Success with RUMTrol

I’ve noted before that one of the disadvantages of using a Mac in the shack is the lack of software. Fortunately, Tom, DL2RUM, has come to our rescue. His programs, RUMLog and RUMTrol, are really great programs. Oh, and did I mention they’re free?

About a week ago, I decided to get RUMTrol working. Instead of kludging together the USB-RS232 converter, followed by the RS232-CIV converter I built a couple years ago, I decided to purchase to but a USB-CIV cable. After reading some positive comments online, I bought the Radio Shack 20-047 Scanner Programming Cable. Unfortunately, it took quite a bit of futzing to get this to work properly.

First of all, I had to get the proper driver. Without this driver, RUMTrol couldn’t even see the port. A guy on the Ham-Mac mailing list pointed me in the right direction for this driver, which I downloaded from the FTDI website (www.ftdichip.com).

At this point, I could program RUMTrol to send data to the radio, but it wasn’t reading any data from the radio. I tried a bunch of different settings, but without any success. The frustrating thing about all this is that the radio seemed to be sending the data (at least that’s what I took the flashing lights on the cable to mean), but the computer wasn’t receiving it.

I posted a query to the RUMSoft bulletin board, and after a few go-rounds, Tom, DL2RUM, was able to set me straight. The problem seemed to be my choice of baud rate – 300 baud. My thinking was that if I could get it to work properly at the slowest baud rate, I could then jack up the baud rate so that it would work faster.

Wrong! I never did get the received at 300 baud, but after DL2RUM suggest that I set the baud rate to 9600 baud everything started working. I’m puzzled, but happy.

Digital Comms Conference, Sept 26-28, Chicago, IL

From WB9QZB via the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list:

The ARRL/TAPR DCC (Digital Communications Conference) is being held in Chicago on September 26 – 28, 2008.

The DCC will be at the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn located in Chicago’s northwest suburbs near O’Hare airport with a free airport to hotel shuttle and easily accessible from major interstate highways.

The DCC is the premiere, national, annual digital ham radio conference covering ALL the Digital Voice & Data technologies from HF to Microwaves.

There will be BOTH Technical & Introductory presentations covering all levels of experience with the digital modes and also an ARRL forum.

This year for the first time at the DCC there will be a D-STAR Friday Night event. We plan to have innovators, pioneers & leaders in D-STAR digital voice & data technology available to present and take your questions.

Icom will be at the DCC and TAPR plans to have it’s 70cm & 23cm D-STAR digital voice & data repeaters operating at the DCC connected to the internet gateway.

You can get more information about the DCC at http://www.tapr.org/dcc.html.

Reigster before September 1st & save $10 on your registration fee.

You can register at https://www.tapr.org/dccregistration.php.

This Changes Everything?

On the Elecraft mailing list, there’s been a discussion of a new program called CW Skimmer, which the website describes as a “multi-channel CW decoder and analyzer.”

Its features include:

  • a very sensitive CW decoding algorithm based on the methods of Bayesian statistics;
  • simulatneous decoding of ALL cw signals in the receiver passband – up to 700 signals can be decoded in parallel on a 3-GHz P4 if a wideband receiver is used;
  • a fast waterfall display, with a resolution sufficient for reading Morse Code dots and dashes visually;
  • the callsigns are extracted from the decoded messages, and the traces on the waterfall are labeled with stations’ callsigns;
  • a DSP processor with a noise blanker, AGC, and a sharp, variable-bandwidth CW filter;
  • an I/Q Recorder and player.

Most of the folks taking part in the discussion bemoaned the loss of yet another skill, mostly referring to contests and DX pileups, I guess. One guy even went so far as to say, “This changes everything.”

It might change contesting a bit, but I can’t get too excited about it. If it does really give someone an advantage in a contest, then everyone will soon have it, so at that point it’s not an advantage. And in a DX pileup, anything is fair, if you ask me.

All in all, I rather like it. The ability to scan 10 kHz of spectrum for signals is very cool, if you ask me, and the CW decoding seems to work really well. What do you think?

Moving to the Mac

A couple of years ago, I bought an iMac to use for business purposes. (I am a freelance Web developer.) It’s a great computer.

Down in the shack, though, it’s another story. I’ve been plugging along with an old Windows98 laptop that I bought used about five years ago. I’ve never done anything really fancy with it—I’ve mostly used it for logging. I was going to try PSK31 at some point, but was concerned that the sound card in it wasn’t good enough.

Recently, though, the computer has really started to show its age. The latest thing to break was a little plastic clip holding the Ethernet cable in place. The connector wouldn’t stay put, and I was in effect off the Net.

I took it in to the place where I bought the computer, Affordable Computers, and they sold me a replacement card for $30. Unfortunately, when I got it home, I found that I still couldn’t connect to the net. I took it back the next day, and it turns out that the card they sold me was bad. Fortunately for me, they found another card—this one an Ethernet-only card—that did work and only cost $15.

While I was in there, I noticed that they were selling some used iBooks for $539. How could I resist? So, now I’m the proud owner of an iBook G4, with Mac OSX. In fact, I’m writing this blog entry on it right now.

It’s in pretty good physical condition, and everything seems to be working just fine, except for perhaps the battery. I left the battery to charge over night, and this morning, it was only at 50%. I left the charger on throughout the morning, and did get it up to 100%, but it seems to be discharging very rapidly. I just went to battery power about ten minutes ago, and it’s already down to 90%.

Oh well. I guess I’ll be heading back there real soon. The one nice thing about buying the computer from a dealer is that they offer a warranty on the battery. Good thing, too. Batteries for these laptops are $100 and up.

UPDATE 10/18/07:
Great news! I took the iBook back to the store this afternoon. I told the tech that the battery didn’t seem to be holding a charge. He said, “Let me take a look at it.” He took it into the back room and returned in about ten minutes. He handed it back to me saying, “I popped a new battery into it. You’re all set.” I’m very happy. :)

A Couple of Random Links

Here are a couple of random links that I’ve run across lately:

  • Ham-Mac. Ham-Mac is a mailing list for hams who are using Macs in ham applications.Most ham radio software runs on a PC, but there are hams—myself included—who have converted to the Mac. The computer in my shack is still a PC, but it’s beginning to show its age—it’s starting to lock up randomly—and may have to be replaced soon. I may just buy a Mac laptop to replace it.
  • Mobile Amateur Radio. This mailing list provides information on mobile amateur radio operations, including setup, troubleshooting, and many other aspects of operating from a car, a boat, a plane, a bicycle, or even on foot.