Rig control and keying

I recently replaced my shack computer, a Dell Optiplex, with a Dell Precision i7 workstation. I generally buy off-lease computers, since they are only a couple years old, well-equipped and reasonably priced, and Linux runs on them just fine.

For contest logging, I’m slowly working in the N1MM direction (there’s a trick or two to running it well under wine), so I still use a DOS-based logging program that relies on serial and parallel ports for keying and rig control. The beauty of running DOS under Linux (via dosemu) is that you can assign any hardware resource to what DOS sees as COM1, LPT1, etc. dosemu interfaces to the device socket, and Linux does the heavy lifting of translating that into the physical port.

The Optiplex had a serial port and a parallel port, so I was using the serial port to do rig control (the TS-590SG helpfully has an honest-to-goodness RS232 port) and the parallel port for CW keying via a homebrew interface similar to the diagram above. However, with the decline of printers with Centronics parallel interfaces (nearly all are now either USB or Ethernet), computers are losing the 25-pin parallel port – and the 9-pin RS232 interface is becoming more and more scarce as well. The Precision workstation doesn’t have a parallel port, so I had to make some changes so I could still do both rig control and keying.

Fortunately, the 590 also has a USB port, over which you can do both rig control and audio interface. You connect the USB port to the computer and the rig appears as a second sound card, to which you can point fldigi, wsjt or other sound-card mode digital software.

I first tried doing both rig control and keying over the serial port using a breakout cable that I built, but ran into some configuration problems with the logger. I don’t know why it didn’t work, but it might have been that the CTS/RTS or DSR/DCD lines weren’t tied, which the rig might have relied on for handshaking. So I skipped that step and decided to configure the rig control over USB instead. Since dosemu lets you point its COM ports at any system device, I set up dosemu so that COM1 was the usb serial device (/dev/ttyUSB0) and COM2 was the hardware serial port (/dev/ttyS1), which was configured in BIOS to be COM2. After setting up the logger to use COM1 for rig control and COM2 for keying, everything worked great!

Getting dosemu to run properly with DOS-based logging has been a struggle at times, but I did finally settle on a good way to do it. That will be the subject of another article.

So, look for me in the next CWops sprint or other CW contest, and I’ll be keying away with my serial port interface.

Boy Scout Radio merit badge updates

January 1st saw some updates to various Boy Scout requirements, including those for the Radio merit badge.

Most of the changes are clerical in nature, such as moving to its own item the requirement to explain how WWV can be used to determine propagation. For the Amateur Radio option, the requirement to have a 10-minute QSO was moved to the end of the item, to put it in more of a logical sequence and imply that the other requirements be done first, in order to give greater understanding to making the QSO. (The requirements can be done in any order, however, and Scouts who are licensed hams can submit evidence of QSOs already made.)

Perhaps the most significant update is the addition of a fourth option for the experiential requirement. Continue reading “Boy Scout Radio merit badge updates”

How about a .radio domain name?

The European Broadcasting Union has been appointed the official distributor of one of the newest Internet top-level domains – .radio. (A top-level domain is the last part of a domain name. You’re probably most familiar with TLDs like .com, .org, .edu and the like.)

One of the provisions in the EBU’s pitch to hold the keys to .radio is that they plan to require some sort of radio affiliation by the party registering a domain under that TLD. One of the affiliations they specifically list is “Radio Amateurs”, which means that soon you will be able to get YOURCALL.radio as a domain. Continue reading “How about a .radio domain name?”

Straight Key Night

Straight Key Night is one of my favorite activities of the year. Even though I don’t spend a lot of time at it, it’s a chance to get on the air at the start of the new year and make some interesting contacts. Many hams use vintage gear to go along with their historic telegraph keys, but my “vintage” gear isn’t up to snuff, so I use the gear that I use regularly – just sending with a straight key instead of the keyer. Since I use the straight key every month in the NAQCC sprints, I’ve kept in practice and can send quite smoothly at around 18 wpm.

If you got on the air for SKN, be sure to send a report to ARRL. It’s one of the few events where participants’ calls are listed in QST, so it’s a great way to get your call listed in the magazine.