Replacing an FT-817 power button

I recently acquired a second FT-817 for my portable satellite station. I’ve been using an FT-857 for a transmitter/817 for a receiver which has worked very well. However, for flying, and just generally being able to carry a full duplex sat station with me on the go, the 817 pair is much more compact and lightweight.

This particular 817 was used, and the purple rubber cover that goes over the on/off/lock button was missing.

It still worked fine, but I really didn’t like the idea of having the inside of the front panel open to debris like it was. So, a call to the Yaesu parts department and $3.01 later, I had a replacement button.

The four right buttons all come on a single rubber strip. Seems easy enough to replace right? Well it took me a little over an hour…as you can see below, you have to almost completely dissemble the radio to get to the buttons.

Before disassembly

First step, slide the rubber cover off of the VFO knob to access the set screw that holds the knob on the encoder shaft.

You can see the set screw in the background

The photo below is after removing all the knobs. The VFO is the only one that has a set screw, the others just pop off

Bottom view

Next, disconnect the ribbon cable that goes from the radio to the front panel, and carefully pop the panel loose from the body of the transceiver.

The backside of the front panel. Notice the VFO encoder.

You’ll have to loosen the nut that holds the VFO encoder in place, and after disconnecting it’s cable pull it back through the hole in the front panel.

Note that the volume/squelch knob is on it’s own circuit board and does not need to be removed. You can pivot the panel back while leaving it in place.

Inside on the left part of the front panel is where the buttons press into place. Be careful, as they are easily torn loose from the rubber strip.

Once they are in place, just re-assemble everything and you should be good to go!

Applying for a Florida Amateur Radio license plate

I recently went through the somewhat difficult process of applying for an Amateur Radio license plate for my car. While the actual application is not hard (just fill out a form, and present it along with a copy of your vehicle registration, insurance card, and Amateur license, instructions here https://www.flhsmv.gov/specialtytags/pmlpfaq.html#12), they apparently do not process very many of these applications at Florida tag agencies. The clerks could not remember the specialty tag request code! After about 45 minutes of hunting for the code, they finally found it – “RGA.” I am apparently not the only one who has had this problem in the state of Florida, John KU8Q has written a helpful article explaining the exact process he went through (very similar to my experience). It’s here, on the LWRA website https://lwra.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Call-sign-license-plate.pdf

Hopefully this will help anyone else looking to apply for an Amateur tag in Florida to speed up their application process considerably!

Miami NPOTA

The Lakeland Amateur Radio Club has been trying to activate all 12 of the Florida National Park Entities this year as K4LKL. We did several earlier in the spring, but for a lot of reasons didn’t get a chance to make any park excursions over the summer. No longer! We are going to make a concentrated effort to finish the remaining activation before the end of 2016.

While I was already going to the parks anyways for the club, I figured I might as well grab some activation credit for myself as well. Having recently gotten into satellite operation, it was a perfect fit. Since most passes only last around 10-15 minutes, and use small unobtrusive antennas and radios, it’s easy enough to stop anywhere in the park with a decent view of the sky and work the required 10 (or more!) stations for a successful activation.

KI4NBE, N4PEG, N4ESS, and myself made the first of our whirlwind fall park trips on Saturday, Oct. 29th. We left central FL at 4:45am.. and made the ~2hr drive to the intersection of U.S.17 and Interstate 75 in Punta Gorda. Which just happens to be in grid square EL86. Which just happened to be needed by a few other sat ops for their VUCC awards 🙂

 

grid square El86

We stopped there for the 7:00am SO-50 pass, working Glenn AA5PK, Tucker W4FS, and David XE3DX for grid credit, and then headed to Big Cypress Swamp (park PV03) for the next SO-50 pass at 8:45am.

That was quite a trip… thankfully there was no heavy traffic or slowdowns on the way. We made it to the park boundary halfway through the pass…right at TCA. I pulled off the road about 200′ inside of the park boundary and frantically hooked up my rig and antenna.

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Our location within the park boundary for Big Cypress, PV03

Thanks to N8HM, W5PFG, NP4JV, AA5PK, and NJ7H for the (really fast!) contacts in the last 4 minutes of the pass. I made up the rest of the required 10 contacts simplex between members of the group as we pulled out, heading south to Everglades (NP18).

And then the rain…

rain through the windshield
This is what it looked like through my windshield nearly all day..

We were not expecting to rain nearly as much as it did.. on and off for several hours. We were going to attempt to operate at the Shark Valley Visitors center in Everglades. However, after consulting the radar, we decided it would be better to continue down to the Ernest Coe Visitor’s center at the southwest side of the park. This would have us driving through the heaviest part of the rain, and we would end up much closer to our final destination for the day, Biscayne National Park.

After another hour or so of driving, we arrived at the visitor’s center just in time for the 12:44pm AO-85 pass.. found a good spot near the visitors center, and set up for the pass.

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AO-85 from Everglades, NP18
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Me operating with George, KI4NBE looking on

It was a pretty good pass, and I was able to hand out EL95 to a few folks that needed the grid. The pass would have gone a lot better if it hadn’t been for whoever was keying a solid carrier for the last ~2 minutes of the pass…but I digress. 🙂 I made 6 or 7 contacts, and then we moved back to the visitors center to set up in the parking lot for HF using the club callsign, K4LKL.

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Rich, N4ESS operating 20m CW from NP18
George, KI4NBE working the pileup on 17m SSB
George, KI4NBE working the pileup on 17m SSB

Because of CQWW SSB that weekend, the regular bands were pretty much a no-go for any voice modes. So we decided to stick with 17m for voice, and 20m for CW. Rich had brought a Buddipole to put up in the bed of his truck, and George has a Tarheel mounted to the toolbox on his. Spots posted, pileups generated, and I headed back down the road to work FO-29.

Getting ready for FO-29...with 25mph winds blowing
Getting ready for FO-29…with 25mph winds blowing.

I picked up 6 more contacts on FO-29, rounding out to 12 for a successful park activation. Thanks to KO4MA, AA5PK, N6UK, K6FW, and K8YSE/7 for the QSOs!

After the pass I headed back to where the others were still rolling along on HF. George especially had quite the pileup going on 17m. Since it was getting so late in the day, we decided it might be best if I took of on the half hour drive to Biscayne, and left the others operating at Everglades. So I took off for NP05.

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Stopped for the obligatory park sign selfie

10 minutes after I pulled out, I hit rain again. Rain that was heading due west. Due west being where George and Rich were operating…

radar

One very hurried phone call later, and they were able to at least get the radios inside before the rain hit… While the others tried to stay dry, I made it to Biscayne on the other side of the showers.

Selfie time!
Selfie time!

Had about 10 minutes to spare, so I had enough time to scout out a nice operating location for the 8 degree eastern SO-50 pass

not too bad! Blowing ~30mph...had to brace the antenna
not too bad of a horizon! Blowing ~30mph…had to brace the antenna to hold it still

Thanks to everyone who was on that pass, I had no trouble making 13 contacts to qualify for the activation. Packed up the antenna, and pulled across the parking lot to try HF using the club call sign. I first put up my 20m hamstick dipole/painters pole on the back of my car..flipped on the radio and couldn’t find a single clear frequency in the entire 20m voice band. Ok, scratch that. Plan B, since the others were off the air in Everglades and already on their way home, was 17m.

I only have one 17m hamstick, so my highly efficient setup consisted of unscrewing my 2m/70cm antenna from the magmount on the roof of my car and swapping it for the 17m hamstick. Found a clear frequency, posted a spot to the dx cluster and BOOM: instant pileup! I had no idea that Biscayne, NP05 was as needed as it was. There had only been 6 activations to date before I was there on Saturday. I had a good path going for 20 minutes or so, working several CA stations, including a couple who needed the park for their NPOTA honor roll.

Sadly, I only wound up with about 15 minutes to operate..partly because I had to leave by 5pm in order to make it back across the state to EL86 for the XW-2C pass. Also partly because I got a visit from 2 very nice park police officers… one of the maintenance guys at the park had seen my painters pole on the back of my car and had the officers come check out my operation.

They were very nice, and actually seemed interested in what I was doing. I told one of them that I had just worked a station in Ontario. His response? “Ontario!? I can’t even reach my dispatcher from my truck half the time!” 🙂

They wished me a nice afternoon, and I turned back to the waiting pileup. In a total of 13 minutes operating time, I worked 16 stations when the band seemed to fade on me. After a few fruitless calls, I shut everything down and took off for EL86…3 hours drive through “Alligator Alley” on I-75, and made it with 8 minutes to spare before the pass.

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Fernando, NP4JV was the primary reason I had come back to operate from EL86, so I was glad to work him. I never heard him on the first pass, XW-2A, so switched to XWX-2C…and nearly busted the contact by tuning the wrong direction for doppler.. but luckily he found me on his SDR display and we were able to complete the contact for a new grid!

After the pass, I gassed up the Element and headed back up US-17 for home. A total of 20 hours driving, 3 parks, 2 grids, almost 600 miles – and one very happy activator, ready for the next trip!

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Thanks to all the operators for working me and making the trip a success! Don’t know what we are going to do next year after NPOTA ends.. might have to start working on FL State Parks on the Air 🙂

First CW contact!

It’s finally happened. My first CW contact! After nearly a year and a half of practice, trying 3 or 4 different methods of learning code, and countless hours of listening to other people’s QSOs on the air, I finally have successfully made a real, on the air CW contact.

It did not go at all as planned.

I was told early on by several experienced CW ops from the club that the best way to learn was at a reasonably useful conversational speed – 18-20 wpm. So, as I jumped into my CW education, I made very sure to practice each character until I had it cold. No counting, no thinking, no delay – just hear the sound, and think the letter. Later on after a lot of practice, words and pro signs started to come to me the same way. Now it’s not too difficult for me to sit and head copy simple exchanges, call signs, locations, signal reports etc. So all that practice was worthwhile.

I applied the same logic to learning how to send. Once I felt comfortable with copying all the letters and numbers, I started to practice sending the characters over and over until I didn’t have to stop and think about what I wanted to send. I could just think “a” and didah came out. So far so good.

I finally decided last weekend that it was time to just jump in and try an on air QSO. I mean, I had practiced, I felt pretty comfortable with it. What was there left to do but get on the air? So Sunday afternoon I turned on 20m and started listening around. I heard a few NPOTA stations, a special event WA1WCC, and then W0DB calling “cq NE qp.” I thought, well, this might be a good first try. The exchange would be simple enough, just “KK4FEM 599 FL.” What could go wrong?

So I wrote down what I wanted to send, practiced it (flawlessly) about 15 times just listening to the sidetone on my rig, then I flipped the break-in switch…took a deep breath, sent a perfect “KK4” – and my mind blanked. I don’t even know what I sent after that, but it definitely wasn’t “FEM.” Joe, W0DB came back with “KK4?” Ok, ok, calm down. One letter at a time…K..K..4..F..E..M. Phew!! Did it! Joe came back with my call, signal report, and his county. Ok, so now my signal report “5NN 5NN.” Wow, that was amazing! First try! Alright, so now all I have to do is send “FL.” Here goes…LF. Dang…LU. No, no…FR. Joe sends “FL?” Aw, man! I sent the signal report so good! One more try, slowly this time – “ FL FL FL.” He send back “FL K” or “TU” or something…I don’t even know. I was just trying to breathe again.

Yay! I did it! Well, at least I hoped I had. A few minutes later I typed out an email to W0DB telling him this was my first time, and to asking if he had actually managed to get anything useful out of all my mangled gibberish. A few hours later he replied with this:

w0db-log

I did it! Woohoo! He congratulated me on my first contact, and very kindly said that we all make mistakes when we’re first starting out. He suggested trying some other contests to get my speed and consistency up, which I plan on doing. Too bad I just missed the NAQCC sprint, but there’s a few other events coming up this weekend (the SKCC sprint and 2 QSO parties).

I thought that after having several SSB contests under my belt, I was over the whole nerves thing. I guess anything new can be hard at first, no matter how prepared you think you are. I’m really thankful for all the patient, experienced ops out there that are willing to slow down and work beginners like me. A whole new ham radio experience awaits me now…and just in time for the sunspot decline! I have a feeling knowing CW is going to keep me on the air as conditions worsen. Now for some more practice…

Wekiva River (WR37) NPOTA Activation

Well, the last remaining Florida NPS unit has now been officially activated! April 1st I made the drive up to northern Seminole county to the Wekiva National Wild and Scenic River. This “park” is a little different than most others, as there are only about 41 miles of waterway that have been designated as a Scenic River. I had to do a little digging ahead of time to figure out exactly what portions of the river would count for my activation. Through the NPS web page for the river I found the Wekiva River System site, where they have a nice aerial map showing the “park” area. Not much detail, but enough to figure out where I was on Google Earth and find a few likely looking locations. As you can see from the map, most of the river runs through swamps. You have to be within 100 feet of the water for the ARRL to consider your activation to have been within the “park,” so that narrowed my choices down considerably.

Wekiva River Map
Dark blue areas are within the Wekiva Scenic River System, including Blackwater Creek, Wekiva River, and Rock Springs Run

I settled on Katie’s Landing, which is a Florida state park on the upper portion of the Wekiva. It turned out to be a great choice. It’s a small park, and on a Friday afternoon wasn’t busy at all. There were three or four picnic tables right near the water, and plenty of cypress trees to hang antennas from.

I got to the park about 1:30 in the afternoon, and spent twenty or so minutes getting my station set up on on of the picnic tables, about 25 feet from the water (taking no chances with a DQ on my activations lol)

Wekiva Station

I used the same EARCHI end fed antenna that I used in my previous activations in Utah, and it didn’t disappoint. With one end tossed 30 feet up in the cypress tree behind me, and the counterpoise laid out on the ground, I tuned up on 40m and got ready to go.

End fed all packed in it's box
End fed all packed in its box
The whole antenna system unpacked
The whole antenna system

I was very hopeful that 40m would net me a bunch of in state contacts. I was pretty disappointed… Propagation was actually pretty good, but the noise levels were terrible. I did get 5 Florida contacts, and 5 from Georgia, along with a couple other nearby states. After about 45 minutes with not a lot of contacts (wound up with a total of 19 on 40m), then I switched to 20m. WOW! What a difference. K5RK was my first contact, and it was full speed from there. 86 contacts in 58 minutes before propagation finally seemed to quit on me… it was a blast! It always amazes me how much fun you can have with only 5w,  that little ft-817 does a great job. Propagation was supposed to be marginal at best on 20m that day, but it was definitely wide open. I had enough stations calling that I started running by numbers, with a call for QRP stations at the end of each round. What surprised me was the number of stations that had already worked me called again, after turning their power down to 5 watts – and they were still coming in just as strong as they had been before…and some had been running KW stations!

Moral of the story: even when the forecast says band conditions are bad, throw your call out there. The models might just be wrong 🙂

QRP: Lower your power and raise your expectations!

Radio astronomy with RTL-SDR and RasbPi

https://www.hackster.io/mariocannistra/radio-astronomy-with-rtl-sdr-raspberrypi-and-amazon-aws-iot-45b617

This looks like an interesting project. Might have to experiment with this a little. I’ve been kicking around some ideas about a homebrew radio telescope – basically a ~1400MHz 15-20 element yagi, fed into an SDR dongle through a couple of LNA’s and a bandpass filter.

More info on UHF homebrew filters etc. can be found on Paul Wade W1GHZ’s site, also good info from the British Astronomical Association, and rtl-sdr.com

I’ll post any developments I make on here, and on the projects page on my main site.

First contact from the new shack!

Well, it’s finally happened. I got an antenna up for my new shack (which has needed to get done since April…) Because of how our yard is laid out, my antenna options were sort of limited. we have several metal roofed buildings on the property, as well as an overhead power line that runs right down the center of our backyard. Add to this the fact that the new shack is located right under the end of pretty much the only tree that I could use to support the south end of a wire, and well, you can see how it was a little difficult.

My Radio Shack
The New Shack!

I did a TON of research and experimenting with different types before finally settling on one that seems to fit my needs. My first bet was on a extended end fed Zepp – which I did get working. However, my poor little LDG tuner would only load it on 40m and 17m (which I actually thought was pretty good for my first time build any type of end fed!). With propagation heading down the tubes, I figured that limiting myself to these two bands was probably not my best bet for actually making any contacts. I really wanted to be able to get on 20m. So I scrapped the whole end fed idea, and settled on a 40m OCF dipole. I ordered a W2AU 4:1 balun, and then about two weeks ago put the whole shebang up in the trees, around 25-30 feet above ground.

Antenna In Tree

And here’s a close up of the feedpoint balun. I’ve been really happy with it so far, we’ll have to see how it holds up over time. For only $40 bucks, it’s not to much of an investment. Especially considering DX Engineering currently sells exactly what I built for $220. I should go into business 🙂

Close up of antenna in tree

The first chance I had to get on the air was last Saturday, which happened to be the WAE SSB contest weekend. I got on around 8:00 am, and just tuned around to see what I could hear. Plenty of stations booming in from the mid latitudes of Europe – Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Bosnia – all broadside to the dipole. I threw my call out at about 80w, and lo and behold, I bagged the Azores! I was on and off both 20m and 40 during the rest of the day, but I got a few contacts – as far as Hungary (5300 miles). The Arkansas QSO Party and Ohio State Parks on the Air events were going on at the same time, so I got to get some domestic contacts as well. Both were off the end of the dipole, but came in strong and gave good signal reports. Needless to say I’m pretty happy with the performance – and I’m just happy to finally be ON THE AIR!

Which RAW image format is best?

One of the more confusing decisions that I had to make as a beginning Lightroom user was which raw format I should use. Of course, if you read all the Adobe literature and tutorials, it’s hard not to come away with the idea that DNG is the answer. But really, which is better? DNG or NEF (or cr2, or whatever proprietary raw format your camera of choice spits out)? This is question that I have recently begun to revisit.

DNG Logo

For the last two and a half years I have been a big advocate of the DNG format. As probably everyone knows by this point, DNG is a raw image format developed by Adobe, and is designed to be a long term, archival storage format for your digital originals. The concept behind DNG files is that, as an openly documented standard, software engineers currently or in the future could incorporate that standard into their cameras or editing software. This, in theory at least, should mean they these files should always be able to be opened. Sort of like a .txt file, PDF document, or a jpeg image. When’s the last time you had a problem opening a text file? How about a PDF? These are all widely adopted, open standards file formats.

My reasons for using DNG were twofold: first, I always like to err on the side of open formats. I don’t like the idea of thinking that in 10, 20, or 50 years, I won’t be able to access my digital files because they could only be opened by some arcane bit of software that the manufacturer no longer supports. Don’t think it can’t happen. We have actually had this problem at work with scanned images of old maps and documents-TIFF files no less! Whoever scanned these files back 15 years ago apparently just used whatever default settings were provided by the  scanning software, and saved these archival scans as tiff-tagged jpegs, using some weird, not-widely-supported encoding format. Depending on what software you open the files with, it will render the images pink, black, or just plain refuse to open them. These types of problems should be avoided by using the DNG format.

My second reason was that I liked the idea of having the metadata for the image written right into the .dng file. All raw images contain metadata: keywords, copyright information, location (GPS coordinates if your camera can do that), etc, etc. This metadata is what allows the  file to be read by software, and also to be “edited.”

All the major camera raw formats are largely undocumented (if at all). The engineers developing any third party editing software (read: Adobe Lightroom) have to sort of reverse engineer these proprietary raw formats, just to read the data out of them. If this doesn’t sound like a good formula for reliably being able to write edited metadata back into the proprietary files, you would be right. That’s how we wound up with XMP sidecar files. All the metadata that can be read out of the original raw file is recorded in these little sidecar files. After that, any keywording, copyright info, all metadata changes that you make to your images are recorded in that same XMP file. That leaves your original raw file safely untouched by the software. It’s a great system. The difference with DNG is, because there is no reverse engineering or guesswork involved, it is safe and easy for the software to record and edit all that metadata right into the .dng file. My feeling with this was that it would simplify file management. You wouldn’t have all those little XMP files running around, that have to stay with their associated image.

All this said, there are a few further facts about DNG’s that I have discovered along the way. These have made me seriously consider just sticking with the original raw file, rather than converting everything to .dng as I have been doing.

    1. The XMP metadata changes that are written into the .dng file do not include the full history of edits that were made to the file.This was one of the main reasons that I was writing the metadata to the file in the first place, sort of a backup of my catalog edits that would stay with the file no matter where it went. It is true that your edits get stored – whatever the most recent state of the file is in Lightroom, including snapshots. – but the edit history does not get recorded. Neither do your flags, ratings, or collections info. It kind of lessens the usefulness of the whole “write metadata into the dng” feature I addressed above.
    1. There are certain contests that require entries to include the original raw file that came out of the camera. That means that if you converted to dng, and did not retain your original image file, you are out of luck… There are ways to preserve the original file, DNGs even have the ability to embed the original raw when you do the conversion – but this is at the cost of taking up twice as much storage space! Storage is cheap, but not that cheap…
  1. DNG metadata writes sort of mess up my cloud backup workflow. Think about it, every time you make an edit to a dng, it writes those changes right into the file. My backup software looks at the image and says “Aha! The file has changed!”, and dutifully uploads it to cloud storage. All ~30MB of it. Now, say I edit 200 images in one sitting…see how that could be a problem? If you are using the camera manufacturers raw format, the only file that will have changed is that little XMP metadata file. Now we are only talking a few megabytes of data (at most) that have to be backed up, rather than 15GB.

These three problems are my main reasons for migrating my workflow towards just retaining the original .nef files as they come out of my camera. There are some other benefits as well, like not having to wait 20 minutes for Lightroom to convert everything to DNG as I am importing, but these are the main ones. I probably will adopt a policy at some point of ultimately converting a copy of my originals to .dng, for long term archival and backup purposes; however, for my working copies and ordinary backups, I am just going to leave them in their original format.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone trying to decide on a raw workflow, and I’d love to hear any opinions you might have on this subject!

Using Google Drive for RAW backups

I have been trying for awhile now to find a convenient, inexpensive way to remotely back up my catalog of RAW images. There are a ton of options out there, including Zenfolio, Photoshelter, Smugmug, etc, etc. Each one of these has their strengths and benefits. However, I already use separate services for my web hosting (namecheap), and email (Google Apps). So I didn’t really want to add ANOTHER monthly fee to possibly duplicate services I was already paying for. For $10 a month Google offers an “unlimited” version of Apps, $5 a month more than I was already paying for the standard version.

Google Drive Logo

The benefit though is that with Unlimited you get 1TB of Drive storage, vs. the 32GB I already had. Seemed like a good deal to me! No file type limits, and I wouldn’t have another bill or account to manage. For non-apps users, you can do the same thing with a normal (free) Google account, by upgrading your storage limit here. Same pricing applies, $10/month for 1TB of storage.

Google Drive Pricing

The problem was getting my files uploaded to Drive. As some of you might know already, the Google-provided Drive Uploader is mainly intended to facilitate syncing content across multiple devices, not a one-way backup routine – and uploading everything via the web interface was out of the question. After a ton of hunting around I stumbled upon a program made to do exactly what I was trying to accomplish. It’s made by a company called Cloudberry Labs, that specializes in Amazon S3 backup software. However, they have produced a version capable of backing up to a bunch of different cloud storage providers, including Google Drive. I got the free trial, and put it to work uploading roughly 160G of .dng images.

Cloudberry Backup Screenshot

So far I have been happy with it. The software keeps a local database of files uploaded, so it’s capable of resuming interrupted uploads, as well as updating changed files. It also has bandwidth limited and scheduling capabilities, so that uploading won’t interfere with your normal internet usage. The interface could use a little work, but it does the job. If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive, and extremely flexible way to back up your digital negatives, I would give Google Drive + Cloudberry Online Backup a look.