More Privileges

On 02-Oct-2021 I sat for the Amateur Extra exam. I passed! 49/50 for those keeping score (I was). I’m not sure why I waited this long (aside from managing life and work through a pandemic that has touched ever facet of life) but once I started studying, it really only took about 2 or 3 weeks until I was doing well enough to pass with 80%+ on practice tests.

One of the downsides of licensing in the U.S. is that so much of it is trivia. At this point in my life, I don’t memorize formulas because in 2021 I can ask the robot in my pocket to do all of those calculations for me in plain English rather than scribbling notes on paper. I also don’t really know that knowing how many lines are in a frame of SSTV is relevant outside of implementing software to decode those signals which few operators will use. What would be much better, in my opinion, is a focus on advanced operations. Something beyond calculating the impedance of a feedline, maybe?

In any case, I did win Trivial Pursuit: Ham Radio Edition and am upgraded to Amateur Extra. I also checked the box to get a 2×2. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to apply for a vanity call to be disclosed later, but for now, I’m waiting for the FCC to do its thing.

I should also note that I used https://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/ to do my study prep. I’ve used it for all three licenses because the way it presents information and the way it tracks what a user seems to know vs. where that user is struggling to recall answers was effective for me. I recommend it.

By The Water

Saturday mornings have, for the time being, been set up as portable operating times for me. There are several parks in the area – Ohio seems to have an embarrassment of riches in that regard – and getting out into them feels really good. This past Saturday, West Branch State Park was the destination.

The original plan was to use the Jeep as the base of operations for this outing, but upon arrival, it was obvious that no one was there. No one. At all. The parking lot for the picnic pavilions was completely empty. It seems the parks empty a bit in the fall once school starts. It made more sense to get out of the Jeep and grab a nice picnic table by the water.

Portable setup arranged on a picnic table by the water.

The view was beautiful and, again, it was very quiet. The occasional bass boat would drift by in the distance, but for the most part it was as though there were no people in the park.

I will also hasten to add that the radials as seen in the picture were not left in a pile during operation. I did spread them out so that they could, ya know, perform as intended. I got an interesting comment on the picture when I shared it on Mastodon. More on that in a minute.

A view of the lake from the operating position.

It was somewhere between 9 AM and noon while I was operating. The bands were nice and open. I was hearing from stations as far off as Australia and I was being heard from Alaska to Eastern Europe (per pskreporter.info) but I only got a few calls back. I guess Ohio stations aren’t very enticing. That said, I did get a few contacts on the log and did some good listening.

All of the gear worked exactly as expected. It was quick to setup and quick to tear down. I was also glad to have the Lightsaver Max with me as it brought me up to 10 watts and that got me out a bit further as observed again on pskreporter.info. I meant to get on some voice modes, but didn’t because I was happier sipping coffee and staring at the water as I played around with FT8.

The Superantenna continues to be my antenna of choice. Easy to deploy and effective. What more could I ask?

I said that I got some feedback on my pile o’ radials from Mastodon. And by that I mean mastodon.radio. What is that? It’s a federated social media platform. Well, that’s what Mastodon is. Imagine twitter if it didn’t suck. On mastodon.radio, it’s all ham radio operators and makers sharing their (mis)adventures and the fun time had on the air. Or trying to get on the air. Or talking about gear that might get us on the air. It also has a really neat mascot and I got a couple of stickers from the instance admin. They’re cool!

Two stickers of a mastodon holding an HT and with a shoulder bag.

On another topic, I tried some OLIVIA with the local radio club as well. I didn’t do very well on 20m from my front yard. Propagation is a tricky thing sometimes. I will try it again and I’m going to listen around for some RTTY in the coming weeks, so there will be more digital fun shortly.

In the meantime, there’s another Saturday morning expedition planned. Which park will be a just in time decision.

Working With A Mast

When the summer was just rolling around, I ordered a SOTABeams Tactical Mini mast for portable operation. It seemed to stall out in Chicago (as a lot of things traveling into the states are) and then was magically in my mailbox one morning. I was pretty excited about it, but things got in the way and I didn’t really get a chance to do anything with it until this week.

I decided to get it set up in my yard and see how it worked with my Par EndFedz® End Fed Half Wave Antenna set up as a sloper. The mast itself is very lightweight and yet incredibly strong. I got it guyed out with a little assistance from my son (no callsign because he’s stubborn and doesn’t want to get his ticket…yet). Once I had it set up, the rope was cut to the proper length and I proved to myself that setting it up solo would be a breeze.

Mast set up with guy lines in place.

The antenna was attached to the top with a couple of zip ties that I made into a strange device for holding the end. I guess it works? It was resistant to the wind and all of that jazz, so it’s probably solid. At the end of the day, I would like to get a little loop to situate on top to make that part a little more stable and easier.

Full mast deployed.

It worked nicely and I was able to get 3 contacts in short order. This is largely because the antenna is so perfectly tuned on 40m and 20m. I cannot say enough good stuff about that antenna. And the combination of the two will make working in the field easy enough when there aren’t any trees around.

The addition of the mast muddies the water for me in only one respect: weight. I still love my SuperAntenna and I think it’s the one I’m going to use most often when operating portable. It attaches to the Jeep and performs really well. That said, the wire antenna is attractive because it’s small, tuned for the frequencies I use most often, and light. Neither of these options require a tuner under most circumstances.

That said, if I were to do another 40 mile hike with my IC-705, I would likely skip the SuperAntenna and the mast altogether as I’d likely be in the woods or near a tree most of the time. At that point, I would be debating the use of the arborists line as the weight adds 10 oz. and I have a bear bag that has a smaller bag for putting a rock in and tossing line over a tree limb. That’s the backpacking calculus: is it more miserable to carry something or miss it in the field? All in all, I could probably pare down to the radio and the antenna with my Lightsaver Max as a battery option for a bare bones trip.

Still, it’s nice to have options. I operate a lot with my Jeep (and soon my bike) as my method of transportation, so it does open up what I can take with me and what I might use given the circumstances.

I like the mast. I’m sure it will come in handy.

Mobile – Sort Of…

This past Saturday, I took a couple of hours to go and operate from my Jeep in a park parking lot. It was a bit of a last minute expedition, so I didn’t have any real objectives other than to try out something that I’ve wanted to play with for a while. That’s running the MP1 SuperAntenna on the mount I have on the back of my Jeep.

There was an incident a while back when I went to attach the MP1 to the cargo cage of my Jeep and it, well, fell and broke. Really broke. It wasn’t until later that evening that I found myself shaking my head over how I could have easily avoided all of that nonsense by simply using the mount that was already on the Jeep.

The mount itself is pretty cool. I would post a link if I could remember where I got it, but it mounts to the spare tire assembly and allows me to position a VHF/UHF antenna on the back which I run with my super inexpensive but totally adequate mobile rig. Look, I drive a Jeep that doesn’t have doors most of the spring and summer. I’m not going to put an ICOM in there. So yes, I have a rather disposable rig that does exactly what I need it to do and very little else. It was my first base station of sorts for getting to repeaters and maybe I will do a quick write up of it at some point because it is, as I say, adequate. Clunky and with a garbage UI, but adequate.

Anyway, the mount itself looks like this:

Jeep antenna mount with MP1 post and cable.

The post for the MP1 matches perfectly, as one would expect. The entire assembly sits nicely on the mount and even adds a bit of height to the party.

The rear of the Jeep with antenna and wire.
The rear of the Jeep with the full antenna captured.

With the antenna all setup, I was able to operate from inside of the Jeep in relative comfort.

The IC-705 on the dashboard and the Surface Go on my lap in the passenger seat.

One thing that did seem off on this trip was the drift of the clock on my Surface Go. I don’t know if there was an update to Windows that caused this or what, but the time drifted about a second over the course of 15 minutes of operation. That’s not great performance. So I put my little GPS puck on again and set my software to update the time every 5 minutes. That solved the problem, but it does add to battery drain in powering the GPS as well as running the software. It’s likely not noticeable, but on a longer trip it might be.

I also learned that the base of the GPS is magnetic which turned out to be a really neat feature!

The GPS puck stuck to the door of the Jeep via an internal magnet.

Again, I have that blue tape because my dad and I have so much of the same equipment that it’s almost inevitable that it will get mixed up when we’re out together. I’m not implying that he’s a thief who wants to wander off with my stuff, but I’m also not not implying it.

The observant will notice that I didn’t deploy any radials based on the pictures. You’d be right. My SWR was around 1.3:1 and I didn’t have a good way to attach them to the mount. That’s something that I will be considering and fabricating soon enough. A tab of metal on a washer should do the trick, but I actually have to get around to soldering it up. Maybe this winter? All in all, I was getting out just fine.

PSKReporter.info showing stations that heard me from EN91.

If I were to zoom in on that map, it would be clear that I was being heard all over the US and at least in Puerto Rico and a spot or two in South America. Nothing in Europe, though I did hear Germany and England.

I didn’t net out with a ton of contacts, but I did prove out the setup. It takes very little time to deploy it and tear it down. And it’s possible to run it just about anywhere that I can park the Jeep. I’m kind of excited that it worked as well as I had hoped.

I doubt very much that this will be my favorite way to operate in the field. That said, it is definitely convenient and quick. It also seems to be fairly foolproof and comes with a built-in shelter in the case of weather. I’m thinking that it would come in really handy for those times where I’m waiting around at a Scouting event or killing some time between weekend activities. More radio is better radio, right?

Park Lessons Learned

Monday, July 05 was a holiday for me, so it made sense to head out into the field for a little radio fun. The IC-705 and assorted gear were already in their pack and ready to go. The destination for the day was to be the Virginia Kendall section of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s a place that I have been going since I was a kid and I know it very, very well. The general plan was to work from inside the Jeep in the corner of a specific parking lot that has some decent elevation.

The lot was nice and quiet. There were families out and enjoying the day. It was probably 85F when I arrived with some fairly disgusting humidity, but that wasn’t going to impede operations in the least. The MP1 was to be the antenna of the day. It was clamped securely to the cargo cage of the Jeep and I got into the passenger seat to start the tuning process. As I prepared the radio, the sound of metal hitting the ground disrupted the process. The MP1 fell sideways and crashed down whip first, destroying the whip. And “destroy” is the right word.

Broken MP1 whip

That put an end to using the MP1 as my antenna of choice for the day. And it changed the base of operations.

Because I keep all of my portable gear in one backpack, I had my Par EndFedz® End Fed Half Wave Antenna with me. But there was no way to deploy it in the parking lot and there weren’t a lot of places nearby in the park that would be great for it. So I thought about Hampton Hills where I’d worked with my dad a few weeks back. It was only a couple of miles away, so I moved. I got the antenna up into the tree quickly and was ready to tune.

Arborists line and antenna in tree.
Arborists line hanging from the tree marking antenna position.

It’s only fair to take a moment to sing the praises of this particular antenna. The first time I used it in my yard, it tuned up almost instantly on 40m and 20m. I’ve used it up and down the band with the mAT-705 and it performs well and is consistent. It’s also tiny and nearly invisible when deployed. All in all, I’m thrilled with it.

Getting it into the tree with the arborists line was, as usual, a breeze. The bright orange rope also helps me alert people (and myself) to where it is, though I prefer to operate out of the way of people in general. It isn’t that social interaction isn’t fun, but it does take away from the precious little time I have in the field to work the radio. In any case, the arborists line is a must.

Shortly after tuning the antenna, the computer needed to have its time synched in an authoritative way. My dad convinced me to get one of the little GPS pucks that run about $25. It works really, really well. Yes, simply connecting it to a cell phone takes care of that and it would also be possible to hook it up to the 705 to get GPS time, but the puck is very fast, requires no fiddling, and “Just Works”. It’s nice to have options.

Radio, tuner, and computer.

Total time to get from putting the pack down on the bench to actually calling CQ on FT8 was about 10 minutes. Not too bad when considering that the line had to get into the tree and there was a little monkeying around with how the antenna actually sat. I worked about 6 stations. I was heard all across the US, but didn’t seem to get over to Europe at all, though I heard plenty. I do use KC3JXQ/P as my designation when calling CQ. While it may not indicate that I’m running QRP, there is at least the suggestion that the signal isn’t coming from a permanently installed antenna. Lots of discussion on various lists about that and all I can say is that I will always try to hit a portable station if I know they’re portable. It’s just more fun for me.

So what were the lessons of this trip? Always have a Plan B. Having the extra antenna handy and a place to deploy it saved the day. Sure, I only made about 6 contacts, but that’s more than the zero I would have made otherwise. I also took a closer look at the Jeep and found a much better solution for mounting the MP1 in the future. More on that when I get my new whip and fire that up.

West Virginia Portable Operation

Each summer, my family tries to book a cabin in the middle of nowhere so we can go hiking, paddling, and fishing. In recent years, our favorite spot in central Pennsylvania was sold and we started trying other places. With our move, we decided to try out something new entirely. We headed for a cabin just outside of New River National Park, our nation’s newest National Park.

After a day on the New River shooting some class three rapids with the family, I grabbed a little time on the back porch to setup my IC-705 and see what I could hear from the mountains.

It was mostly 20m and 40m on FT8/FT4. The setup was my standard portable gear. The IC-705, the mAT-705, the MP1 Superantenna, and my MS Surface Go 2. I tossed in my Lightsaver Max to get my 10 Watts out.

MS Surface Go 2, IC-705, mAT-705, and Powerfilm Solar Lightsaver Max on a coffee table in the great outdoors.

I went with the Superantenna instead of my end-fed dipole because I didn’t much feel like sitting out in the grass. There was a touch of drizzle and tossing the antenna up into the tree was less attractive than sitting on a comfy chair with my coffee.

Deployed MP1 Superantenna.

With the setup I was running, I got about 10 or so contacts before I quit. I was only on the air for about 2 hours and I did try my luck with SSB, but things were pretty quiet. There was a net out there on 20m and I couldn’t seem to get to any of those folks to join in, so I stuck to digital after calling CQ for a bit.

Same gear as above but packed up.

It is a very lightweight solution that, when I checked https://pskreporter.info showed me being heard in Finland as well as California. Not too bad on 10 watts and all factors considered. It also very light and packable. I’m more and more convinced that I will take my gear with me when I head out to the trail come August.

Hampton Hills Portable Operation

Backpack, mAT-705, Lightsaver Max, IC-705, MS Surface Go 2, and my dad’s water.

On Memorial Day, my dad (AC8NT) and I headed out to Hampton Hills Metropark to see if we could get some contacts on a gorgeous summer day. The spot we found at The Top O’ The World was perfect. There were two benches situated beside a very large tree that was perfect for the end-fed wire antenna we brought along.

The branches of the tree couldn’t have been better. I got my arborist’s line up onto my intended branch on the first toss! With that out of the way, the antenna itself was deployed in about 2 minutes. I can’t imagine using a tennis ball or fishing line for this task. Of all of the little things I’ve picked up from the internet, this is definitely a Top 5 item.

There are two things that were really important about this trip out. The first was that the setup was as fast as I’d hoped. This was my dad’s antenna, but it was tuned nearly perfectly for 20m and as such, my tuner, which was still locked into its last deployment, got us to a very nice SWR right away. The IC-705 was up and running and ready for me to connect with the Surface via WiFi in about 2 minutes. In fact, getting the software up with the radio was probably a 3-5 minute task. This is exactly what one would hope for in a portable setup! I also can’t stress enough: No Wires between the computer and the radio. The WiFi solution from ICOM in this radio is phenomenal. No USB cable noise and no extra wires flopping around.

The other important lesson was something I should have thought of reflexively. Our plan was to operate FT8 or FT4. We had WSJT-X up and running quickly. That went really well. The waterfall was full! But nothing was being decoded. After about 5 minutes of puzzling, something did seem off: the transmit progress bar on the WSJT-X UI was out of sync with what we were hearing on the radio. It was just enough that…well… Huh.

The truth as I know it is that being out of sync within a second is tolerable for FT8. But once you get past 2 seconds, life gets rough. And this was rough. We could hear that we were about 5-6 seconds out of sync with the traffic we were seeing. Why was that? Well, I shut down the computer the last time I charged it and I powered it up in the field. It hadn’t been on a network at all in that time and a drift of a few seconds isn’t unlikely.

I have a write up of how to set a computer’s time using the GPS on the IC-705. But between us, ya know what’s faster? Setting your phone up as a hotspot and pointing the computer at it for long enough to get the right time from the cellular network. In a grid-down situation where cellular communications are in a state of failure, this won’t solve the problem, but for a trip to the park where we just wanted to grab some contacts, it was an expedient solution that should come highly recommended.

Another thing to point out here is that we would have stared at the screen of the computer for a lot longer and come no closer to a solution if we hadn’t had the speaker on and up on the radio. Actually hearing the signals brought us to our solution much faster than if we had the speaker off.

With the time set correctly, we were getting completed contacts as far away as UT and TX. We captured 6 contacts from 5 states. We did spend some time trying to get contacts across the pond, but pskreporter.info told me that no one on the other side of the Atlantic was hearing us. That doesn’t mean we didn’t try! Imagine if we’d gotten Belarus with 10w from a hill in Akron. Talk about bragging rights! Oh well. Next time, maybe.

Some other thoughts: the Lightsaver Max from Powerfilm Solar that I added to my toolkit performed flawlessly in its first trip to the field. I used it to get up to 10w out using its 12v output to the IC-705. We were only at the park for about 2 hours, so we didn’t come close to depleting the charge of that battery or the battery on the IC-705. We also still had many hours left on the Surface. I imagine that when hitting the 6 hour mark, I’d have a better idea of actual performance, but that wasn’t the plan for this trip. After I got home, I setup the Lightsaver on my patio table in direct sunlight and it was topped off in about an hour (though I didn’t time it). Definitely pleased with this piece of gear so far. It will likely see some time in my pack this summer as we do more backpacking.

I’m also feeling a lot less harsh about the mAT-705 tuner. I have the v1 tuner so there’s no rechargeable battery or USB-C port on it, but there is an off switch and it does allow for operation when the power is off. That’s a no-brainer of a trade-off for me. I still dread changing the battery, but the tuner itself is performing nicely. And its rugged case makes me feel good about tossing it into my backpack which isn’t always treated with care. There’s a lot less buyer’s remorse with this piece of equipment, but I’m glad they discontinued the version I have so I don’t have to think about recommending it.

The verdict? We had a great time in the field. Each piece of gear we used was up to the task and getting things up and running took a negligible amount of time and effort. I’m sure that there are things that I’ll tweak over time, but it’s hard to imagine a better overall setup. With power, antenna, computer, and radio all covered in a package that probably weighs in at under 10 lbs. I have to say that I’m quite looking forward to more trips to the field this summer. I’m also weighing taking some of this gear on a backpacking trip through western PA (I’d likely forego the computer and stick to SSB). There’s much more to come.

mAT-705 Judged Too Soon?

The post I made about the mAT-705 antenna tuner was a bit rough on the unit in retrospect. I regretted the purchase because the mAT-705+ came out shortly thereafter and answered my issue of having to pull the thing apart in a rather perilous manner to replace the battery by adding in a USB-C rechargeable battery. But what they took away with this design is perhaps the most important piece of my personal puzzle.

They removed the power switch.

Sure, I’ve seen complaints online that people forget to turn it off and then the battery runs out and you have to change it in the field, which again, is perilous. But that power switch is its own kind of superpower. To quote from their product site:

When the frequency does not change, the user can directly turn off the power without affecting the use. In order to save power to the greatest extent, the tuner directly uses switching control power. Does not consume any power when shutting down.

http://www.mat-tuner.com/mAT-705.php

That means that the other day when I was messing around in the yard, that I was right. Once things are tuned, I can turn off the power and, well, it’s good! For digital field operations, this is pretty sweet as anything that reduces power consumption is by it’s very nature a good thing. It’s a little puzzling that they pulled the switch from the design when adding the rechargeable battery, but then again, there’s only so much real estate in that tiny box and the size is part of the attraction. I don’t have the plus model, but I think I might have deeper buyer’s remorse with that one. And this little revelation after reading a post over on OH8STN has me thinking that I might be happy with where I am. After all, the performance of the tuner is great and the size and weight are selling points for me.

This tuner is the essence of ham radio. It’s a compromise. It tunes perfectly and quickly. It works really well with the IC-705. But the compromises are all over the place and are obvious after a little time in the backyard, I think.

More updates as I get more time in the field soon.

Thoughts on FT8 Hate

As a newbie to the world of ham radio, some things have been pretty obvious to me that might be missed by those who are steeped in its traditions. One of those is the love/hate relationship between computers and ham radio operators. I think most who are even mildly interested in keeping a log appreciate the flexibility of many logging programs. A significant number of them integrate with radios out of the box and capture pertinent details for logging. I personally love that my computer grabs a contact and pushes it to LotW without my intervention.

But in my experience, when the talk turns away from the computer as an administrative assistant and toward the digital modes, the tenor changes. For emergency communication? Sure! Great idea! But for a QSO? Well, you get a few side glances. And then FT8 comes up and the hate is suddenly on display.

My stated goal was to avoid using computers with radio. I wanted to have a hobby that didn’t touch computers because I work with them all day. Staring at screens kinda sucks. And I love tweaking knobs and listening carefully (why yes, I did work on synthesizers for my degree! Why do you ask?). I didn’t want another reason to stare at the glow. That was before I understood, through practical experience, the cycles of our solar entity and the flat out bummer of being at the bottom of a solar cycle.

Yeah. It was hard to get out. I was in a noisy city with power lines everywhere and on the middle of a hill in an urban area and…things were not optimal for making contacts over voice. An attic dipole can only do so much at the elevation available to me and that was the state of things. I certainly made the most of VHF/UHF, but I didn’t do much at all with HF.

And then I met FT8.

WSJT-X is a simple enough application, but it is not without subtlety. And what I learned by simply watching for a long time was a great lesson in propagation. Then I did my first CQ. I was received at about -17dB and someone heard me out in WI. It was amazing. I was being heard in Europe and South America! All the way out to Alaska! It was really, really exciting to be able to hit these other stations who might very well have been wrestling with the same kinds of constraints and issues that I faced.

Simply put, it was a lot of fun! And I was on the air! On HF!

Imagine my surprise when I came across an opinion in QST saying that FT8 was going to kill ham radio. What? Another killer of ham radio? Imagine that! And then a cartoon with the figure saying, “Alexa, make me a contact on FT8.” I know that it’s supposed to be silly or even a little funny, but in truth, it felt like someone was trying to take the fun out of my experience.

Of course seasoned operators knew about solar cycles and had plenty of fun back in the day when contacts were easy to come by in any mode. So maybe poking at fun at the new kid was just an easy laugh. But for those of us who got licensed during this time, well, it was a little less funny. I mean, we have FT8 and not much other hope of reaching Asia from Ohio or Pennsylvania. Sure, in 2021 things are looking up. But in 2018? Not so much.

I was contemplating this aloud on mastodon.radio not long ago and someone mentioned another thought about digital modes: no one hears your voice. Let’s set aside CW for a moment simply because a new ham is going to need some time to get into that and for some it might not be an option (but please do remind me that new hams aren’t real because we’re all “NO CODE HAMZ”). But digital modes only take a computer, which most hams have, and a rig. And no one hears your voice. I didn’t quite get why that mattered. And that’s why it matters.

I’m a big guy. People hear my voice and they assume I’m male, white, and probably a host of other things. And they’re likely right. I’ve met a few women who are hams and I don’t know if it’s just me, but always being referred to as “YL” or “XYL” might not be endearing. And being very direct, I’m not sure that I’ve known more than 10 or so hams of color here in the states. It might be that it’s more than mic fright keeping someone away from keying up. I have heard some pretty dreadful stuff on random afternoons ‘roud about 20m on phone.

Those are big assumptions, again, coming from a big, white dude. But I have to allow for that possibility, right? And in those cases, a digital mode takes us to the same place as the internet. Remember: on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog! I would link to the cartoon, but that’s more key clicks than I’m into today.

Under analysis, the hate for FT8 falls apart. Using this mode, an operator can make contact with stations all over the world even in horrible conditions. An operator can also learn a great deal about propagation as patterns emerge over days or weeks. It lends itself quickly to the adoption of things like JS8Call for more free-form QSOs and even other digital modes where communication is more than signal report. Most importantly, someone can have fun with radio and that’s what it’s about, right? It’s a hobby with many facets. Enjoy the ones you do, and avoid the ones you don’t. But there’s no reason to take shots at something that someone else enjoys simply because it’s not for you.

IC-705 WLAN with WSJT-X

With the usual tip of the cap to OH8STN I dug in on the v1.24 firmware of the IC-705 to rid my field setup of yet another cable. I think I’m about as close to field nirvana as I’m going to get. So what did I do and what did I learn?

First off, I have to say that I totally gave up on some things. Being in Ham Radio as a hobbiest with limited time means that I had to re-examine the three legged stool principle. What’s that? Well, there are three legs: Time, Money, and Scope. In this case, my scope is QRP operation on primarily digital modes at the park or while I’m camping. My time is, as I’ve mentioned in the past, very valuable to me and is a fixed amount. I do keep a close eye on my hobby budget and I’m not made of money. That said, if I wanted to keep pushing for a Raspberry Pi based solution, I was going to need a lot more time for fiddling with computers and that leads to less time for operating because I don’t have blocks of time for both. So I followed the lead of the mighty OH8STN and got a Surface Go 2. I will say that the world of Ham Radio operators has embraced the Raspberry Pi and GNU/Linux, but at the end of the day, most of the software that works with minimal time investment lives on Windows. Maybe someday…when I have a bit more time?

So what were the ingredients?

  • IC-705 patched to v1.24 firmware
  • Microsoft Surface Go 2
  • ICOM RS-BA1 Version 2 at the latest version
  • WSJT-X

That’s it. Now, what did I do?

First, I turned on the WLAN feature of the IC-705 and set it to Access Point Mode. This broadcasts an SSID of my choice and has a password requirement for joining that network. I spent a lot of time playing with this feature alone as I was hopeful that I could use the IC-705 as an access point for more than one device. After all, it’s just handing out an address and maybe acting as a low-functioning router given that there is no internet capability in this mode. But sadly, only one device can be attached to the IC-705 at a time based on my experiments. This constraint is not anywhere I could find in the documentation and it might be so simple that it’s not worth noting. But I had some ideas…and they’ll have to wait.

With the Access Point mode engaged, I set up the Connections menu to have MOD as WLAN. This means that audio as well as rig control commands will come and go over Wi-Fi. Easy enough.

IC-705 Menu for setting MOD to WLAN

Then we go over to the computer. I connected the computer to the SSID of the IC-705 under the usual Wi-Fi networking panel. I don’t think that the docs for setting up the connection software are particularly cumbersome. Once the software is installed, the connection utililty is launched and the user is left to fill in the blanks on the device that is the server and in that respect it’s not any more difficult than attaching any other device to a basestation. If you leave all of the defaults alone, the connection should Just Work.

When setting up the connection utility, there is the option of selecting a name for the virtual COM port. I chose COM1 because that’s what the software picked for me and I’m not attached to these kinds of things. With that done, one can launch WSJT-X and set the rig to IC-705, the port to COM1 (or whatever you chose), and then set the audio to the ICOM Virtual Audio port. Not really a huge difference here when compared to setting it up for use over a USB connection, though you do need to change the COM port and the audio port depending on your connection.

BUT!

There’s always a “But”…

Deep in the undocumented bowels of the connection utility, there is a button. Actually, it’s right up front and, in my opinion, poorly defined. It says [MOD]. Push that button. In the resulting dialog box, there is an area called [MOD Select]. It defaults to “Mic – Default Device” when what I really needed was “V Audio – ICOM_VAUDIO-1”. Special thanks to SM0TGU on the IC-705 groups.io list for pointing me in the right direction.

Before I was gifted with this configuration information, I was running WSJT-X and receiving just fine but unable to send audio. That is to say, the rig went to TX but had no sound to send. In fact, the whole reason for this post was to highlight this for later when I inevitably have to rebuild my setup from scratch. Now, with that option selected, everything was a GO!

ICOM Remote Utility Dialog for MOD Select

I made a contact not minutes later with W1LEM on 40m using my attic dipole. Not bad!

WSJT-X QSO with W1LEM

This is all great, but isn’t it just chasing a weird little feature for digital modes?

No. This removes the USB cable from the equasion and with it a lot of potential noise. My Surface isn’t awful, but I’ve used laptops that seemed to be purpose built for throwing off RF and noise. It’s also a neater solution. At this point, the only cables I will have in play will be auxillary power to the IC-705 from my battery box, the ATU, and the ATU control cable. All of those things can sit in a pile (for the most part) or in/on my pack while I use any number of digital modes or even a bluetooth headset for phone contacts from almost anywhere at my operating point or campsite. It’s amazing.

I have another post I’m working up on my antenna setup (a wire in a tree vs. the MP1 Super Antenna). I will also be keeping a better log of work in the field (even if that’s just my backyard) with the IC-705 and this setup.

I hope this is helpful! 73!