Category Archives for "Software"

If you were thinking of upgrading to Windows 7 for ham radio

You may want to reconsider that notion and just buy another Windows PC. Or a Mac.

I still have an XP laptop and I’d never go through the exceptional hassle of upgrading to the greatness of Windows 7.

Here’s the chart:

Windows 7 upgrade chartHere’s the operative statement to upgrade from XP to Windows 7:

All of the others, denoted by blue boxes, will require what Microsoft calls a “Custom Install,” also known as a “clean install”–a procedure Microsoft doesn’t even refer to as an “upgrade.” For most average, nontechie consumers whose PCs have a single hard disk, that will require a tedious, painful process with the following steps: Temporarily relocating your personal files to an external drive or other computer, wiping your hard drive clean, then installing Windows 7, then moving your personal files back, then re-installing all of your programs from their original disks or download files, then reinstalling all of their updates and patches that may have been issued since the original installation files were released.

Microsoft will provide a free “Easy Transfer” program to assist in this process, but this software won’t transfer your programs, only your personal files and settings.

Not so much. I’ll wait.

The iMac: Will ham radio be the same?

Well, I took the plunge. I bought an iMac. Interestingly, it was over two months ago, but I haven’t gotten around to doing any ham radio stuff with it yet. Too busy getting the rest of it setup for the business (Cube Rules).

I’ve seen a bit of software out there for ham radio on the Mac, but I haven’t tried any of it out just yet. What I have seen looks compatible with my interfaces I already have, including Log of The World — but I haven’t tested any of it yet.

Why Apple?

Windows started to fail with the advent of the iPod. It was the first sense I had that Apple was about cool tools and not about big platforms. Windows was always about platforms, not making things work.

And work it was — I spent a great deal of time getting anti-virus software, cleaning registry software for performance, getting hard drives taken care of and chasing quirky problems that always showed up at the wrong time. Months would go by while searching Google for the Forums where someone finally came up with a solution that really worked. After searching hundreds of entries with the same problem identified as I would have — with no answers.

Usually the answer for a Windows problem was simple: reformat the hard drive. Right. Just what I want to do…

Then came the iPhone. The iPhone made it quite apparent to me that I didn’t need my Windows laptop with me when I went away except for DXpeditions and to access my business sites to enter in articles like this and doing maintenance work (which, of course, the passwords won’t export over to Windows so the K9JY site was down much of my vacation…).

Then, in a ThinkPad (I’ve always had ThinkPads here) that Kate uses started to simply lock up for no reason. First it was once or twice a day. Then it was every hour. Once it hit every hour, we made sure we had everything off the computer (I have always done backups, but when you have time to really look, you discover other stuff that needed backing up!).

Finally, the thing wouldn’t boot up at all. In the meantime, over the month this was happening, we had done everything except reinstall Windows and replace the drive. Well, once you get to that point, you have to seriously reconsider your assumptions about your platform.

And, to be fair, Kate and I decided not to go to Windows with the next computers we would get. As soon as we were ready to replace the laptops — in a couple of years — that would be that. I had no intention of going to Vista or whatever else comes up out of Microsoft. But the laptop giving up the ghost in just over a year means (to me) that everything is coming up crap — sure, Windows computers are cheap, but everything is so fragile in software and hardware components that the probability of failure is extremely high.

So, we walked into the Apple store and got an iMac. Then, two weeks after that, my laptop started having intermittent issues. Here we go. Except I went to the Apple store and bought another iMac for me. And, when we get enough dollars, we are getting two Apple Notebooks and that will be that.

And good riddance to the Windows stuff as well.

My level of stress in administering my business is much less since Apples arrived. I only have to deal with the infrastructure of the web sites and updating that software. Not updating Windows and the five thousand programs you need to really manage Windows. Not chasing after intermittent problems Windows cause that drive you crazy because all you want to do is your work, not administering Windows maintenance and troubleshooting.

Apple, of course, is not perfect. No company or software is. But the approach is quite different with Apple: a bulletproof operating system (yes, I know it isn’t bulletproof, but that is the approach…) with a set of other tools to get stuff done. It has been both more difficult to make the transition to an Apple (why, for example, does Office for Mac not look anything at all like Office 2007 and why doesn’t Microsoft offer Outlook in the package? Just mystifying…) and much easier to transition. It’s easier to transition because once you get the hang of the tools and get over that learning curve, you aren’t worried about whether or not the operating system will fail.

One of the last issues holding me back from making the transition to Apple was the fact that most ham radio software is built to run on Windows. And since I am much associated with WriteLog, even though I didn’t write the program, the whole DXpedition, contesting, writing about WriteLog becomes much more interesting.

But, all of that wasn’t enough to overcome my constant frustration with Windows and all the setup the software requires you to do to get anything to work. And, trust me, I know more about computers than your average bear. For me to get that frustrated tells you a lot about the state of the PC world.

So I’ve jumped the Windows ship and now look to do ham radio with a Mac. Any good suggestions on software to get going? I need it all — contesting, logging, Log of The World, digital modes, controlling a Yaesu FT-1000 PM and more. I’m ready to dive in.

Any suggestions?

Ham Radio and iPhone – HamSat Satellite Tracking

I’ve been surprised that there have not been better ham radio applications for the iPhone. I’ve had some correspondence with a couple of software developers on how they have been working ham radio applications for the iPhone. This is the first one, called HamSat, is offered up by VosWorx.

From the iPhone application store write-up:

HamSat is a visualization/utility application that allows you to see the location of amateur radio satellites tracked by NORAD in real time over the Earth (up to two satellites may be tracked simultaneously).

You can see the Earth rendered either as a 3D globe or a 2D map using photo realistic texture maps for the Earth model. The orientation of the map is easily changed by a simple rotation of the device from portrait (3D) to landscape (2D). In either orientation you can zoom in and out as well as pan using the touch screen. Controls are given to allow you to select: the texture maps used, whether shading is performed, whether to draw political boundaries and if a latitude/longitude grid should be presented.

In addition, the application can calculate the rise/set times for a selected satellite, the Sun or the Moon given either the user entered or network retrieved location.

OK…this is cool. Self-contained – so you don’t need to be connected to a network on your iPhone while you are out camping and looking for satellites. Tracking two satellites…nice.

You think it might work on that small screen? Well, here is a two-dimensional view of satellites and their locations:


Or the really cool 3-D view of the tracking:

HamSat 3-D Image

HamSat 3-D Image

Outside of the cool graphics, there is the mundane information we need to actually hit the satellite with our radio signals. Here is what the rise and set times are for a satellite along with Azimuth and Elevation calculations:

HamSat Satellite Sunrise Sunset Information

HamSat Satellite Sunrise Sunset Information

All of this, of course, uses the standard iPhone interface to set up the satellites you want to track, your location, and when particular satellites will do your personal flyover.

I have not done any satellite work, though I have considered it in some antenna unfriendly neighborhoods. I’d love to hear some reviews on this application as it looks well written and helpful for our ham radio hobby.

h/t Craig, W0VOS

Casual operating with complicated software

Last weekend I made a concerted effort to get on the air. I wanted to get on PSK31 more than I have. I think it is a great mode, fits well with my station situation and the mode can also morph into other, faster, modes like PSK125.

Without naming names, I picked up a software program that had some of these other modes on it as well as the baseline PSK31. Too cool for school, I started off trying to set up the program and that’s where all the trouble began.

Two hours later, after a single QSO, I gave up. Too complicated to set up, too complicated to operate, too many options to learn and too many buttons to digest. Just for a simple QSO.

Now, I have a whole site dedicated to WriteLog, a high-end contesting program written by W5XD (with yet another beta version out to test this weekend, to be released later to owners of the program). I’m into complicated there; it is a contesting program and I like contesting.

But when I want to try a new mode out, I don’t want all the complication. I want simplicity. I’m OK if there is only one way to have a QSO — use this five-step process and deal with it. I’m new at this mode, this software and I just want to get on the air quickly with my limited hobby time and have some fun.

Understandably, the poor programmers this is directed at also have dedicated users who want them to totally complicate their software so they can tweak every experience in a QSO. I get that.

But that forces new users of the software to learn all of the complications. And I don’t want to do that. At least just yet. I’m just trying this new mode out and want to see it play.

Can’t there be a “beginner’s mode” built into software so when we are just starting out we get the simple process, get on the air and get interested in the program?

I’m willing to learn software; I do it all the time. But I’d rather start out simple. Build it that way for me, please.

Scot, K9JY

PS Posting was light this week — it was the day job and rolling out Keeping the Castle, a training program for knowledge workers that teaches how to prepare for a layoff, deal with a layoff, and what to do if there is a layoff and you get to stay. Busy, for sure…

Logbook of The World Updates

Log of The WorldComplaining, apparently, helps.

After several ARRL directors complained about Log of The World issues, some work got done. Here are the improvements to the Log of The World web site and program:

1. An LoTW user’s corner with quick links to log onto your account, save or renew a certificate and address PC failure.

2. The GET STARTED section has been simplified with links for each of the four steps in the certificate process.

3. LoTW instructions are available in nine foreign languages. These links have always been available but now we have moved them up front to the GET STARTED page.  The languages are identified with icons of flags the nation for each language.

4. The GET STARTED (PDF) file has been updated to include new screen shots and refinement of some of the processes.

5. The software download section now consists of only three icons representing the three operating systems for which software is available. (Windows, Mac, Linux)  The user simply selects their operating system and they are redirected to the download only for their system.

6. A new link has been added for QSL Manager, Club Calls and DXpeditions. This link gives details on establishing account for these special operations and includes a section for 1×1 call signs.

7. A new PowerPoint overview is now available from the LoTW site. This PowerPoint has also been added to our multimedia library. The program is an overview of LoTW and what users can expect from the service.  There are screen shots to explain what the people are viewing and a condensed version of the certificate process as well as the award application process.

Through the efforts of Dave Patton and Jon Bloom, we have also added an automated results table on the Logbook Users Home Page that lists members who have achieved the Triple Play Award in numeric order.

The ARRL is committed to improving the hobby through technology. One of the ways to do so is improve the experience for existing hams. These improvements help that experience.

Hat tip: Dick, W9GIG, the Director for the Central Division posting in the Society of Midwest Contesters e-mail reflector.

OK DX RTTY Cabrillo File Fix

In creating a Cabrillo file for the OK DX RTTY contest, some are receiving a “toggle QSL” message dialog box when clicking on the reporting tab and selecting the Cabrillo file option.

There is a workaround published on AA5AU’s RTTY Contesting site. The fix used the export function and ADI files and is not too complicated to work well for most hams.

Hope you had fun in the contest!

iPhone and Ham Radio

The iPhone has taken the “smart phone” market by storm with something like a 25% market share in a minute. Now, my rule on technology is that I’m into purchasing version 1.1 after the bugs have been worked out. (Example: I am on XP, not Vista, and would wait another year before moving there. Except Microsoft just announced Windows 7 or something…).

In any case, after Apple released the iPhone 3G, I got into the act after watching the YL work with hers for about a month. I can tell you that the phone is truly revolutionary from a use perspective. It is simple to use for just about anything. But what really differentiated the 3G for me was the ability, finally, of getting applications from third parties. There are a ton of applications out there.

Except ham radio.

Now, over on the ARRL Web Site, Surfin’ is up with an article called “I Phone, Therefore I Ham,” a good look at the ability of the iPhone to use applications.

WA1LOU gives a good review of what is out there. But the truth is, what is out there is really just an access to another web site to do your stuff. Sure, you can use an “application” to go look up callsigns — but you can use the imbedded browser on the iPhone to do the exact same thing. Sure, you can use the map and GPS function on the iPhone to find QTH’s, but you can do that in native mode as well.

If you carefully look at what are “applications” for ham radio, most of them are simply portals to information you can find on the web already.

But, a suggestion, however, for all those web sites: build your site for mobile use. Most sites will benefit from signing up for a service to do this and almost all services build the site for a mobile phone and specifically for an iPhone.

Want to see? Access on your mobile phone. What you see is targeted for the mobile screen. And if you have a iPhone, you will get an iPhone version. While this site will automatically detect your mobile or iPhone if you access it that way, you can also bookmark the mobile version of as and get your stuff a little bit faster.

It is Sweepstakes this weekend. Go rock on some radio.

Updated Software, Updated Instructions

This past weekend, I had limited time to get on the radio for CQ WW RTTY, one of my favorite contests of the year.

Getting on at sunset, I fired up the radio and amplifier and all was well. Until I sent out some messages via the computer. The PTT line would fire, then drop before the message would end. People could tell that I was calling them, but no one could copy what was sending out.

The trouble ended up being the update to the MicroHam software that I use to run the radio. One USB port for radio control, sending CW, and receiving all done with great hardware and software.

The problem was that I simply updated the software and then went on my merry way months ago. Then, in crunch time, the software didn’t work. When I went in and looked at the configuration, there were more fields then there were before.

Going to the latest install documents, there were several (minor) changes. Once I installed the changes, everything worked fine again.

Except the bands. Where I am, I need the band to be fully open to work stations; I have a hill behind me that blocks all sorts of signals. When I was ready to go back operating, the bands here were dead. And my time was up.

Morale: when you download software, check the updates for new installation instructions. You’ll be glad you did.

The Ionosphere in 4D

The 4D Ionosphere is something that will give you hours of fun:

Today, NASA-funded researchers released to the general public a new "4D" live model of Earth’s ionosphere. Without leaving home, anyone can fly through the layer of ionized gas that encircles Earth at the edge of space itself. All that’s required is a connection to the Internet.

"This is an exciting development," says solar physicist Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington, DC. "The ionosphere is important to pilots, ham radio operators, earth scientists and even soldiers. Using this new 4D tool, they can monitor and study the ionosphere as if they’re actually inside it."

When I first read this, I checked to make sure it wasn’t April 1st and some foolery. But, it’s real. Here’s a screen shot:


The key is that this information is updated every 10 minutes:

"Colors represent electron content," Tobiska explains. "Bright red is high density; that’s where radio communications are restricted to few or no frequencies. Blue denotes low density; no problem there."

Using the intuitive Google Earth interface, users can fly above, around and through these regions getting a true 3D view of the situation. Make that 4D. "The fourth dimension is time. This is a real-time system updated every 10 minutes," he says.

Undoubtedly, this technology will be banned from CW contesting as well…

Scot, K9JY

Grey Lines Make Things Clear

One of the great challenges in contesting is knowing what band to be on at what time to maximize rate and multipliers (which are not necessarily the same band). And the most challenging time to figure out which band to be on is at sunrise and sunset — the greyline.

For example, at sunrise, the greyline heightens propagation on the low bands. Yet, with the sunrise, the higher bands become open as well. From the states, do we stay on 80-meters trying to work the long Asian multipliers? Or do we move up to 20-meters and start to work Europe and get a run frequency? It’s a tough call.

Having the digital time for sunrise and sunset on your computer screen is nice — but totally ineffective in determining where your antennas should be pointing and what band you should be on.

No, what we need is the world at our finger tips: A greyline map.

Here’s a snapshot:


This greyline map updates every five minutes, giving you the world at a glance. Exactly what we need to see to help determine which band we should be on.

Scot, K9JY