Solar Cycle Progress For July, 2014

We’ve had the second peak in February and headed down ever since.  Enjoy what’s left.

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Proposed Shack Layout

Ergonomics and fung shui in a shack are important to me but squeezing in all the equipment on one table is a challenge.  Computers are more and more a part of ham radio these days. One screen is not enough. I need lots of computer screen real estate and I also want to reach the knobs at the same time.  I don’t want to give up the knobs.     One program I run is CWSkimmer and it really needs portrait mode to show the whole band at once.  My desk would look something like this:

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I think raising the monitors about 8″ will put them at eye level.  It also gives me room underneath for transceivers.  I like the knobs to be at tabletop level because they are easier to reach and turn for my ancient wrists.  I already have a monitor stand that can hold four monitors.  Since I only need to hold two monitors on the stand I can use an extra bracket for a little shelf for small rigs like the 2m/440 transceiver. I have tried bridges before and they got in the way. They raise the monitors too high. I’ve tried just setting monitors on the table before and the mounts get in the way. Stands open up the table nicely.  Ham shacks need fung shui right? And don’t forget an 807 or two.

Configuring the IC-7600 and WSJT-X for operation using a USB cable

Some of the blogs discuss the challenge of configuring the IC-7600 and WSJT-X for operation using a USB cable.   Audio both ways over the USB is straightforward and PTT over USB is easy if you’re willing to use CAT. Step one is to make sure the PC recognizes the IC-7600 usb hardware in device manager.  It should have loaded the driver automatically but I had to download a driver manually to make it work. I just googled the name in device manager to find it.  http://www.icom.co.jp/world/support/download/firm/IC-7600/usb1_20/

(Note the USB chipset in the IC-7600 is not the TI PCM2900 series with it’s known audio level bug.  The IC-7600 reportedly uses a Silicon Labs CP210x)

PTT using vox does not work with USB because Icom does not feed a decoded audio stream from the USB chip to the vox circuit.  Here are screen snaps of how I did it.

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Change all the “Data” fields to USB on the IC-7600 and the audio is taken care of.

Now for the PTT using CAT. Remember we have to use CAT because VOX is not connected internally by ICOM.

WSJT-X IC-7600 configuration

WSJT-X Setup (Click to enlarge)

Note that CAT stops working when the USB goes into sleep mode.  It wakes back up when the pc and the radio are awake but CAT fails anyway.  Going into WSJT-X setup screen, configuration, and pressing “Test CAT Control” seems to fix the issue til next time.  I tried going into the USB settings on the PC in Device Manager, Power Management and disabling sleep mode.  The failure still happens.   It is an annoyance. I also notice if I change something else on the PC it can make the IC-7600/WSJT-X fail.   Another annoyance.  Some say data over USB is not ready for prime time.  You decide.

Update 11/23/2014:  USB is no longer a problem.  All the symptoms mentioned above have gone away mysteriously and it runs without any hiccups.  I suspect one of the many software updates over the months addressed it.  I don’t know which one.   Here is the version information for when this article was written:

PC:  Windows 8.1

WSJT-X:  v1.4.0-rc2

JTAlert:   2.5.3

Update 7/31/2015:  Several version updates later no new problems have appeared and everything above still applies.  Running the following as of this date:

PC: Windows 10

WSJT-X:   1.5.0

JTAlert:   2.6.9

New Radio

I was lucky enough to acquire a new Icom IC-7600 this week after the passing of my IC-756PRO and one of the things I find amazing so far is the minimum number of cables needed.   A USB cable carries all the audio and control signals between the radio and PC.   No more third party interface needed for data.   The Signalink USB and the Rigblaster PlugNPlay are going on the shelf.  So far I am working plenty of JT65 and JT9 with just the connections you see below.

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My beloved IC-756PRO finally died after constant service since I bought it new in 1999.  I decided not to resuscitate it.  It’s time for a replacement.  I studied the currently available mid-grade transceivers and decided on the IC-7600. I also considered and ruled out the Kenwood TS-590S, Yeasu FT3000, and the Elecraft KX3.  After some research I am led to believe the 7600 does not have the best receiver at resisting desense* but it has the most features.  It’s also the easiest for me to operate given my past love affair with the 756PRO.  What ICOM excels at is features and ergnomics.  This radio is just plain fun to use.  It calls to me to get on the air.  I like the intuitive layout.  For me the 7600 is a winner.

*At this price range the best are the Elecraft K3 and KX3 radios according to Rob Sherwood (sherweng.com). In the owner reviews of the 7600 no one mentioned dynamic range issues or desense.

For best dynamic range at 2KHz,  I already own a K3. I hooked it up for JT65.  Even with all those nice lab measurements it had trouble making JT65 contacts. I didn’t explore why. The K3 will remain on by table as the CW rig.  I also hooked up my Kenwood TS-480 and made almost no contacts.   Strange.  The 7600 is just the opposite.  With all the same software, settings and levels set I started making contacts immediately and saw my call posted on Pskreporter extensively.   Go figure.

I was expecting to use my SGC SG-230 automatic tuner with the 7600 in the future until I read about the IC-AH4.  I like that it’s waterproof and the 230 is not.  I like that it’s matched to the radio.  I am considering adding an IC-AH4 to my collection of tuners.

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Looking very much at home on my operating table already.  I will post separately the configuration I used to get WSJT-X working over the USB cable with no third party interface needed.  The IC-7600 is a worthy replacement and upgrade for the IC-756PRO.

https://w0ql.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/configuring-the-ic-7600-and-wsjt-x-for-operation-using-a-usb-cable/

House Bill would extend “PRB-1” Protection

July 15, 2014 –  H.R.4969 would extend the protections of PRB-1 to cover restrictive covenants.

Current status is the bill was introduced June 25, 2014 and assigned to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Follow the progress by going to congress.gov and entering h.r.4969.

Currently the bill is languishing in committee.  Ham radio operator’s best hope would be for this bill to be assigned to the subcommittee “Communication and Technology” because it is chaired by a ham, W7EQI.    That will never happen in my opinion.  It would be close to a guarantee of being voted out of subcommittee and therefore wouldn’t be dying as expected.  If there is any more action between now and November when this Congress ends (or becomes lame duck), I will be surprised and pleased.

As of August 2, Congress adjourned for summer recess the entire month of August with no action on the bill.

Hams are a very vocal constituency but not very powerful.

August 1, 2015 update  – That Congress ended with the bill never even getting a hearing in committee.  In the new Congress the bill was reintroduced as H.R. 1301.  As of August 1, 2015 it has 93 cosponsors, way more than last Congress.   Further indication of more momentum is the fact that a companion bill has been introduced into the Senate as S. 1685,  Still no hearings scheduled and recess is looming.  Stay tuned.

June, 2014 Update

We’re living in a temporary apartment for the summer while our new house is being built.  Last month we moved out of our home of 20 years you see in all the previous pictures.  Not to be off the air, I’m working what I can with temporary antennas on the screened-in balcony.  Several antennas have been tried and each has it’s strong points and it’s down sides.  I have settled on an AEA Isoloop as you see in these pics. It gets out.  My goal is to work all states on JT65 and I’m up to 34 as of today on 20 meters.

Six meters has been a surprise discovery, having been a ham for 50 years and never had a 6 meters qso until now.  It’s a blast and now I see why they call this the magic band.  I’m using a wire vertical on the screen which you might spot in the picture.  Eight states so far and going strong.   Hope to work you this summer.

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