IC-705 – Part 3: GPS

Your IC-705 will NOT look like this when you’re getting GPS data.

I’m slowly stepping my way through all that the IC-705 has to offer. I still consider myself quite a new ham, so there are features that I know little about that I’m starting to have a lot of fun with. But for a moment, I’m going to indulge something that I’m really getting geared up for this winter: field operation.

In my part of the world, it gets quite cold in the winter. I’m not one to shy away from that and I do indeed love hiking and camping all winter long. Especially if it’s quiet and there is some degree of solitude. In these Strange Times, it’s sometimes nice to take a minute and step outside where we can enjoy the absence of certain things. But there’s no reason I can’t take my radio along, right? And there really shouldn’t be any reason that, given my recent acquisition, I shouldn’t take my radio hobby along for the hike.

There are a lot of operators out there who are far better at field operation than I. OH8STN is definitely one of them and I follow his work closely. The sentiment we share is that in 2020 a radio should do everything with one wire – if there has to be a cable at all. There’s no reason that a single USB cable shouldn’t carry with it all the power of the radio. And with the IC-705, it does.

I wrote before about syncing a laptop’s time using my Kenwood TH-D74 so that the clock is as accurate as it can be for modes like FT8. That still works and it can be done over bluetooth. But I’m not using the TH-D74 for FT8 and I’m already plugged into the IC-705 which has a GPS, so why not leverage that?

This whole entry is more of a way for me to remember what I did to get to the point where it worked and less about trying to teach anyone anything. There are many links to places that taught me what I know. But here are the high points.

The IC-705 really only needs one bit of configuration.

SET > Connectors > USB (B) Function -> GPS Out -> ON

Thanks to Ryan on the IC-705 groups.io list for reminding me of that. See also Painful Radio UI/UX.

With the GPS turned on and that setting in play, the unit will push data out via the USB as soon as it has acquired a lock. A trick? In my experience, it will come out as the port that does NOT do rig control. Every operating system does this differently and you can’t necessarily predict which device will show up where (even when you tell the OS to honor your setup) so it’s good to know that there’s a difference and not get frustrated and stare at a screen for an hour like someone I know.

Hmm…

Now on the computer side, it’s a question of finding some software that will listen to a GPS and go from there. I used GPS2Time on Windows and gpsd on my Raspberry Pi. You can get all the instruction you need from VK4ADC’s site for GPS2Time and THIS is a great tutorial on getting things going with the Raspberry Pi. Though I will caution you to double check the device that is configured for chrony. That tutorial names a device and you just need to confirm that the one you need is the one you configure. Or again, you’ll be staring at a screen like our friend.

So far, everything seems to be working exactly as I would like. It also gets me down to a single connection to the computer. In 2020 that is definitely as it should be.

IC-705 – Part 2: FT8

The adventures with the IC-705 continue!

This week, I installed the most recent release candidate for FT8. It contains a listing for the IC-705 so it doesn’t have to be spoofed. The application ran fine for me on my Windows 10 laptop. The radio did exactly what it should do and I got my first contact on 40m while set to 5 watts and running through my attic dipole antenna.

First FT8 contact with the IC-705. Thanks K9JLX!

No complications. No fiddling. It just worked. And yes, that is a pleasant surprise!

I also got the latest release candidate for FT8 running on my little (newly) Linux WinBook. There was a bit more fiddling to figure out what the IC-705 comes up as in the audio settings. Remember, kids: arecord -l will list all recording interfaces and you can fake it from there. Kind of. In any case, I didn’t make any contacts, but I heard stations and I was heard over on https://pskreporter.info which means I’m getting out! I’m hoping that this combination makes an excellent field setup for FT8. I plan to test that assertion this weekend.

I’m not quite a week in, so I’m trying to save my impressions until I’ve gotten through enough of my use cases for the rig. I will say that it’s a challenge having this unit before many have had any experience with it and posted about it. The manual lacks actual sample configurations for some things and that makes it difficult to validate issues that I’m experiencing (especially with fancy things like D-Star). There’s a great mailing list over on groups.io for the IC-705, but again, the posts only go back so far and there’s not a lot of practical operating advice just yet.

To recap, I now have the following use cases checked off:

  • Connect to D-Star HotSpot
  • Complete a contact via RF repeater
  • FT8 contact on HF

So what’s next?

  • Get out in the field with the Super Antenna MP1C and try to make a contact
  • Prepare for JOTA so that the Scouts can get on the air via UHF/VHF repeater, HF, or D-Star

That’s a lot of “experimenting” (read: playing) to do.

Computers: An Aside

Working closely with technology for an extended period of time has colored my views on computing. I’ve gone from full-on, build it all myself or die to using whatever works reliably and jettisoning anything that fails. I can trace the completion of that transition to the point where I had a little baby boy to care for and no more time in my day for compiling things or tweaking hardware.

That was 13 or so years ago. Since that time, I’ve kept myself mostly in the default use cases covered by MacOS and iOS. Why? Because it works for me 99.999% of the time. I don’t ever find myself having issues that other people hit. Part of this, I believe, is because I understand the use cases. The applications I use are good for what they do and I expect little else from them. That is to say, I have an application for my notetaking and journaling. I have one for music making and editing audio. I have one for browsing. I have one for mail…OK…that’s a lie. I go through mail clients like most people go through shows on Netflix. I hate all email clients for different reasons. They all suck. All of them. Even the one you love. It’s horrible and I can tell you why. At length. You will regret asking.

Anyway, I try to stick to applications that do what I need done and use them for their strengths. I do take the time to give them the respect of learning their primary use cases so that my expectations are in the right place. You won’t catch me keeping an address book in a spreasheet program, for instance. That said, if an addressbook app loses one piece of my data? It’s gone. And I won’t look back. To my mind, the app’s failure is complete and that I do not forgive.

When I started messing around with Ham Radio software, I learned quickly that the vast majority of it was built for Windows. I’ve made a lot of money in my lifetime developing software in Microsoft’s ecosystem, so it’s a stretch for me to complain too loudly. I will simply say that I don’t do Windows at home because of the poor driver support and the endless interventions required on my part to keep things running. This is no less true in the radio sphere as there is always a driver to install for any given cable or device. It’s a disappointment in 2020 that manufacturers can’t read a spec and provide a device that meets it without imposing on the user to add software to their systems. But I digress.

About 2 years ago, I purchased a WinBook TW110 at Microcenter. It has an Atom processor, a touch screen, and is a weird little multi-form-factor device. It also runs Windows 10 and weighs almost nothing with a pretty impressive battery life. I set it up with WSJT-X and some logging software and off I went. I used it primarily to program my radios as there is no Mac software for that outside of CHIRP and not every rig I have likes CHIRP. But then we hit that moment that I hit with every Windows tablet: I ran out of space to update Windows.

This hits me like clockwork. I’ve had some really cool tablets that did really well for my limited use cases that eventually hit this wall. My HP tablet for instance, had a single USB port that was also used to charge the unit. I needed to use a USB stick to hold the updates. The update took longer than the battery could survive. I tried a USB hub to no avail. Finally, it ended up in the parts drawer waiting for me to use the screen for something at a later date.

The real disappointment with the WinBook was that it is really, really lightweight and it charges off of a USB port with 5 volts in a pinch. It’s ideal for FT8 in the field. Having it fail like this made me sad. So my little WinBook was destined for a life as maybe a clock that showed timezones and the position of the sun or sattelites or something. But in the back of my head a voice said, “Just throw Linux on it. If it fails, the worst case is you reload Windows 10 and maybe have enough space.” So I grabbed a Mint image and it worked first shot.

Side note: I used Debian for YEARS. It was my OS of choice for everything and I was intimately familiar with every part of the system. I wrote device drivers for sound cards and had a lot of fun playing with it and learning how it worked. Note that all of that is past tense.

Naturally, the touchpad isn’t supported, but a Bluetooth mouse and a functional touchscreen mitigate that. The battery life is really good. And behold! The entire OS doesn’t really make a dent in the 32 GB of internal storage that this little beast has available. This might work!

Naturally, the current stable version of FT8 doesn’t have the IC-705 in it yet and thus requires spoofing as an IC-7300. The 705 is in the first release candidate for the next version. Which I’ll have to compile from source on this distro. Which will require some time to get dependencies in a row. Which…takes me back…to why I don’t do this anymore.

That said, maybe it’s time. My kids are fully functional and mostly self-sustaining on the weekends and after bedtime. Maybe I do have time a little time to wrestle with this and see if I remember anything from those long nights of compiling entire distributions from source so I could run a new soundcard. It could be that I might even have fun doing it. If I do get this WinBook working for FT8, I know that my back will thank me and my field operations will be easier and last longer.

This feeds my thesis that Ham Radio is the Old Magick and it will take its adherents back to the beginning of all things, in time.