Nov 10, 2018

Golf Sportwagen Mobile Setup

It has been a couple years since the EPA v. Volkswagen mess, and now Volkswagen diesel TDI buy-back cars are hitting the market. I have been eagerly anticipating getting another TDI since selling my 2003 Jetta Wagen TDI to my son. With this recent opportunity, I was able to pick up a 2015 Golf Sportwagen SEL TDI with all the goodies and the DSG transmission, almost exactly what I was looking for. I would rather have a manual like the '03 TDI, but I do like the DSG, and it sure is nice to enjoy the 45+ mpg again, especially after driving the Jeep at an average 17.5 mpg!

Moving my mobile rig into the Volkswagen presents a number of issues. Unlike the Jeep which has a multitude of places to mount equipment, the Golf Sportwagen is much more refined and makes efficient use of all available space for VW gadgets and options. Finding even a little real-estate for the FTM-400XDR without blocking the use of VW gadgets, or sitting out of reach up on the dash, is quite a task. After a few trial setups, I have settled on giving up the use of the storage box in front of the shift console, as I think it is the least intrusive, and certainly the safest place for the radio head.

The radio head is attached with some Scotch permanent clear mounting tape (UPC 51131 76272), a thick, conforming, double sided sticky tape that, in spite of it's name, is not permanent in this application. It's like sticky-booger kind of stuff that cleanly rolls off if need be. A small 1/4" x 1" x 8 5/8 piece of oak rests against the sides of the compartment door opening with sticky tape. The radio head is sticky taped on the back to the oak bar and the bottom of the compartment opening. It is a perfect fit for height. The extra room on the right allowed me to add my FT-7900 radio into the mix with no issues.

Fortunately, the Golf Sportwagen has a great place to mount up to a few radio bodies. On the driver's side of the rear cargo area, there is a trap door in the sidewall, located behind the rear wheel well. Remove this trap door and you have a solid, removable mounting platform for radio bodies and accessories. It makes for an out of the way mounting location that is easily accessed for servicing the gear in your mobile "utility room". The bodies remain in the climate controlled area of the car, and are hidden when the rolling cargo cover is pulled to the rear.

Currently I have power supplied by the fused, ignition controlled, power outlet on the passenger side of the rear cargo area. In the near future, I plan on installing a RIGrunner 4005H on the top of the panel above the radio body as an expandable, fused power supply for the FTM-400 and any other rigs I may install. Maybe my MARS modified FT-7900, or a drop-in charger for the FT-70D, or FT-60, or MD-390 portable radios. Even power for the FT-991A or other HF rig on a field day. All of the wiring is temporary until I run everything hidden and protected in the car's wiring harness raceway. The main power supply will be running straight off the battery and back to the RIGrunner 4005H.

The Comet NMO antennas are mounted on two stainless brackets I made and attached to the roof rails. Everything is electrically grounded, so after running the Comet CAA-500 Mark II on the setup, both antennas are about as good as it gets.

Sep 30, 2018

ZUMspot Nextion

Ah, the awesome ZUMspot, a digital voice door open to the world! How fantastic it is to talk all around the world with no static and no noise, like everyone is in the same room! Very cool! Between all the modes of digital voice, I have to say my favorite is YSF C4FM for its exceptional voice quality. My second favorite is DMR, but this requires getting used to the frequent "R2D2" picket fence sound.

The thing about the ZUMspot - and many other hotspots - is there is no display. It has the Pi-Star on-board html software, but to see the station information requires using a second device. But since this technology is fairly new, it is evolving very quickly. This is a good thing.

Riding along with this forward momentum, I'm now exploring computer programming for Raspberry Pi, and designing programs for the Nextion display. As it goes, I now have an awesome 3.2 inch Nextion touch display programmed and connected via USB to my ZUMspot. OMGoodness! It is, yes, AWESOME!

Next? Maybe program links to QRZ on the call sign...

Aug 6, 2018

FT-991A with GPS

I'm not sure why, but the Yaesu FT-991A does not come with a built-in GPS unit. So if you want that data included in digital QSO's, you will need to connect your own external GPS antenna. Now comes the Garmin GPS18x PC, a fully compatible NMEA GPS, WAAS enabled antenna that connects to the FT-991A's GPS/CAT DB9 serial port. Power is supplied by a 12 volt plug into my Yaesu FP-1030A power supply.
Setup is pretty simple with radio menu 028 set to GPS1, the default setting. Plug it in. Turn it on. Wait, slow down. Did you get that?

Now when you key up on a C4FM repeater - as well as with a few other functions - your location/distance is also transmitted/received for the other stations. And if it makes your day, you get the cool little green GPS satellite icon showing up on the FT-991A touchscreen. Nice!


Jul 23, 2018

Here Spot!

As I said previously, my home, mobile, and HT radios are all Yaesu with but one exception, that being a recent purchase of a Tytera MD-390 HT for DMR.

For several years now, I have been gaining interest in VoIP and digital comms in general. A Yaesu HRI-200 WIRES-X node might be pretty cool, but to my understanding, I would have to dedicate a Windows computer and a Yaesu C4FM radio like my FTM-400XDR. That is a bit more investment than I am willing to commit to given I don't even know if I will like it, so I began searching out other VoIP solutions.

After a bit of research, I decided to purchase the ZUMspot RPi kit which includes the ZUMspot-RPi UHF board rev. 0.4, Raspberry Pi Zero Wireless, and a micro SD card programmed with the Pi-Star software image. I also bought a layered case to keep it all safe.

After getting it assembled into the case, and setting up the WiFi and software, my first impression  was, "This thing is awesome!" Talk about easy to set up, this was so quick and simple. And how does it work? Fantastic!

One of the first "rooms" I connected to was the FCS00290, America Link WIRES-X. Immediately I hear clear, crisp, full-quieting digital voice from fellow HAMs in Australia, Japan, England, and Wales. Very cool! The one problem I had, though, was feeling as though I was cheating or something. Having a QSO on the internet just isn't the same as a QSO using only my own equipment, but man, it sure is interesting. Effortless QSOs with people all over the world. Who'd a thought!

And the ZUMspot is smaller than a 1 inch cut-off from a piece of 2x4 stud! Totally awesome!

More later...

Mar 7, 2018


At times the road of life can get a little bumpy. Sometimes it looks like it won't last long. Other times it seems like all that lies ahead are bumps, more bumps, potholes, and well, you get it. How we respond to life - like it or not - will show the depth of our character. 

Seems to me we have three choices. Man-up and move ahead; dig-in and hold for the best opportunity to move ahead; make a calculated, tactical retreat to re-group, reassess, and implement a new strategy to move forward. 

This past weekend I decided to dig-in. A short stop to relieve the pressures of life and take a mental break to reassess my situation and prepare to keep moving forward. As I get settled into my desk chair with a nice cup of coffee, my calendar pops up with "ARRL DX Contest". Perfect.

Not-so-long story shorter, I added a - slow and relaxed - eleven countries to my QSO log. And for the first time, I had a QSO with Hawaii. I also got my log all up to date with my contact info. All said and done, it was a pretty good recovery weekend. OK life, let's see what you got for me this week. I'm ready...

God is good, always. Blessings!

Feb 19, 2018

She's a 10, or 11

The other day, my girlfriend Alexa, you know, the sweet thing that works over there at Amazon, was teasing me by trying to show what she's got for me. Well, it's about all I can do keep myself in line. Just ask my wife. Right?

So there it was, the littlest thing I ever did see. At first I couldn't believe it, but sure enough, there it was. A dinky little 4" x 4" x 1" thing that she said was the real deal. Yes, it was the tiniest, I mean the tiniest 10 meter radio I have ever seen. Wait, what? Yes, a dinky little radio described as a 10-11 meter Ham/CB radio. And now she has my full attention.

The short-story version has me doing some focused web surfing, a lot or research, and in the end finding that several roads all lead to one place. The Albrecht AE-6110, the Anytone Smart, and a few other sticker names are all stuck on the same radio. Prices were as high as $170, and as low as eBay's cool $58, with free shipping. Yes, that's right, short-story. Oh yeah.

So what's the big deal? No big deal! In fact, it's the tiniest deal I have ever seen for what's purported to be a worth-every-dollar-and-then-some transceiver that operates on both the 10 meter Amateur band for those of us with a ticket, and with a tiny mod either way, runs square on the "11 meter" or Citizens Band for those without a ticket. Whaaat? Yup. For $58 bucks, I decided I just had to try this.

During my research, I found several links to making the tiny - go figure - mod. There are some good YouTube videos and at least one or two really good blogs on this. Then I got to thinking about it and surmised that with a little help from a Digi-Key KAS2102ET DIP switch, the radio might be able to do either/or with just a "little" hood-pop, click, click, and she's a 10 or 11.

My research on this little radio also led me down another path. Is there such a thing as an antenna that works on both 10 and 11 meters? In the US, it seems solid options are hard to come by. Since the radio has a number of European frequency settings to choose from, I did my data digging around Old Blighty.

Blimey! What's that, Guv? The prized Les Wallen Modulator antennae. Seems Les and now a few other chaps have been making the Modulator for decades, and you can spot one for only about 20 quid. Crikey! Ends up this config is the cat's pajamas for this sort of thing. Now just get one on the way, and Bob's your uncle! I'll keep you posted.

Jan 9, 2018

Better Man

As we start into 2018, I find myself looking back at 2017 wondering how I ever made it through the year. From being super busy at work all spring and summer, Lyme's disease putting my wife and I down for 2 1/2 months, and dealing with a very significant illness with one of my kids, it seems like just when life is harder than it's ever been, something else happens. I'm sure you all have your own story like this.

Two things personal struggle can precipitate are pause and reflection. This year, I'm going to try to put these two things to work in my life by starting a personal journal. I have never done this before, but I found some good resources to assist me in this. Ends up one of our Founding Fathers wrote personal journals and really put some thought into it. Finding this, I decided to follow his example. Not just jotting down my thoughts, but using the methods of reflection and examination Benjamin Franklin exampled in his 13 virtues journal. So far, it's not yet habitual for me, but it certainly has been helpful.

What would I like to take away from this? I am broken and emotionally damaged from events in my life, and especially from serving others as a good cop. Now that I am done with that season of my life, I need healing and rebuilding in my mind and emotions. For my wife, for my family, and by God's grace, I am going to start this new year working to become a better man.

Check out The Art of Manliness for more info on Benjamin Franklin's 13 Virtues journal.