Frequency counter

I have been looking for a frequency counter for some time now and split between buying a kit that goes well into microwaves or seeing what comes on eBay. Finally a decent range one was advertised and I won it; it arrived today.

This guy counts from 10Hz to 2.7Ghz and the reason I got something with this range is it will hopefully prove that I am at least outputting something from the Pluto when I finally get round to setting up my QO100 station. Otherwise it is generally useful. It has a 10MHz internal clock running from an oven-ready crystal (sorry, a crystal in an oven!) so there is scope for feeding in a GPSDO signal if needed, although for my purposes that is probably not a requirement. Thus far, for a quick check it reads test transmissions on 2m and 70cm from a handheld accurately.

I have a digital oscilloscope on order (and will then sell my two CRT based ‘scopes), I have power supplies (only to 30V DC though), so I just need a waveform generator for general messing about. Not sure I need any RF source as I can use the Pluto.

World Amateur Radio Day 2020

The Unión de Radioaficionados Españoles (URE) ran an event to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the IARU with was founded on 18th April 1925 – 18th April is also World Amateur Radio Day each year. It ran from the 15th to 30th April. I had to have a go! There were 10 callsigns of the form AMxWARD and 9 bands in use, from 160m thru 6m. And as you might imagine there are quite a few pileups. I only used FT8 with the occasional FT4 but the stations were active on SSB, CW and digi-modes (I spotted them on RTTY, PSK31, FT4 and FT8).

After I made sufficient contacts for the Silver award I was going to stop, but after a short breather decided to go for Gold, finally making that on the penultimate day. I made myself a personal target of at least one contact on all the bands I can operate on, so 40m thru 6m, but I never managed 12m due to pileups. I also never managed to get the 10th station – pskreporter showed that they were receiving  me but again, the pileups.

While I came nowhere really on the ‘score board’ (apparently 251st in the UK) this event was a lot of fun, if actually quite hard at times. My bit of wet string in the loft clearly lets me down but then again I did see some relatively decent spots of my calls via pskreporter, just not quite when and where I needed them.

I did also manage a couple of contacts with another Spanish special event station as well as one contact with GB2ARD (just a few miles away), both operating for World Amateur Radio Day.

Of course, during all of this I was struggling with my possessed PC which almost floored my final contact for the Gold award, but after beating it into submission and leaving everything turned on for 3 days it worked out. Time to rip it apart.

Ethernetting the Pluto

This was awkward. I found some info on the Web where someone had used a USB to Ethernet adapter and a Y-splitter cable to connect their Pluto to their LAN. So I got the exact same bits off eBay. Nope, no go. I resorted to asking on the very helpful Facebook group and tried all the advice, for example powering it via the separate USB power socket, but still no go. So, a process of elimination – the USB adapter worked fine on the Mac so no issues there, nor with the CAT5 cabling in use. But I did not have a separate mini-USB to USB socket cable, only the splitter cable. Back to eBay…

A cable arrived today and the Pluto appears on the LAN just fine. So it’s the Y-splitter cable that is at fault. Not tested it yet but it’s only a couple of quid so no biggie. Serves me right for not keeping things simple and using a splitter.

Anyway, one step closer to my QO100 project! All I need now is a decent way to get Ethernet out to the workshop. I do need a LAN out there anyway, not just the house wifi, so either a cable or a wireless bridge.

Even more PC woes

So the Ethernet interface on the shack PC decided not to work at all today. It’s managed by the network-manager stuff so no ideas why it had decided to go funny. Actually, it has been off colour for a few weeks now as at boot it does not see the Internet i.e. it fails to find a route but does see locally.

Anyway, I’ve never liked network-manger, I would far rather get control of it all myself. I realise it’s there for a reason but I favour a more handraulic approach. After battling it into submission and removing it from the startup scripts editing /etc/networks/interfaces has cured its tantrum. For now anyway!

But I am wondering what is up with the PC now as USB failures yesterday and then a collapse of networking today… everything important is backed up so no worries there. However, I am not of the camp that these things fail slowly as I have had PCs running for years and years before. I may well use this as an excuse to get a midi-tower system I can dual boot (Windows and Linux) and get a couple of PCI cards into.

Random PC woes

This morning the rig would not go into transmit via wsjt-x. It worked fine last night up to when everything was shut down and there were no changes to anything, hardware or software. Rebooting the PC made no difference. CAT control was working both ways and it was receiving FT8 fine. I noticed that transmitting would sometimes change the rig settings e.g. from data to non-data.

I tried the flrig / fldigi combination but transmitting via this messed the FT450D’s settings up in that it was rapidly triggering tx and the rig decided to engage its internal tuner.

Plugging the two USB connectors into the front USB sockets on the PC made it work but the transmit levels are mad – ALC is triggering and the rig does not generate any decent power with this turned down. ALC is on a knife-edge where it goes from very little power / no ALC via the SignaLink TX control to 50% ALC and proper power output with nothing in between. Fiddling with the audio settings on the PC and in wsjt-x makes little difference.

But changing the Mode to Data/Pkt in Settings -> Radio does improve the ALC business. This was set to None and I cannot remember if this is a change or not.

The audio settings via pavucontrol are set to 100% for the USB audio. This was 120% before as otherwise the rig would keep falling out of Tx on 40m. Wsjt-x’s tune function is holding up on 40m at 100% so there is a change there for no apparent reason.

All the PC USB ports are USB2.0 so there is no difference there. Trying a few CQs on 17m shows that FT8 is being received across Europe so it is all working. The same is true to 40m.

Weird. The only physical differences between it not working at all this morning and now are the two USB cables are plugged into the front sockets and the USB leads are away from the antenna coax. But the latter, i.e. the cable routing has always been along the same path as the coax and it has worked every day without issue.

More Pluto fun

Been having fun with the Pluto today. It has been working fine, though not used very often with SDR Console on my acquire Windows 10 laptop but today I needed an SSB source to find a fault on the TR-9130 which had gone deaf on SSB. The Pluto made an ideal source and helped me to find out I’d got the gain and RIT controls mixed up and so had turned the gain right down! D’oh. So, after putting the TR back on the shelf it gave me the opportunity to finally fiddle with the Pluto.

First off, when transmitting on SDR Console the transmission breaks at a regular short interval. Googling (well, actually these days DuckDuckGo’ing – does that work?) found some info which I tried but to no avail. Someone mentioned that it worked fine in SDR Angel so I downloaded this and after watching YouTube I managed to get a decent output. Not sure what I’ve done wrong with SDR Console but that will wait for now.

But I really wanted to use the Pluto on the Linux box. Some time ago I had a go at installing the Gnu Radio software along with the modules that make the Pluto work. Ages back I tried but I could never get it to compile but since then I have upgraded Ubuntu to 18.04. This time it all seemed to go in but the software cannot see the Pluto. There is something obvious that I am missing here.

Anyway, I installed SDR Angel on the Linux box via snapd and it loads fine but it cannot see the Pluto. Probably no surprise because Gnu Radio can’t either and I had forgotten of course!

As an intermediate step here I have ordered a USB to Ethernet adapter as someone posted information about this and he can access his Pluto that way. That doesn’t mean I will carry on trying to crack why the Pluto is invisible to Gnu Radio and SDR Angel but it will help once I finally get the dish set up for QO100 as the Pluto will be out in the workshop as close to the dish as possible while still under cover, and I will want to drive it over the wires. More on that later as I still need a decent galvanised pole and some concrete and we’re still locked down here.

For completeness on the Pluto issues, iio_info -s finds the Pluto fine, and avahi-resolve —name pluto.local tells me it is on 192.168.2.1 as expected. But neither iio_info -n pluto.local or iio_info -n 192.168.2.1 will work, both stating ‘Unable to create IIO context: Connection timed out’.

Update: Typical. Reading what I have written got me thinking that this is simply a routing issue. When plugged in the Pluto appears as a USB Ethernet device and fails because it is not on the same subnet. Closing that and running ifconfig by hand I updated the Ethernet device Pluto ‘becomes’ by giving it the IP address 192.168.2.2 and the netmask 255.255.255.0 and now I can see the Pluto – I can ping it and iio_info -n 192.168.2.1 finds it. and running gnuradio-conpanion (NB I already compiled this with the relevant libraries for the Pluto) it can see the device.

QO100 dish

My current issue with receiving QO100 (not got round to transmitting yet, baby steps!) is where to put the 1.2m dish. I don’t really want it on the wall or at the front of the house as it’s grey and huge. It can’t go at the front of the workshop due to an apple tree and if it goes anywhere on the garden we’ll fall over it. I’m currently thinking that the bit of land we have at the back of the garage will do and I can easily run the cables into the workshop from there, or even put all the RF side of things in the garage. But with no cable route from the garage to the shack (aka the little bedroom) it seems I will need the SDR co-mounted with the RF bits and run it via Ethernet or Wifi. Of course, there is also the wall outside the little bedroom but then we’d see it every time we gaze over at the moors…

Update 11/April/20 I’ve worked it out. There is room at the front of the workshop to the side of the apple tree where the dish will see the sky if it’s up maybe 4 foot. The mount I have is 3 foot so my ‘plan A’ is to get a 4 foot 2″ pole and an extender clamp, set some concrete (whenever we’re out of lockdown) and get the dish up. This makes it a doddle to feed the cables into the workshop.

QO100 experiments

Finally I had time and reasonable weather to have a go at receiving QO100 today. I know I can receive the satellite because I’ve used my GT Media V8 and managed to resolve the TV channels. No home for the dish yet so it lives in the workshop between fiddles.

Anyway, today was a bit of a comedy of errors but did result in success. First off, dish out, LNB in and aligned to the satellite. All good. I replaced the LNB with the POTY and got absolutely nothing on the V8. So I remembered I need the external 25MHz source so grabbed my Leo Bodnar GPSDO and the Windows laptop to make sure it was set up. Success, I can see the TV again.

Next was to set up the bias tee, PSU and cabling, the SDRPlay RSP2 and the SDR on the PC. After a bit of fiddling I did manage to see traces but I have yet to investigate the SDR software on Windows so it was off back indoors for the MacBook. Note to self: remember to learn how to use software before you need to actually use it!

The MacBook and CubicSDR proved the setup. I managed to decode a couple of SSB transmissions and decode the morse on the band edge beacon: “HI DE QO100 QRA DK0SB”.

Anyway, here is the lash-up. The signals were quite weak and clearly I need to do some adjustments yet but that really needs to wait until I fix the dish somewhere.

30m FT8

Just recently I’ve been dwelling on 30m rather than the usual 6. It’s generally quieter than 20 and I’ve made some really good contacts via FT8, surprising as the aerial is cut for 20 and 6. pskreporter shows I am getting out all over and I’ve had contacts as far as Kazakhstan and Oman, neither of which I ever managed on 20 or higher up the bands. Oman, in particular is right off the end of the dipole, although it does slope a bit at the ends as it is loft mounted. Not only that but I’ve received signals from much further than on 20. A lot could be down to them simply being swamped in the generally busy nature of the band but if it works it works.

I realise of course that I do need to get back to speech… but FT8 is just so convenient!

Ferrites

Those lumps you see on PC monitor cables and other PC and related cables… yes we know what they are and what they do but here’s proof.

I got a DisplayPort to HDMI cable for a new monitor. It works fine via VGA but why not? Anyway, aside from why on earth the PC has a DisplayPort and not an HDMI, the cable duly arrived. It’s a nice cable in that it has a braided cover, feels well made and the connectors fit well and do not drop out. But no ferrites.

All worked fine with both monitors – one DVI and one HDMI connected – came on fine. But when I key up the FT450D (set to 30W) the HDMI-connected screen goes blank. Completely blank. Black. It comes right back when I de-key. Ugh, no ferrites.

I fitted a decent clip-on to each end with a whole turn of lead in each – no problems since. See? They do work!