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.

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.


cwops_225Earlier this year, I stumbled upon the weekly CWops sprints when working the monthly NAQCC sprint. Our “quiet” section of 40 meters around 7040 kHz was suddenly invaded by high-speed ops sending CWT¬†and working each other with names and numbers. Sometimes, as QRP operators, we can feel like ants getting squashed underfoot, but among the callsigns were a few I had worked in the NAQCC events as well as some I recognized from other contests.

I recalled seeing the CWops events listed in WA7BNM’s contest calendar, so I checked it out. Continue reading “CWops”

Lousy conditions hamper NAQCC sprint

QRP is a challenge any time, but when old Sol acts up, it can really throw a spanner in the works. Last night’s monthly sprint sponsored by the North American QRP CW Club offered difficult conditions, at least for me. The coronal hole that developed a couple days ago muddied the A index (25 at contest time) and made signals difficult to copy. The flutter and QSB was so bad that it was difficult to copy an entire call sign most of the time. I operated for about an hour, made 5 contacts on 40 and 80, and decided to call it a night. This in contrast to when conditions are good when I’ve made over 50 QSOs in two hours, all QRP and sent with a straight key.

If you’re interested in slow-speed, hand-sent CQ at QRP power levels, check out the NAQCC. It’s a friendly group of operators who embrace the minimalist’s challenge. Best of all, there are no dues for a lifetime membership.