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!

Is Physical Media Dead?

In the summer of 2009, I decided to undertake the task of importing every CD that I, my parents, and other relatives owned into my iTunes Library. The end goal, that I am just getting around to finally, was building out a media server to have access to that data from anywhere and so I could download to my device, or stream remotely. Pandora was around at this point, and was quite popular too! But the issue with Pandora was that it was just internet radio. Sure, there was a TON of music accessible via it, however, you couldn’t just listen to a song. Along came Spotify. Suddenly any song you wanted, any time, anywhere, all you had to do was search, and as long as you were playing from a computer, you could stream almost any song – well… except for Taylor Swift that is.

While I never have been all about absolutely needing a copy of the physical album, I am one of those people who believes that you should purchase the music to be able to call it yours. If all you do is stream, and yes, I know you can download the music locally from these streaming services, but if you forget to pay your bill for the service, your music is gone. At least if your buy the music it’s yours. Being able to backup on physical medium is huge too, I know I said that I’m not all about needing to purchase the physical album, but being able to burn a copy of the disc as a backup is a must! *keep in mind the concept of 321 with regards to backups*

With the exception of the resurgence of vinyl, and the novelty of the Polaroid Picture, digital, and streaming have all but taken over the modern media industry as a whole. Remember when Netflix was a mail order DVD rental company that was a threat to Blockbuster? Now we associate the name with streaming media and have seemingly all but forgotten about the times of having to wait 3-5 days for your new movie to arrive in the mail, and being charged for losing the disc, but finding it a year later. Netflix is now working to make the cable industry go the way of Blockbuster – personally I say good riddance.

Is gaming on its way there too? Looking at the current (and even into the previous) console generations, we have in increased presence of media within the console specific stores. Playstation offers PS Plus members a few free games a month, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Microsoft has a similar offer with Xbox. In addition, they offer insane discounts for purchasing their games, rotating through different ones each month. They’re trying to put out the GameStop’s, of this world, and trying to take everything direct. Their end goal is to make everyone purchase a new copy of their game, no used copies, no rentals, no borrowing from a friend, no giving a friend an old copy, everyone must purchase their own if they are to play.

How about the concept of actually owning software, is that a memory too? A few days ago I wrote an article about the Adobe Creative Cloud suites, and why I believe that for the particular cost if it, it’s a much better value proposition over time than simply buying a license for a singular program. For $10.99/mo, which works out to be $131.88/yr, you always have an up to date copy of (assuming you get the photography package) both Photoshop, and Lightroom. Now that’s a pretty sweet deal given that the average user who previously just wanted a copy of the program would be looking at paying around $600-800 for a single program. Sometimes the subscription based access does pay off. But that’s the way things are going, even Microsoft Office is available as a $10/mo subscription, or $8.25/mo if you commit to an annual subscription.

We can still go out and buy physical media of course, I doubt it will ever completely go away, there will always be some form of it out there, for the holdouts that just won’t give up their disc drive (like me), but its prominence, as well as its prior dominance is now a dream growing ever more distant day to day.

How many of you still use physical media?

 

iOS, Android, does it really matter?

We’re 11 years into the modern smartphone era that was launched, in my opinion, by Apple’s release of the first iPhone in 2007, and the marketplace has changed drastically in that time. 2007 was a land of flip phones, and tactile keyboards. Blackberry was the prominent all in one device, having released their first device in 1999. While Blackberry is still gasping for air, sort of in the mix with the modern smartphone market, Apple’s release of the first iPhone was a game changer for the entire mobile industry, and it really has never been the same since. Have you actually tried to look for a phone with a real keyboard lately? Blackberry is still in that market, but that’s about it.

I got my first iOS device, which was consequently my first smartphone in 2009, it was an iPhone 3g. That 3.5″ display was HUGE! To paraphrase Steve Jobs, there was never any reason to go to a larger display. Then came the 4, yep, 3.5″ display as well! Then… THEN we had the 5, now that was it, a 4″ display? An additional row of apps on the bottom? Wow! Where was the huge display our whole lives? Then came the 6, 7, and 8, all having 5″ displays (4.7″ if you want to get real technical). We could get into the rise of the Phablets, and the Plus models, and now the 10 (or X) with it’s bezel-less 5.8″ display, which allows it to truly be the same size as the iPhone 8.

Last year however, I switched over to Android for a little bit. I picked up a Moto Z Force, and for the first year, it was a fantastic phone. Who doesn’t love the idea of the modular phone? Wireless Charging/Extended batteries on any phone, High Quality audio from a speaker that is directly attached to the phone itself, not bluetooth, and no clunky wires, a full optical zoom camera, or even a 70″ projector screen, those are just some of the additional features. It is a pretty great platform that allows you to customize your device to do whatever it is that you want. Sure, I had played with Android some before it, and it really is a great OS, but I have one real complaint with it, and that is the updates are all carrier and manufacturer controlled. Motorola and Samsung being the worst offenders with updates, and AT&T always being right behind Samsung. Motorola and Samsung both produce hardware that should be able to match the specs required for at least two additional generations of OS, but when they don’t let you update, that’s a problem. Not to mention at the point where android O was released, my battery was already starting to falter.

I went back to Apple after a year and a half because I knew the quality. Every iPhone I had, if it survived me at least, lasted a minimum of 2 years – my 6 lasting 3 years and change holds the record. The OS Support is top notch, lasting a minimum of 3 OS releases, which coincidentally will likely be 3 phone releases as well. In addition, I’m not a developer. And as much as I love technology, and will pull everything apart, make repairs, build it into my everyday life, I don’t need to be able to mess with system BIOS. Most importantly, if I pick up someone else’s phone to show them something, I know exactly what everything does, how to work it, what the settings menu should show, how to reset it if something goes wrong – I don’t need to learn what the device does, the surface of the device looks the same on every single device. In addition though, every other device I use is Apple, and the majority of the people that I know have iPhone’s, and iMessage is much more reliable than SMS – multiple text messages to people that didn’t go through for 3 days or so.

But, I digress, in looking at the two OS’ objectively however, does it really matter which one you choose? I will be the first one to tell you that I think both Android, and iOS are fantastic OS’, and they have both earned their place in being the predominant things that we run our everyday lives off of – I am on my phone for work a lot, between calls, texts, and emails, and then when I’m out of work, I’m on it again a lot for personal use – more calls, texts, and emails, but also social media, GPS, photos, games, etc. They both have definite perks, and they both have a purpose for sure. What are the differences? If you’re dropping $800 to $1200 on a phone, you want what is going to best fit your needs. Below is my opinion of which OS fits what type of person best.

iOS: Perfect for the Student, or average person who needs their phone for work. It is the perfect Day-to-Day device that you want to just work. You can take it out of the box, and with after punching in your info, you’re ready to roll. Apple’s built in applications for Calendar, Mail, and Web Browsing are perfectly fine, in fact a lot of companies – if they’re not requiring you to download another mail client that is, support the native Apple client. With quite a lot of the native applications, you can’t remove them, so if you decide that you want to go with a 3rd party developer app over the Apple client, then you’re going to have to make yourself a little useless folder to file those applications in and forget about.

Android: Perfect for someone who wants to fiddle a little bit. While the same built in applications mentioned for iOS are built in to android as well, they are no where near as refined… that is depending on what phone you get. Android allows users more options for configuration when it comes to applications, allowing you to delete pretty much everything that comes on it, and replace it with an alternative Google app, or any 3rd party. Motorola, for example, builds mostly Google apps into their release of the OS. Your browser is Chrome, mail is Gmail, maps is Google Maps. Samsung uses Google Maps, however everything else is a proprietary Samsung app when you pull it out of the box. To use the native Google applications you have to go out and install them. They thrive on the customization aspect, while locking everything down.

In summary, I’ll tell you the same thing I have told everyone at this point – if you want something that’ll be good to go right out of the box, something that will have a few years of support, and will always be to the OS manufacturer’s specs, go with the iPhone. If you want to fiddle a little bit, want to play with basic app development, or even just want a blank slate to build it out how you want it, I’d suggest an Android device. If you do side with the Android device, I would suggest the Pixel outright. It is made by Google, runs virtually native Android, and will likely have the longest product life of any of the devices because of it.

Adobe Creative Cloud – Perks to Cloud Computing

What? You thought this was all about radio? Pfft… there’s more to talk about than that! Come on! Give me a break!

Ever since high school I have been a Photoshop junkie. During a photography class I learned some of the fundamentals, and worked on my own to learn the ins and outs more as time went on. I would spend every spare minute that I had in one of the photo labs or art rooms. Being a student, I had access to the software at a discounted rate, therefore I of course had a copy of that, and as time went on, I got into InDesign for working with layouts, and then Premiere Elements for some video editing – which never went far… couldn’t get past the sound of my voice.

The modern version of these programs is quite different from the days of merely purchasing a copy of the software, and getting keys for your PC’s you plan on running it on. It’s a nice, cheaper (upfront at least) solution to allow anyone to have this software package, as well as being the new trend with software to go “cloud based.” The “Creative Cloud,” is a subscription based service that is based upon what types of tasks you would like to do, there is one for Photo, and a separate one for Video. At the price of $10.99 a month, it’s pretty affordable. The basic functions of Photoshop haven’t really changed any in the last 8 years or so, all your tools and basic editing functions remain the same. What you’re looking at, and what does make this worth considering, is focused suites of software, instead of individual programs that involve you doling out hundreds of dollars a piece, when for $10.99 a month (year commitment – be sure to at least skim the terms and conditions to catch that one) you can have multiple programs. On top of that, you always have the most up to date version, as opposed to having to spend $600 every three years for a new program, at which point you may be a few versions behind, you’re spending between $300-$400 in that same amount of time, and you always are going to have the most recent. That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Yes, you still have the full version of the software. In fact the software is still run locally even, you have to take the time to download and install it, just like you would anything else, and that definitely takes some time.

Sure, not all of us like the monthly cost, though that’s the way of the modern world it seems, we aren’t asking about total cost of something, we’re simply asking how much per month it is going to cost, and if there is a way to finance it. With that being said though, looking at this from a cost perspective, it definitely pays to go monthly. Having the most up to date versions, any security patches if you’re using the Adobe Cloud Storage platform, and most importantly, if your computer completely dies on you, all you do is login to your Adobe CC account, and re-download it. No monkeying around with finding license keys you lost a year ago, contacting them, verifying the purchase was valid, and MAYBE getting a copy on your new device. As someone who always wants to have the software disc on hand, this here is a cloud software package that I’ll cave for.