Getting Started with Pi-Star: From Hotspot setup to Memory Programming

If you’ve been following my page for the last year, you will have seen at least a half dozen posts mentioning the Zumspot. It’s pretty much taken the digital amateur radio community by storm over the last year or so. I picked one up from HRO in Dayton/Xenia last year, had it up and on the air in a matter of a half hour or so – in fact it takes longer to assemble the case to put it in. For those unfamiliar, the Zumspot is a board that’s about the size of a stick of gum, it’s designed to work the the Raspberry Pi (the kits even come with a Raspberry Pi Zero to use it with).

The point of the Hotspot is to get you up and on the commonly used digital voice modes even in areas with no repeater coverage. They cover D-Star, DMR, C4FM (or Yaesu System Fusion), P25, and NXDN. In a lot of areas there is no coverage of any of these modes, less all of them, so for someone interested in trying them out, but not crazy about the idea of building up a whole repeater just to play around with the mode, these are a very cost effective method of getting into the mode, starting off at around $140 from Ham Radio Outlet for the whole Kit. It fundamentally works by receiving your RF signal in whichever digital mode/modes you choose, and transmitting it via the internet to the desired Reflector/TalkGroup/Room you choose.

A lot of people I know that have these have had the occasional hiccup with setup, or memory programming – I can sympathize with that as when I started this, I think I played around with the software for hours before it finally worked. Admittedly I’m unsure if the board even works with other software, as these boards all come with a memory card preloaded with the Pi-Star software, however having used other software such as Western Digital’s with other hotspots, I will say that Pi-Star is a much more straight forward, user friendly interface that, for the average user with no past experience with this type of thing, is pretty much just the way to go in the current digital radio landscape.

Let’s get started!

The first thing that we’re going to need to do before all else is insert the SD card that comes with the Board into the computer – this comes preloaded with the Pi-Star image which makes this easy. From there we can get you set up for wireless Internet connectivity. The Raspberry Pi (any model after the original) has built-in Wi-Fi, so what you need to know is your Wi-Fi’s SSID, or display name, and your password. Once you have that, we’re going to head over to https://www.pistar.uk and the website will look as it does below:

From here, we’re going to select the option in the left-hand column that says Pi-Star tools, and that will give you a drop-down menu, select Wi-Fi builder

It will bring you to the screen below – it provides good instructions on what to do from here. You enter your Wifi information in the circled area, and it will generate a WiFi configuration file that we will the drag and drop on to our Pi-Star memory card, and get the device up and running!

Let’s locate the file that we’ve created (should be in your downloads folder), we’ll drag and drop that into the SD Card that has our Pi-Star OS on it. For this piece simply follow the onscreen instructions, this is very well documented and easy to setup.

Once we’ve done that, let’s eject the card from the PC, insert it into our Raspberry Pi with our Zumspot board attached, and plug in the power! Be sure that you’re utilizing the Micro USB Port labeled for Power, if you’re using a Pi-Zero there are going to be two set right together – the outer one is the one meant for the 5v Power input. Wait about 30 seconds to a minute after plugging in, and then go to your PC/Tablet. If you’re utilizing a full computer, go to your internet browser and simply type http://pi-star however, if you’re utilizing an Android or iOS Device, go to your browser and type pi-star.local – after you click go/hit enter you’re going to be redirected to the “Dashboard”

From here, to begin setup, you’re going to go to the “Admin” button on the top row

You’ll be prompted for a username and password as it shows above – the default is as follows:

Username: Pi-Star

Password: raspberry

The first thing you’ll want to do before setting at configurations is fetching an update for the latest Pi-Star software, this will have any types of stability patches, security updates, etc.., so make sure you click the “update” tab along the top bar. It’ll run its course and reboot.

Once we’ve done our update, go back to the “Admin” tab to get setup! It will bring you to the following page once you select Admin

This is where the confusion comes in – what type of software are we having Pi-Star act as? MMDVMHost or a D-Star Repeater? Well, this I guess is only confusing for those that are D-Star ONLY users, but even if you’re using it exclusively for D-Star, you need to select MMDVMHost.

Below you’ll see the MMDVMHost menu, and it’s here that you select what modes you’ll be using – I use YSF (Fusion/C4FM), D-Star, and DMR, so I have all of those selected as active as you’ll see, and then click apply changes.

Next, you’ll input your Callsign, as this is what the node will need to be assigned to be able to transmit over the gateway, and your CCS7 (or DMR) ID. This post is assuming that you have both registered your call, and gotten a CCS7/DMR ID, if you have not locate your closest D-Star Repeater and see if they’re setup for callsign registration, and go to http://www.dmr-marc.net/ to obtain your CCS7 number. After that you’ll pick a frequency – BE SURE YOU’RE IN AN OFF SECTION OF THE BAND! Last thing you want to do is be in the middle of the satellite downlinks or something, and mess with someone’s Sat. contact. If you’re interested in utilizing DPRS to transmit your location with each transmission, as well as mark the location of your hotspot, you’ll enter the latitude, and longitude of your hotspot, and the location data it asks for below. In order for it to communicate effectively with the Pi, as well as to identify what you’re using over the gateway, select the drop-down menu for “radio/modem type,” and select your corresponding hotspot setup (as you’ll see mine is the Zumspot/Pi-Zero).

Another thing to note in the photo below is that each mode is already configured. When you check the various boxes for the particular modes after your information is in, there isn’t a whole lot else to be done. With DMR, specify that you’d like to utilize the gateway, and enable the brandmeister network, and you’re pretty much good to go. For D-Star you can choose a default reflector to link to on startup if you’d like, or if you don’t want to have it automatically link, just leave it where it’ll default to – should say REF001A and the manual box will be checked, meaning you have to tell it to link to the reflector. With Fusion, you just select a room to link to, and you’re done.

Click Apply Changes, and now, we’re ready to use it! When you save your settings, it should automatically reboot, you’ll lose your connection to the device for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then you’ll be back up and running, and ready to go! Now, it’s time to move on to the radio side..

D-Star with the Kenwood D-74

With D-Star the memory functions can be a little tricky, and while this is likely the most functional mode of all the commonly used ones today, the initial programming with an Access Point is a little tricky – the thing to remember is that we need to treat a hotspot just like a repeater, down to programming with an offset and everything. The kicker is that there is NO offset, so we have to remember to set the frequency shift to +/- 0.00 MHz. If you don’t do this, your memory will be tagged as skip, meaning any time you rotate the dial to access the memory, it will be skipped over in the repeater list. As follows are the step by step instructions for programming the Kenwood D-74. Other radios such as the Icom ID-31/51/5100/7100 all use very similar memory functions, the key point to remember with all of these radio’s is to set that +/- 0.00 MHz offset, otherwise it will not work with any radio.

Choose Write, and you’re all set! You’re on D-Star via Hotspot!

DMR with the CS-580

Programming your DMR HT is very straight forward – all that has to be done is presetting a memory bank for the Hotspot, and programming each Talk Group you’ll likely use in a separate channel. Set the TX/RX to the same frequency in the memory channels, and vary each one for each talk group. With the hotspot, while you can program an “unlink” command, it is not necessary unless you plan on just utilizing as a simplex repeater, every time you key up a new talk group, the Hotspot unlinks from the previous group, and links to the new one automatically. Below are step by step instructions for programming the CS-580 (BFXD HT), your mileage may vary as I only have DMR experience with this radio, and I’m unaware of how the software for the TYT MD-380, or Hytera radio’s works in comparison.

Save, and Write the Data to your Radio… We just have one more step! In a lot of cases the DMR radios that people use are Chinese radios that are cheaper, and not necessarily as clean on the spectrum.. So to accommodate this, we’re going to go into our expert settings, and open up the TX/RX sensitivity of Pi-Star.. This is done by clicking the Expert option at the top of the Admin menu.. You’ll be brought to the screen below:

You’ll be brought to another screen where the second orange line down says “Modem” – this is where we configure the offset sensitivity. We’re going to open that number up from 0 on both to -475 for both TX and RX as you see below

All other data can remain as is. Apply your changes, and reboot, and you’re up and on the air with DMR!

C4FM (System Fusion) with the FT-70D

Admittedly my experience with fusion at this moment is limited to dashboard control, and the little FT-70D, however having just gotten an FTM-400 I hope to change that soon. Fusion can be linked to rooms through direct input or dashboard, however up until recently the FT-70 did not support direct input. Programming is very simple however, be sure that your callsign is programmed into the radio, set the frequency for the Hotspot in your memory as a simplex frequency, and set the mode to digital. Write the memory, and you’re good to go! For the most part that is, from the Admin page on the Pi-Star dashboard you can change the room you’re linked to, and find out what room is which assigned number. When you know the corresponding numbers, you can program those into your radio, or directly input them to link to those rooms. If anybody has more information on programming radios for Hotspot use with C4FM, please feel free to comment.

Write it to memory by pressing F followed by V/M, press it again and type out what you’d like to name the channel, and press again to write, and you’re on the air on the Hotspot with Fusion!

I hope that this has been an informative post, and can be used as a tool for you in the future! And to make it easy to access in the future this will be a permanent link in the menu bar – this will remain a fluid post updated as new information comes along, but for the moment this is as up to date as can be!

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Made in China?: 2019, Global eCommerce, and New Gadgets

2019 has already turned out to be an interesting year in the tech world, and it’s only February. Samsung, Huawei, HTC, and Xiaomi have all announced folding phones that are all priced in the $2000-3000 range, which puts them more in the luxury device category… 3/4 of these are Chinese companies, and items that are “Made in China,” from what we in the US refer to as off brand companies are not items that we would traditionally call luxury products, what does this say about the changing landscape that it the global economy? Is this something that we can look more towards in the future?

Being curious about this, I was doing a little research as to what some of these Chinese brands have to offer, and other than scandals involving executives from Huawei, data leaking, etc., there isn’t much that’s sold in the US. For a brief time their Honor line of Smartphones were sold in Best Buy, but due to the current Trade War and Tariffs being imposed on products made overseas, there virtually not sold by US retailers anymore. However, of course you can buy anything you’d like online! Through looking at these other products, I came across Xiaomi, and a subsidiary company Huami, which has become one of the leading companies globally when it comes to the wearables market. I’m usually of the mindset of buy from a company that I know, and I have no clue who these guys are, but their device the “Amazfit Bip” Smartwatch was an Amazon Choice device, under $100, ($75.99 to be exact), and had an average 4-star customer review, the majority of which were between four and five stars, with almost 2000 reviews written. After combing through some of the positive and negatives, I figured, hey, why not?

I’ve been wearing the watch now for a little over a day, and I can say at this point, I’m thoroughly impressed. We’ll see what a week of usage comes back with, however it’s as accurate as the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit I had previously, which was slightly more accurate than my Apple Watch Series 1 before that when it comes to activity tracking. The touch sensitivity is right there with all of the other devices, I know the cheaper devices can sometimes have a slow response time due to less processing power on average, but that is not the case here – likely due to the fact that it really cannot be bogged down, it has its main features it’s designed to do, and won’t do much more. The customization aspect is severely lacking, but I knew what I was getting when I picked it up – a cheap, well liked Fitness tracker.

My guess is that in the next 3-5 years, we’re going to see an entirely new wearables marketplace and landscape. It’s ugly, but I think that Nubia is truly into something with it’s “Alpha” platform, a fully functioning smartphone on your wrist. While this is kind of playing into the foldable phones marketplace, it’s more than just a phone, it’s a smart watch as well. While this is contrary to my “multiple devices doing things perfectly” theory that I hold to, I believe that if we truly want to only have one thing that we’re carrying around, this is the way that the landscape will shift. While it’s bulky, kind of ugly, and running a custom version on Android (don’t get me wrong, Android is great, and a perfectly capable OS, but custom shells tend to create problems) I think that this is the way we can see more things shift, if there’s just a solid design behind it.

What does this all mean though? It means that there are new companies looking to really get their foot in the North American markets by releasing their cool, new more neat looking gadgets in a public forum, they’re now in the consumers minds. Looking at the landscape that’s in front of us now, we’re seeing a little bit of innovation in the Smartphone marketplace for the first time in a while – everything that’s out now looks quite alike, sure some have different notches, and some have glass or ceramic options, but they all look like a thin block of carved glass. The last true innovation in this area was wireless charging capabilities – we’re going to see a huge jump to things that can bend, fold, and mutilate to any position that we’d like, and processing power that rivals a lot of modern laptops (see Samsung’s 16gb RAM model of the s10!). It’s going to be an interesting couple of years for sure… being the Apple-o-haulic I am, it’s going to be interesting to see what their response to this is.

The Condensation of Devices: Multiple devices doing each task perfectly, or a single device that does an okay job of multiple things?

Over the last, oh, I’d say 10 years or so, we’ve gotten to a point where we condense everything down to a single device if we can. Our cell phones are our music players, our readers, our camera, and our way of interacting with everyone and sharing these photos (which makes sense given that they’re a phone – but I’m talking about social media here). But is this the best option? Up until last year I still used an iPod Classic for the majority of my music, and that’s because that was a dedicated device built specifically for music, it stored a ton, and worked perfectly. There was never any question whether it was going to play or not, if I didn’t have cell service I still had access to my entire music library without worry on a road trip. Now, while phone storage is becoming increasingly larger, storing music locally is becoming a thing of the past thanks to services like Spotify, and Apple Music (full disclosure I am also an Apple Music subscriber, though I prefer having everything stored locally). This begs the question though, our phones aren’t the best method of playing music – storage is limited, Apple for example is making it increasingly more difficult to sync music to your phone via USB, wouldn’t you rather have a dedicated device meant solely for playing your music library? It performed that one task very well, and that was all it did? I know I can’t be alone in that mindset as Sony still makes the dedicated music player, with a throwback name, the Walkman.

It does a single task – plays music. And it does a fantastic job with it. I’ve had this for a little over a year and absolutely love it as an iPod replacement.

This isn’t the only device we’ve done this with however, remember eReaders? I have, (and still use from time to time) a Sony PRS-505

Sure – the ereader is still around, there’s still a version of the Barnes and Noble Nook that’s an epaper display and not a Samsung Tablet running Nook OS. Amazon still makes the Kindle Paperwhite, and Kobo is still booming overseas – in fact they took on support for the Sony Readers when Sony discontinued support for the product in late 2014. When I got this reader in 2007, I used it for virtually everything through school – I’d scan my notes to PDF, and upload them to this so I could carry all the previous days notes without the worry of crumpling and shredding the papers, or losing them, knowing how disorganized I used to be… okay… kind of still am, but am a lot better than I used to be. As time went on though, while they’re still big in some markets, we moved to other devices, Apple launched the iPad at a price that the average consumer could afford, and suddenly the tablet market had taken off, leaving eReaders (as a standalone device at least) seemingly into the dust.

I could get into GPS devices as well, however those are still alive in kicking for people that tend to trek to places where there just isn’t cell reception – I love a trip to the mountains to go hiking, and fishing, so that’s when I have the offline maps ready!

Now, I’m not suggesting anyone dust off the old Palm Pilot for an address book and something to quickly jot down notes, to break out their pagers for a text, and bring around the “Zoolander” phone to make a call, these are some areas that the average Smartphone OS has definitely improved, but when you’re using your sole Android or iOS device, you have to feel like there are features missing from the music player, or eReader? Sure, the GPS with Google Maps has gotten significantly better when it comes to offline maps, but it still doesn’t compare to having one dedicated GPS device. When you’re traveling, or listen to a lot of music, the storage for tunes is drastically missing in the modern cell phone – I have over 100gb of music on my computer, how in the world am I going to put that on my phone with the sheer volume of photos I take?

Just ask yourself though, would you rather carry around a few devices that do many things perfectly? Or would you rather carry around one device that does a bunch of things in an okay way, and you can live with? Me, I’ll take a few devices doing things perfectly, especially when it comes to music players – while I don’t read a lot, I do listen to a TON of music and podcasts, and having a device that I can simply dedicate to that purpose not only saves valuable storage space on my device, but also helps stretch the battery of my phone to obscene amounts! Sure it’s one more thing to forget when you’re walking out the door in the morning, but if I forget it, that’s why I have Apple Music… as a backup! (Oh… and to use on the Echo)

 

Note Taking and Books in the Modern Era of Education and Enterprise – a 7 year lifespan is why Apple will consistently sell me a new iPad

When you’re in a professional setting, what do you use to take notes during a meeting? Paper and Pen, Tablet (either with or without some type of peripheral input), or a Laptop? I have been in the tablet mindset since I purchased my first device in 2010 – the WebOS HP Touchpad. While I eventually hacked it and put Android on it, that was merely for ease of application updating, as well as to give myself a much larger app database to work with, as HP eventually gave up on the Palm product, and left a few years before they eventually made the source code open. In my mind, the tablet is the perfect device for any setting – they’re relatively light, in fact my iPad 3rd Generation, and iPad Pro are 1/2 the weight of what the Touchpad was, and they all can do a lot in such a small package.

When I graduated High School in 2012, I was really trying to figure out what to do financially about college textbooks – I was already taking out a massive amount of debt just to attend, did I really want to dole out a few thousand more a year just for books? I then looked into Apple’s Education platform that they were launching at the time – interactive textbooks? Active hyperlinks to videos from the publisher? In book clips, or pronunciations for foreign languages? Sold. Not just that, but a book that could potentially cost $300 for the print version and a CD to try and load on my lagging Windows computer, when I could have an interactive version literally at my fingertips for $170? That led me to sit down and do the math – If I’m saving $130 here, $50 there, $200 on that – I’m up to $380 in savings in my first semester by buying them digitally and getting a cleaner version that has updates as they’re published. It would be stupid not to do this.

Of course, being the Apple-holic I am, and after some research that is, I went with the top of the line at the time iPad – this was the 3rd Generation iPad, 64gb Storage, Retina Display…..but Just missed the boat on the lightning connector. Sure, I did research some other tablets, and was sold on the HP Touchpad as mentioned before but the reason I got one in the first place is that I was able to get one was that I purchased it for $50 as HP had decided to discontinue the device, and blow them out of every store. The other device I was seriously considering was the Toshiba Thrive tablet – 32gb of internal storage, however it has a memory card slot, full USB ports, Full HDMI, and was spec-ed pretty similarly to the iPad, however it was running Android. As someone who has been an (almost) consistent user of Apple Phones for the better part of the last 10 years (with a year and a half off in there to try out the Motorola Modular Platform), not to mention having used iTunes for all of my music since 2004, an iPad made the most sense for multiple reasons. Less than a month after I bought my device, Apple released a very similarly spec-ed iPad, barely anything worth noting, but it had their shiny new connector – which funnily enough would become the new standard I would need to use between devices…. and had to keep a stash of 30-pin connectors for the older iPad.

Sure, I took the concept of gaming into account too, I’m active in and out roof the gaming world depending on how busy I am at the time, as I’ve stated before, I have too many hobbies to count, and I’m adding in some more as time goes on (of course), but iOS, and any of the mobile platforms for that matter, have never really took off as quality gaming platforms. Companies like Aspyr Media have released ported versions of games like Knights of the Old Republic, but originally designed games for iOS (or Android) have kind of taken a back seat it seems. Things like Angry Birds, and Fruit Ninja have really been the best we could ask for. With the sudden explosion of Battle Royale games like Fortnite, and PUBG coming on scene, and adding all platform capability, and the success of such, I feel like we’re going to see a lot more of this in the future… but I digress…

That original iPad purchase was in August of 2012 – it’s now February of 2019, and I still have that iPad, and it’s still functioning… for the most part. The OS is well out of date for sure as the hardware will no longer support the software, meaning that a lot of Apps will no longer update, and that a lot of things that I would previously do from it I no longer can. It still is a great tablet that I magnetically mount in the kitchen to display recipes, or watch a streaming service while cooking, but 7 years and out of date software/hardware, that’s about it’s usefulness anymore. And that alone is longer than the life of any Windows computer I have ever owned to date – therefore I’m okay with that. And it’s also why I purchased a new iPad when I was looking for a new tablet to power use, I was looking for something to run Google Analytics, do basic Excel functions, as well as potentially do some basic graphic design (which if you have any suggestions on programs, I’m all ears!), and the iPad offered all of those features and more. If I can get the sam lifespan out of this device, and Apple can consistently provide on this, they’ll have at least one customer until they discontinue making the product for sure.

Is a Smart TV smart enough?

With the advent of streaming services it has completely changed the way in which we take in our entertainment. When Netflix launched a streaming service that was separate from it’s traditional DVD mail service, it took off in a way I don’t think anybody really expected it to. Now, with the volume of streaming services out there, the concept of cord cutting is more popular than ever, and cable subscriptions are on the decline, while streaming TV subscriptions, which provide a slightly cheaper, and more flexible alternative to traditional cable and satellite service, are increasing. These alternatives allow you to utilize your service from virtually anywhere in the world, such as Sling TV, Fubo, YouTube TV, Playstation VUE, certain networks are allowing you to stream their content live, or certain programs for free, such as Fox, and ABC, and others are requiring a paid subscription, like CBS All Access. There is also more than just Netflix when it comes to the standard streaming market now, with Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video being major players in this market as well.

With this, however, we have shed the monthly fee that is a cable box, or satellite receiver because we have all of the Applications, but what is the best way for us to access these applications? We started this transition to streaming media with our laptops, and an HDMI cable, and then moving in to our tablets, and phones being supported for these applications. Then along came streaming media sticks, and boxes that were dedicated for TV, and games. The perfect example of early adopters to streaming content on something other than a computer, tablet, or phone are game consoles. The PS3, and Xbox 360 were the first to incorporate this, and then along came the Wii offering Netflix support after. After these, however, we get into something that, while we’ve had them for a while now, are still not necessarily the most perfect device. Smart TV’s. A TV that has, “all” of your streaming applications built into it, and there is no need for a separate box to do anything, because it’s all built in to the one device… or is it?

The concept is great, and it’s what everybody wants when it comes to any category of technology, one device that works for everything, in the age of us carrying around more computing power on our wrist than the spaceshuttle had, why are our TV’s still not able to have absolutely everything we want all in one? That’s actually a relatively simple answer, to me at least. Personalization. Sure, you’ll say licensing of the software and such, but in reality, we could make use of what we have, and make it do just about everything we want, but we all have the OS layout we like. Some people are die hard Roku fans, others Playstation or Fire TV fans, I like the Tivo layout, but find the PS3 was my favorite as a whole. We all have a device that we like to customize, or that works best for us and our needs. Me, I’m kind of in a bind. I got my first Apple device in 2004 (an iPod Mini – oh yeah!), and from day one started importing my CD’s, and building my music collection in iTunes to be able to sync to my iPod, before that I used WinAmp, so a lot of stuff was already ripped, and just had to be imported to iTunes. In 2007 when I got my first apple device that played video’s (iPod Classic – after 11 years, I just laid it to rest this past year), and from there built up my iTunes movie collection – after who knows how many dollars worth of movie & TV season purchases. While the Movies Anywhere application has fixed that for the most part, allowing me to watch my purchased movies on virtually any device, from virtually any application I like that syncs with it, TV show purchases and music streaming become the issue.

The fix for me would be to get an Apple TV, but, do I need another set top box? I already mix and match between the PS4 and the Tivo, both of which are loaded with applications – the issue with Tivo is that they do not update the applications as often as they should… hence using the PS4 in conjunction with it. And then there’s the fact that my TV is also a smart TV… and I have a Chromecast attached as well for the odd app that we want to use with the TV! What good would one more device be?

This is the predicament of the modern era of streaming. Each device has something different and unique that you may want, something that is useful to a point where you can be persuaded to purchase it for the occasional use. The same goes for all of the streaming services. It’s getting to a point where you want the streaming services for the exclusives in a lot of cases, and by the time you’re done with Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, your Amazon Channels or individual network subscriptions so you can watch CBS All Access, HBO Go, or what have you, you’re back to being about even with your cable bill… or even paying slightly more. Oh! And you still need to rely on cable from the aspect of them being your ISP. Is this era of entertainment really better than the last? At least when we had cable, there was one device that would play all of your channels.

How much more fragmented will this streaming entertainment world get?

Smart Home Transition

Being about three months away from Dayton, and four months out until the next contest, with June VHF and Field Day within a couple weeks of each other, I think it may be time to put the radio talk on hold for a little bit – there’s a lot of other stuff going on! What’s on the agenda? Well – this blog is going to go back to more than just radio – with moving into a new house, sure there’s going to be some radio talk, in fact I’ve started to setup a nice shack area (see below), but we’re also (kind of) converting it to a smart home. We talked about it before we moved in, and had decided not to do the whole smart home concept, but as we’re going along and replacing odds and ends like light bulbs and the thermostat, I’m noticing some of these items have nice energy monitoring features that I really like, so I’ve said screw it, and we’re slowly transitioning over to a semi-smart home. The first question to ask was what ecosystem of smart products do we want to go with? What do we use for our control, and hub? Well, a few months ago I had a coupon for Best Buy, and they had just started running all of the specials on the Eco Dot’s, with the 3rd Generation being $24.99 – that plus $10 off? Sure, let’s get an Echo to play with. A few weeks later Christmas shopping, I bought something that allowed me to purchase an Amazon Smart Plug for $5 – well… sure, I’ll try it. Let’s see how useful it is! I had the Christmas lights plugged into it all month, and it was really nice to be able to go, “whoops, I left them on!” and go to the app and turn them off. In the real transition to the smart home setup though, we’ve begun changing out all of the old incandescent light bulbs, and installing Phillips Hue lights, using an Echo Plus as a Hub. The Echo Plus came with a Hue bulb as well – and I had a 30% off coupon for that device as well. So far so good, and we’re up to 8 lights – 7 of which are Alexa controlled, and one using a Hue Dimmer Switch. One thing that I’ve read is that when you’re getting closer to 20 or so bulbs, the hub in the Echo starts to get a little laggy, so moving over to a Hue hub is the way to go then – with that said, I don’t think that we have that many light sockets in the house where that’ll ever be a worry.

There are a bunch of the smart thermostats on the market, but after a lot of research, finding a sale, and holding a store to their Price Match guarantee, I was sold on the Ecobee 3 lite. The beauty of the Ecobee is the lack of having to mess around when you have an older system. The furnace is about 15 years old, which isn’t all that old, but it’s just old enough where it’s lacking some of the extra wires needed for items like the Nest, or Emerson. The Ecobee provides an adapter kit, so thermostats with four wire connections can be adapted to send power from the furnace to the thermostat that would normally be sent via a fifth wire. This thermostat offers all of the same capabilities of the others, such as vacation programming, scheduling, daily settings, etc.., integration with just about any assistant that you would want to use (Don’t think it’s compatible with Cortana, so sorry to the three people that use that), requires no Hub to function, and is about half of the price of others on the market. How can you go wrong?

I think that this is where we’re going to keep it for now, I’m looking into the Wyze Camera’s, they’re one of the highest rated out there right now, an American company, and their products are only $20, and $30 respectively. For that price, it’s worth trying, but for now, I think we’ll hold back at the pseudo smart home status, and finish getting settled for the time being..

New Mobile Incoming; Let’s give Fusion another shot with a more capable radio; and a few months with DMR, and for the everyday user, your mode doesn’t matter

For anybody that operates in their vehicle (where I do about 75% of mine) on repeaters or even FM Simplex on 2m or 440, and is in the market for a new radio, I’ll give you a heads up about a sale from Yaesu right now. The FTM-400XDR, what is their top of the line mobile, is currently on sale for $400 – I just placed my order for one this week, and am excited to see how it’s going to mount in the Patriot. For anyone that doesn’t know, this mobile is (as stated above) a dual band 2m/70cm radio with touch screen, runs FM/C4FM for voice, APRS capability with built in GPS. This radio will be a nice complement to the Icom ID-5100 that is mounted in the car at the moment, allowing operation of two digital modes, as well as APRS capability.

I’m trying to learn the ins and outs of all the different digital modes, at least when it comes to the day to day usage of them, and this will be a bigger step with fusion than the FT-70 HT that I currently use. The FT-70, while it is a durable HT (which has been my experience with Yaesu Radio’s as a whole), reminds me of the early days of D-Star. Each individual function that you would like to perform has to be programmed as a specific memory channel if you want to be able to perform different actions on the radio such as node linking, and not just use a repeater as is. So far from what I’ve gathered in using these modes is that Fusion is about the least capable of the modes, while it’s being pushed the most with cheaper repeater systems to get involved. Direct Callsign linking and talking is something that it lacks that the other modes possess in some form or another – and if it is there, it isn’t anywhere near as simple to use (in true Yaesu fashion) as D-Star and DMR both.

All modes are able of transmitting Location data over their signal, while Fusion and DMR admittedly COULD do more, given that the bandwidth is twice that of D-Star, what more could you really want to do? You have the ability to send GPS data, images even, as well as compressed digital voice in a transmission. That’s enough for the every day user, in fact that’s more than enough.. Even in an emergency scenario, unless you’re going to build a transporter off of that mode, really GPS data, and an image is about all you need.

What are your thoughts on the never ending battle of the modes? What do you use? I’m really excited to delve more into Fusion and DMR over the next few weeks, and see what these all really have to offer!

 

January VHF 2019: Day 2 and Summary

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Day 1 was ended with 16 contacts, only a very few multipliers, and I was just generally in bad shape, but Day 2 was a completely different story. Instead of monkeying around with 6m, I just shrugged it off, the band wasn’t very open, it just wasn’t worth the time. I started off fairly close to home allowing me to get things resettled a bit before hitting my first grid (only 20 mins behind schedule!) – the roads were a mess, but this is why I drive 4×4 vehicles. Plows hated me for the first few hours I was out – I was well out of the realm of where they’d normally plow, but for some reason they decided I was in the way and made me move. I was able to find a new spot and rack up a few more points before we met up for our rover lunch. We quickly make a stop, eat some lunch, hammer out a handful of contacts, and get back on the road to hit our next grids.

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After the lunch activity, I headed down to FN12, which for me was a new grid that I do not normally work, and am I glad I did – the majority of the contacts that I made for this entire contest were from that grid! Not to mention that after having given up on 6m, I thought about the fact that I could try and go QRP with my new Yaesu FT-818 by attaching the BNC Duck and the 6m Element to it. I was able to pull off quite a few contacts this way – upwards of 60 miles from my site!

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All in all it wasn’t a bad contest, as I was about to pack up I peeked at the temperature gauge ad we were holding steady at -3… which didn’t make hanging out of the car to make those 6m QRP contacts easy! (Pictured is the 818 on the hood, had just made a contact on the other side of Rochester from about 40 miles away) Ending with a score of 24,840 I will say that while it was a dip of about 9400 from my score last January, it was an increase of about 3000 points from June, which I’ll take as a win. There are numerous improvements to make to the rover for this upcoming June, starting with 6m, and then working towards adding microwave equipment. I would like to, at a minimum, be capable of working up to 3456 in June reliably. This contest reminded me a lot of what it’s like climbing an Adirondack Peek in the winter – you’re cold, there are little things you have to pay attention to that don’t even phase you in the summer, you’re incredibly tired by the end and sometimes wait a day to put the equipment away, but it’s always fun to look back on it, and you’re excited to do it again.

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My first contest like this was June 2016, I had a mere 2100 points, and I think I only actually worked about 4 hours of time on the radio, and drove for 6. In June 2017, I put in a little more effort, and 6m opened up – happened to work down to DM32 from FN02 with a wire dipole that year! Last January was my first January contest, scoring 34,224 which was a fantastic first year to have. Wasn’t able to get near that score in June, scoring 21,758 in that contest. This June I’m aiming for 50,000, with hopes that I’ll shatter that – new plans in the works, hoping to activate extra grids early in the contest, as well as improve the antenna systems. We’ll see where it goes!

 

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Day 1 of January 2019 Contest

I just would like to say that so far, just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong… I say just about because there are a few things, mainly things I’d rather not jinx as some equipment is not mine, and I really don’t want to have to tell people that it’s broken.

Issues that arose today were as follows:

  • it wouldn’t be a contest for me if I actually had 6m up and running… in fact, my nice 6m moxon I built disintegrated (note: I even waited to put it up until I was stopped to prevent this very thing from happening)

  • 70cm isn’t tuning

  • I keep finding things I either need to make another jumper cable for, or have the wrong connector on

  • It took 4 trips to Home Depot for me to realize that they didn’t have a long enough 2″ width U-Bolt for the new Roof Rack Mount – so I’m U-Bolted to one crossbar, with paracord tied to the other crossbar, and the actual luggage rack

  • Oh… and need I discuss the weather? I don’t think I should bother because it’s all we’ve heard about on the news for the last week

But, with all that being said, this has simultaneously been one of the more fun, and adventurous contests so far. I was an hour late to getting on the air, wasn’t even in the location I was supposed to be in, or with the group I was supposed to be with, in fact I only have 16 QSO’s in the log, and nothing above 440. Tomorrow is a new day, one that will have a bright and early start to try to hammer out some of these issues before hitting the road. I’d like to at least get 440 back on the air, and if I have time I’ll get the 3 element 6m beam assembled and ready to go.