Rick Ruhl Leaves HRD

HRD Software released a statement Friday that Co founder Rick Ruhl will be stepping down in the aftermath of the product review / blackballed call sign brouhaha that was waged on the internet and in multiple forums and internet sites over the past month. In the statement Rick announces his retirement as co-founders Dr. Mike Carper and Randy Gawtry acknowledge Rick’s contributions to HRD. A new EULA is also announced that should be released shortly. In what may be a record 169 page forum thread on QRZ, the debate has raged on regarding the events that lead up to Rick’s departure. Somewhere along page 37, HRD published an apology for the incident and vowed to review their customer service policies. An apology was also posted to eham, their twitter feed and their Facebook account. All of this has also been tracked in a huge Reddit thread. Let’s hope this can now be behind them and they can get back to fixing bugs. Ham Radio Deluxe is a package of software products to enhance PC based rig control, logging, digital modes, rotor control, and remote operation of your ham shack.

Ham Radio Deluxe Blackball for Negative Review

How to not endear yourself to your customers 101: Shut off the licensing to your customer when they post a critical review. N2SUB found out the hard way you don’t mess with Ham Radio Deluxe.

After publishing a review on eham about his experience with trying to get things to work with Windows XP, and then with Windows 10, N2SUB had his HRD license revoked, and was told by technical support that his license key had been “blackballed” by the company.

Dr. Michael Carper, WA9PIEA, Owner and partner of HRD, in a very ham-fisted reply, claims that the blackball of the license key was the result of an over-zealous support tech. However, reading his response, it hardly reads like an apology. In fact, it is rather defensive of the incident as a whole where HRD seems to try to explain the behavior as an example of “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”. While that may be the case, the fact it was retaliation for a product review may be in violation of the Consumer Review Fairness Act (HR 5111).

The eham review that sparked the controversy seems to speak fairly well to issues other hams have encountered with the product, including myself. N2SUB does not call anyone names, make any false claims, and is frankly a rather tame expression of his frustration with HRD. For HRD to have retaliated in this manner is bizarre.

In the end, it appears that things have been set right with N2SUB for the time being and his license has been un-blackballed. But the incident in general, and the response from the company, was odd. Let’s hope this behavior does not become a trend.

 

**UPDATE** Here is a link to the thread on QRZ.com

**UPDATE2** Here is some more info on the shenanigans taking place at Ham Radio Deluxe.

HF Signals BITX40

 So this showed up today in my news streams. It is a BITX40 7Mhz QRP SSB transceiver. At 7 watts, it has more than enough power to get on the air with a simple SSB radio. It is a “some assembly required” “kit”. The board is fully assembled, and it comes with connectors and other parts, but there is no housing, or speaker. At $45, it is an interesting thought. Check out their website for more details. http://www.hfsigs.com

Thoughts and Links to a Few Things Discussed on Our Tech Net Tonight

PL on your receiver, or CTCSS:

We all know that you need to transmit a PL tone to unlock a repeater.  That’s how we keep repeaters from keying up unnecessarily.  In the old days, when there weren’t many around, we didn’t use PL at all.  Today, with ham repeater channel pairs all used up in all metro areas, it becomes necessary to place repeaters on the same frequency, and as far apart as geographically as possible, but then separate them further by requiring each to use a different PL tone for access.  That way we get better frequency reuse, where we can place them somewhat closer together, and users can make sure they only bring up their own system, and not the other ham group’s repeater.

On our own receivers, though, there has never been such a rule that we use PL.  The official term for PL on your receiver is CTCSS, which stands for Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System.  It basically means that, when set to this mode, you won’t hear anything from your receiver’s speaker until it hears a specific subaudible PL tone to open it up.

By the way, you would be correct to say that, while your own radio might not need to use it, when seen from the perspective of the repeater, it indeed uses CTCSS on its own receiver before your voice gets repeated.

OK, so besides not hearing other people on your repeater’s channel that might be far away, what other use does CTCSS have.  There are a number of them, but I’m only going to mention one other that you may care about.  If you are walking or driving around, and hearing occasional beeps, squawks, or blasts of white noise from your radio, using CTCSS will prevent random junk from coming out of your speaker.

As an example, in my house, my cable modem emits a digital harmonic that just happens to fall right on 147.33 MHz, the frequency of our two meter repeater.  I can’t monitor that frequency for very long without CTCSS, because the receiver is always opened by the digital noise.  With CTCSS, it’s blissfully quiet until someone keys up the repeater, which transmits a PL tone to my receiver, opening up the speaker.

As a parting note, beware that there are still quite a few ham repeaters that don’t transmit PL.  You’ll just have to check on a case-by-case basis.  To save you a little bit of time, I can assure you that all of the K7DAA, GVARC, and SBCARA repeaters do transmit PL.  On the two K7DAA repeaters, I also perform one other, very minor trick:  I turn off the PL transmit tone about 1-2 seconds before the repeater transmitter drops.  This gives your receiver time to notice that the PL tone is gone, and it again mutes the speaker before the usual squelch crash when the repeater’s transmitter drops off the air.  Nothing is perfect, though.  You’ll still hear a crash after an ID or other very short transmissions, but not during regular conversations.

 

DMR (Digital Mobile Radio):

I’ve bought two of the TYT MD-380 UHF DMR radios for $100 or so on Amazon (a click opens an Amazon search window–multiple vendors)

Hytera is a well-respected name in the DMR two-way radio industry.  They are now marketing to hams through Gigaparts

Hotspots:  Even though most of us in the South County and Hollister areas can use the W6YYY DMR repeater on Crystal Peak, it’s very nice to have your own little DMR system at home or portable in the car.  At present, the two most popular ways to do this are:

  1.  Buy the SharkRF Openspot, a relatively new all-in-one product with no DIY skills needed:  SharkRF website here
  2.  Buy the DVMega board, plug it into either a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, or a BlueDV board (if you use Android), and add software

By the time you are done, any of the above will end up costing you about $200-300, just so you know.  The Shark has the least number of fiddly things you’ll have to do to get it running, but the ham that sells them gets backed up often, so you’ll spend a week or three in back-order status (not a big deal, though).

The BlueDV is a neat unit that you can control with your Android device, but as an Apple guy, I didn’t find that as attractive.

If you do Arduino, make sure you buy the Arduino Due (Due is Italian for Two).  Not just any Arduino will work.

If you go the route I did, with the Raspberry Pi, be sure and get the Pi 3 like I did.  It is faster than the others, and has built-in WiFi.  All of the choices in #2 use the DVMega radio board.  Note that you can buy either a single- or dual-band board.  There is about $40 difference.  I bought the cheaper UHF-only model, since almost all of the DMR activity is on UHF around here.  I also mentioned the DHAP, which is the 3D-printed case that my hotspot rides around in.  It’s perfectly OK to put a DVMega/Pi combo in one of the taller cases designed for the Rasberry Pi (and only $12 or so), but I wanted something more integrated that also included space for batteries.  That’s how I ended up with the Hardened Power Systems DHAP case.  It’s $99, but includes a dual-mode power supply, and space for four 3.7 volt Li-Ion batteries for easy portable use.  I had to wait about 3 weeks for delivery, by the way.  And yes, I got the bright yellow one!

So far, I’m the only one in the area with a DMR Hotspot, but Dan, KJ6LXX says he might go for a Shark, so feel free to ask him for opinions.  If you try to duplicate what I did, I can certainly help you with it.  Since we’re in the very early days of DMR radio, not a huge amount of “…For Dummies” guides are available yet, so don’t feel shy about asking lots of questions, or for help getting something going.

Mel, KK6MES, and Steve, W6MNL, are the two folks whose brains I’ve been able to pick regarding the DMR world, so feel free to hit them up with questions if/when you hear them on the repeater.

As was also mentioned tonight, the listing of DMR radio manufacturers roughly by cost and features as of today:

  1. Motorola–top of the line, expensive, but used gear on eBay.  Watch out for $300+ programming software you must have!
  2. Hytera–like Motorola, the only two that can do roaming across multiple ham repeaters.  Just began marketing to hams.  See Gigaparts above.
  3. Connect Systems, or CSI–very ham-friendly people, very solid gear, American company.
  4. Kenwood–surprise!  Let’s see what Kenwood brings to the market in DMR.  Note the link to VA3XPR.net, a good source of DMR news
  5. TYT or Tytera–I know, they’re Chinese, but several of us really like their MD-380 radio.  UHF-only, excellent tx and rx audio, easy to use.
  6. All the other Chinese vendors, only because I don’t know their product personally.  Wouxon and Alinco also have ham DMR stuff.

As a parting thought, before I buy or build any of the above, I usually have a look at various reviews and comments on all these items on YouTube.

Ham Radio 360 Podcast features local hams

George, KJ6VU, has a great podcast and accompanying web page with some interesting gear and DIY projects going on. They are presently doing a group build of a 1-30 MHz antenna analyzer based on the Arduino platform. Have a look and/or listen at www.hamradio360.com

 

I mentioned this on tonight’s tech net at 9 PM.  While you are perusing that website, have a look around at a few other very interesting things.  For instance, see George’s presentation from this year’s Dayton Hamvention, where he introduced the very handy portable end-fed antennas from his new company called PackTenna.

 

The presentation does a very good job of showing you how to wind some simple baluns (actually they are un-un’s) to get your 50 ohm feedline matched to the very high impedances of either a resonant, end-fed dipole, or a random-length end-fed antenna.  Or…you could buy one ready-made from PackTenna for $89.  If you go to www.packtenna.com and look around, be sure to read the QST magazine “test drive” of his antennas.  Highly recommended.

Amateur Radio Parity Act

amateur-radio-parity-act-logo_13Please take action! Check out ARRL’s Amateur Radio Parity Act action page so you can contact your representatives and let them know you support this legislation!

Time is of the essence!  The Amateur Radio Parity Act, having successfully cleared the US House, now awaits action in the US Senate.  If the bill is not passed before the Senate adjourns for the year in December, it will “die” and we have to begin the entire process in both houses of Congress when the 115th Congress is sworn in come January 2017.

Please use this link to contact your US Senators and request they support the bill when it comes to the Senate floor during the “lame duck” session, between now and mid-December’s adjourment.

Amazon = Radio Shack + Frys + Halted + everyone else

This is probably old news for some of you, but if you miss having Radio Shack around, Amazon is the new Radio Shack, including all the other electronics parts stores rolled into one.

If you are a regular Amazon buyer, you’ve probably noticed that the Chinese “quick and dirty” module and parts suppliers that started out on eBay have all opened stores on Amazon now as well.  Being on Amazon generally means that they have to live up to a higher standard, if that kind of thing kept you from clicking the “Buy it Now!” button on eBay, but I’ve never gotten ripped off by any of them on eBay either.

Anyway, these guys offer just about anything imaginable for the Ham, DIY’er, or even an RF engineer like me.  I’m truly amazed at all the parts and pre-made modules you can buy from them.  If you have an Amazon Prime membership, which I highly recommend, you can buy just about anything and find it on your doorstep a day or two later, often without tax or shipping charges.

The prices are almost always way better than Radio Shack’s ever were.  Here’s just one example:  I needed to buy a 2.1 x 5.5 mm coaxial power plug–the type that you often see on the end of the “wall wart” power supplies.  Looking on Amazon, I had tons of choices, including whether or not I wanted some with wires already soldered on them and ready to go.  I finally chose these:

Coaxial power plugs with pigtails

So, for less than $.60 apiece, I got 10 plugs with wires already attached.  No tax charged, and free two-day shipping.  Can’t beat that!  Stock up for your next project!

 

Category: DIY

DIY Bluetooth Powered Speakers

Bluetooth BoomBox

 

There are dozens of videos on YouTube showing how to build your own Bluetooth speakers or boom boxes.  A number of them have ready-made Bluetooth radios and audio amps in common.  These Bluetooth and audio amp modules are interesting because they are quite cheap (most under $20–see this one on Amazon as an example), fully built and tested, and easy to interface to.  You could probably build one of these without even knowing how to solder!  It’s a simple matter to fit one of these small BT/amp boards into a box with speakers you’d mount yourself, or even retrofitted into an old plastic-fantastic boom box you have laying around, or maybe purchase for next-to-nothing at a Goodwill store.  All you really need is the housing and the pair of speakers.  Everything else can go!

For those of you that are old enough, remember the little transmitters you could buy or build that output a fairly unstable signal somewhere on the 88 to 108 MHz FM broadcast band?  They were often called FM or wireless mikes.  Plug one in, and tune in to it on of your FM radios you happened to have around the house.  They worked sort-of OK, but were never very good, and the 9V battery usually went dead in a few hours’ use.  In the Bay Area, you also had lots of trouble finding a fairly open radio channel to use.  The whole system was, as the British say, kind of fiddly.  It was more of a science experiment than anything else..

With Bluetooth, it’s so much easier, and the sound is just light-years ahead of the old analog FM stuff!  Most of us carry smart phones with Bluetooth built into them already, so it’s almost trivial to play the music or podcasts on your phone through your car stereo system or an inexpensive set of Bluetooth tabletop speakers.  Most of the cheaper BT speakers don’t have such great sound, though.  They tend to be small and tinny-sounding, but that’s not Bluetooth’s fault.

Anyway, here are several links to folks that have built their own Bluetooth speaker systems.  Maybe they’ll inspire you to roll your own:

DIY Bluetooth Speaker

Overnight Sensation Bluetooth Speakers

DIY Bluetooth Speaker: Super Easy

DIY V5.0 Boombox, Bluetooth

DIY How to Make the Best Bluetooth Speaker EVER!

 

Here’s an under-$20 BT dongle that plugs in to any 3.5 mm jack, giving you instant Bluetooth audio for a home stereo system or maybe even a car stereo.  This is sold by Parts Express (good company–lots of speakers and speaker kits as well), but there are many similar and cheaper units on Amazon as well:

Add Bluetooth to amplifiers, receivers, car stereos, computers, iPod docks

 

Baofeng Throws Down With the New UV-50X3

UV-50X3Baofeng announced the new UV-50X3 tri-band mobile this past week. It is a full duplex, dual receive radio, with 500 memories each side. It features 2 meter, .70 meter, and 1.25 meter operations. Full 50 watts on 2M and 440, with 5 watts on 220. Initial reports are positive. Right now, this seems like a legit contender for those looking for a replacement to the FT-8800 that Yaesu has failed to announce a replacement for since discontinuing the radio earlier this year. Another radio that looks interesting is the new Alinco DR-735T/E. Both of these radios fill a gap left by the departure of the FT-8800 and other dual receive mobiles that have been replaced by significantly more expensive counterparts with digital features and many other bells and whistles that many operators do not feel a need for. Initial testing of the UV-50X3 seem to be positive with good audio reports and clean signals after RF analysis. This is not a UV-5R stuffed into a mobile package like the UV-2501 appears to be. Could Baofeng finally be a contender? Waiting for more reviews to arrive to make the call. Stay tuned!

Update: Miklor has a pretty good review (Of course he does!), including RF data. Check it out here: http://www.miklor.com/BT50X3/50X3_SpecAnal.php