eventually need a re-inforcement of steel or aluminum added.

Also, the original benches had wider sides, which served to “stop” the  bench top fold over at just over 90 degree seat back angle.  Solving that problem on this new bench did not occur to me until it became clear the sides here will allow the top to hinge over well past a comfortable seat-back angle.  So the kludge to remedy that design flaw was a simple chunk of balluster attached at angle on the inside of the sides.  It helps add rigidity to the sides as well as acting as a bumper for the table top when hinged over as a seat.

 

Side view of table with top hinged over for use as bench

Side view of table with top hinged over for use as bench

Just right for soaking up a bit of mountain sunshine – and hopefully the moonshine won’t eat away the finish.

Linux Progress In the KazShack

Given the plethora of P4 boxes showing up in recycle bins as companies migrate off of WinXP, a recent reclamation opportunity made it seem like a good time to save some landfill space and cobble together a Linux file server.  So with a scrap Dell GX280 in hand, the file server/testbed project saw some attention.  Stuffing an extra couple of memory sticks into the obsolescent GX280 brought it up to 2GB.  The GX280 should be a very usable Ubuntu or WinXP platform with 2gb, so its a great shack backup too.  The limitation was the hard drive.  A spare 80gb drive is set up with WinXP, and an el-cheapo 500gb drive went in for the Ubuntu install.  Not phenomenal, but not bad for under $75USD.  Hell, it would have been useful without the upgrades.

The Dell GX280 seems to be well supported by Ubuntu – all of the peripherals are up and running after the install, no hardware/driver hacking required.  Installed Ubuntu 10.04(lts).  The GX280 is widely available as scrap.  Kind of like throwing away a good pre-1974VW Beetle was back in the 1980’s.  Not too sexy, but still serviceable enough for generic mundane uses.  Wish I had grabbed more of them[VW’s and GX280’s].  [Aside: Both my 1968 Beetle and my wife’s 1984 Honda Civic hatchback got better mileage(48mpg and 42mpg respectively) than today’s EcoWeenie “hybrids” get in real life usage.  Ain’t “progress” something to behold?]

Networking the boxes turned out to be the biggest roadblock, and it is still an incompletely resolved situation.  That’s not related directly to the hardware, but to the mix-match of OS’s in the network.  The home experimentation network consists of Win7, WinXP, and Ubuntu 10.04 boxes.  All of the boxes can see the others.  The symbolic names are mostly useless, as only the XP and win7 boxes can access each other using the symbolic names[sometimes].  The linux boxes can share files, but only by using their IP addresses, even with the XP boxes.  Obviously user error setting up Samba shares.  Not a major issue when the router assigns the internal IP’s, providing an alternate route, but far from perfect.  Windows 7 isn’t playing nice with any of the others, probably related to the user security.

So for the present, IP address’ are the ticket.  Kludgy at best, but mapping the drives by IP address works across the platforms.  Not really any more difficult to use the IP’s.  Since they are mapped at the router, its probably easier to remember the box numbers anyway.   “x.x.x.157 is what????”

The good news is that setting up SSH on the Ubuntu platforms was simple enough that even a linux noob can figure it out.   SSH security tips are widely available. With an X-window client and PuTTY installed on the windows side, any of the windows boxes can be used as remote desktops for the linux machines. That more or less eliminates the need for monitor/keyboards or the use of a KVM with the X boxes. Nice to have, but not required.  So the file server can be stuffed into some nook or cranny down in the dungeon/KazShack.  So far I’ve set up only two boxes as control consoles, one an Ubuntu desktop(using SSH), and the other the Win7 box I use most often(using PuTTY and an X-server).

Having the Win7 box able to remote into the server gives the best of both worlds.  I can now tinker with the programming stuff on the Linux side directly from the windows desktop.  Geek Heaven.  Since ARRL finally added the CSV option back to the contest results, I can continue collecting the band breakdown data for the Sweepstakes contests.

The next area of experimentation is to try out some VM’s.  I’m curious as to how much access a contest logging program might have to the required hardware interfaces[USB, serial, LPT] when it sits in a winXP VM being run on top of linux.  Since linux has good control of those hardware interfaces, in theory it should be possible.  Don’t know if the VM’s available are yet up to the task, but loggers are not really doing anything too exotic.  Might be possible, and it seems like a better overall approach than using WINE if the hardware has the extra horsepower needed.

Given the dearth of Linux contest specific loggers, it might be the most practical approach. Since the major contest loggers are written in Visual Basic, it may be the only way to run those particular apps under Unix.

Or maybe not….

Useful Stuff:

Updated, 2011/1/6: The Notepad++ portable app seems to work perfectly well using WINE in Ubuntu 10.04.  Notepad++ has a easy end-of-line conversion for text files, making it easy to switch from CRLF to LF, or vise versa.

This Should Be Obvious

Sometimes common sense is everything but common.  Just never can find the right adapters when hooking everything back together.

Case in point: It is a lot easier to use 1/8th(3.5mm) stereo plugs, and use an adapter to go up in size to 1/4 inch.   Going from large to small just adds stress to the connections.  The smaller size is also becoming the more commonly used jack on gear as the gear itself becomes smaller.  Soldering the teensy connectors is more of a PITA, but such is life.

Just as soon chop all of the paddle and keyer plugs now – almost all of the shack radio gear has 1/8th jacks now.  But the peripherals seem to all still have 1/4 plugs.

Another fun fact: It’s easier to use all stereo connectors than a mix of stereo and mono.  A stereo plug can be wired tip and shell for mono usage, but a mono plug is worthless when you need stereo.   So to hell with mono 1/8th and 1/4 audio connectors.  They are banished forevermore from the KazShack.

Soldering Tip: When soldering RCA, 1/8th or 1/4 plugs, it is worthwhile heat sinking the connector, especially with low-quality connectors.  The easiest way is to just plug them into a jack.  That seems to provide enough sinking, unless you really try to cook them.  This seems to really be helpful with RCA connections, where the center pin will sometimes drift if the connector is overheated.  Using an RCA barrel as heat sink allows a melted connection to re-solidify correctly aligned.  Good to go, unless it shorted when overcooked.

Linux Tinkering

The latest version of Ubuntu(v10.4) came up as an option in the updates.  Went ahead and let it install and the upgrade was very smooth.  One moment of head scratching due to a query window regarding options for the upgrade to the “Grub” boot loader, but everything seems to have worked.  The transition was mostly seamless.

The upgrade process did not seem to make any changes to the LAMPP install, which was a good thing.  Shoulda backed up the config files in there, but didn’t – so its good that the install went so smoothly.

Been tinkering with bash scripting, which for the most part is easy to pick up. I’m still a Linux mega-noob, but I can see why programmers like it.  I wish Linux had been at this level 12 years ago.  The folk working on the Ubuntu distro have done a lot of good things to improve the ease of use and ease of install issues – a commendable acheivement. Still having issues with networking to the windows boxes, which is certainly due to the dumb user.[Linux can access the WinXP shares, but not Win7, and no Win flavor can access Linux.]

I can see becoming accustomed to Linux for daily tasks, except for the few pesky windows apps which have no serious alternatives on the Linux platform.  Like a fully functioned contest logging program – at least that I have found.

N4AF has been tinkering with the port of TR to windows, TR4W.  Not sure that’s the first choice for me.  I know that SD is supposed to work in Linux under WINE, but SD may be a bit too bare bones for the things I like in a contest logger.  Time to start experimenting more seriously with Linux.

TurnKey Linux Appliances

This is worth exploring, and here is the direct link.  One day….