Monday, 25 January 2016

Installation day update

Ran out of light, ran out of patience, cold causing ****ing cramp in my sodding toes, backache from bending over to reach things in the boot that keep ****ing MOVING for no bloody reason, I sodding swear if I NEVER see another fucking crimp connector in the ****ing dark it'll be too sodding soon.

Things that went right:

  • FINALLY fixed the radio inside the boot, having quick charged another drill battery, and drilled pilot holes for self-tapping screws that fixed the mounting bracket to the seat back.
  • Ran cables from battery to boot.
  • Ran control and speaker cables from head unit position on dash to boot.

  • Positioned extension speaker on top of dash. Connected cable to it.
  • Positioned Head unit bracket, and fixed it in place. Ran cable to it. Head unit fits in allocated slot on mounting bracket, and cable connects properly.
  • Hand mike fits in allocated slot on mounting bracket, and cable to head unit connects properly.
  • Antenna bracket had to be positioned in a different place than intended due to full-width coverage of rear windscreen on hatchback, and curves of Mondeo Mk2 hatchback lid, coupled with the fitting of the 'aerofoil' on the 'ledge' of the hatchback lid. Bracket therefore mounted lower than desired.
  • Coax successfully run from antenna bracket, along inside of hatchback lid, to the radio.
  • Connected control and speaker leads to radio body.

Things that went wrong:

  • Ran out of light
  • Temperature dropped like a stone after dark, causing agonising cramp in my toes.
  • Crimping in the dark is well-night IMPOSSIBLE. Power cable NOT complete.
  • SWR adjusting of antenna not conducted due to the above.
All in all? I'm paying someone to fit a radio to my next bloody car. I now have to get up even  earlier tomorrow, in order to complete the fitting of the radio, before I go to work.

How and why the hell was it easier to fit the 7800 to my last Mondeo?!


The New Radio, part Six (Installation day, interim update #1)

OK, interim installation update #1

Things were going fine...

I'd trimmed, stripped, and crimped 30 amp (yellow) rings to the battery end of the power cable, I'd threaded it carefully (read: Uttering new and interesting profanities as I scraped and crushed my fingers while hauling the bloody cable with all my might through microscopic gaps in the bodywork and interior trim) through to the boot, and then, I tried to drill holes in the boot area for the mounting bracket for the radio.

I decided, since I didn't want to drill though something electrical (cables) or flammable (filler pipe from filling cap to fuel tank - yeah, OK, it's diesel, but why take the chance?), to mount the radio on the back of the rear seats, behind the offside passenger seat; I'm not at all likely to carry passengers in this car in the time I'll be owning it (getting rid of it before the next MoT examination in September), so it makes sense to put holes in an easy-to-get-at place, after all (aids in removal when I get rid of the car, too). This, then, is where I encountered problem the first (and hopefully the last one today)...

Instead of being aluminium, which I could have drilled through dead easy, it appears that some clever bastard over at Ford decided to use an alloy of aluminium and something else, to form a hardened alloy that killed the battery on my Bosch 18 volt variable speed drill stone bloody dead. That's currently (no pun intended) charging up, as I (1) take a much needed break for the small room (it being a tad nippy outside), (2) get more coffee, and (3) type this up.

More to come, watch this space!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The new radio, part five... a little more pre-installation prep work...

Oh, I'm less than impressed, writ large. Tried updating this project over on Google Plus, and found that you cannot add photos to follow-up postings on your own threads. What a bloody cockup.

Anyhow, what I was TRYING to say was this:

I did a little pre work for tomorrows installation, and modded the Brodit mounting bracket that I got for the purpose. Here it is, unmodded, lying on its side...

Now, it's made of a plastic or polymer material, so it's easy enough to drill fixing holes into it, for screws, nut and/or bolts. So I did just that. Here's the modded mounting, standing on its base section...

The head unit mounting from the YSK-8900 separation kit is at the top, the fist microphone clip below; I had an inspiration that both could be mounted on this bracket, so I did just that. Seems to do the job well enough, but the acid test will be once I stick it all in the wagon tomorrow ;)

The new radio, part four... Installation preparation...

OK, yet another geeky update...

Nipped out today to get a couple of much needed tools, and some replacements for some bits and bobs that I somehow mislaid in my home move a year and a bit ago.

Amongst the tools bought, a ratchet crimping tool, and a 'smart' wire stripper.

I also dug out my Stanley bench hobby vice, and a few other bits and bobs from storage.

All will come into play tomorrow, when I install the Yaesu FT-8900R into my car.

I can hear some of you wondering why the stripper and the crimper, when ordinary wire cutters and pliers can do the job? Well, yes, you can do it with those tools, but they're not designed to do the job properly; I've used cheaper non-ratchet crimpers in the past as well, and frankly, like pliers and other non-dedicated tools, they're not really much good for lasting or reliable joints.

In addition, the 'smart' stripper gives me an almost effortless right-first-time result, and I can also tailor the tool to repeatedly produce exactly the same length of bare wire on each cable stripping job, which helps give the job that much more of a professional result at the end.

Now, you CAN make do, sometimes, with tools that weren't designed for the job you use them for, but in tasks that deal with electricity and highly flammable fuels in close proximity, I prefer to use the right tools for the job.

Thus, having the right tools for the job means that you have a better than even chance of doing the job properly (you do, of course, need to know what you're doing), makes the job that much more easy, and often helps make the job take less time as well!

Oh, and before one of my very mechanically competent mates reads this, and comments with something similar to a very wet and loud raspberry, yes, I may not know one end of a spanner from the other, or even vehicle mechanics to anything more than a very basic level, but I DO know radio electronics and electrics (and have the 'sustifikate' to prove it!)

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The new radio search, part three...

Right, saga complete (-ish) :)

Saved myself some money by double checking to see if I had an HF-70cm SWR meter - for those who haven't a clue what that is, a
SWR meter or VSWR (voltage standing wave ratio) meter measures the standing wave ratio in a transmission line. The meter can be used to indicate the degree of mismatch between a transmission line and its load (usually a radio antenna), or evaluate the effectiveness of impedance matching efforts. Put even more simply, it measures how effective a match between the radio and the antenna actually is (OK< that's not an accurate description, but it'll do for here) Anyhow, I found my old meter it in storage, so that's saved me close to a ton (88 quid, to be accurate) :)

I went over to ML&S on Friday, and chatted with one of their lads; after some in-depth discussion, and looking over both radios, I decided the build quality of the Yaesu was MUCH better than the Wouxun, which despite it's weight, felt 'plasticy' to the touch on the head unit; the buttons also seemed wobbly, somehow, as opposed to the Yaesu, whose controls felt like good quality switches and buttons should feel. My worst case scenario on costs was for the Yaesu to reach just shy of six hundred quid, including all bits and bobs. I spent just over four hundred, on this case, although I did forget something, which I'll have to order online: Coax cable and fittings to connect the radio to the antenna. D'OH.

The good news is that as it's the Yaesu, CHIRP will support it, and I don't have to much about with WINE and it's odd ways with USB/COM ports if I don't want to.

One of the main issues for me was the lack of power from the Wouxun radio on 10 metres and 6 metres, compared to the Yaesu FT-8900; the Yaesu is consistent with 50 watts on 10, 6, and 2 metres, and pushes out 35 on 70cm, while the Wouxun seems to offer inconsistent and differing results to every reviewer who measured it, which is a little worrying, when you think about it.

So, given all the information, and having had an opportunity to see the two radios in person (so to speak), I decided to go with a brand I trust, and pay the extra, rather than go for the new kid on the block, and possibly regretting it further down the line.

Now, don't get me wrong. I WOULD have spent even less, had I gone with the Wouxun. However, having compared the two radios practically side by side, and examined the pluses and minuses of both, I'm left with the opinion that the Wouxun, while quite probably being a good entry radio for a newly-licenced Ham, won't last that long, compared to a radio from one of the 'Big Three'. In addition, programming it could be a veritable nightmare if you don't use a computer running some flavour of the Windows Operating System; Yaesu doesn't have that problem, being very well-supported by third -party applications for other operating systems.

So, I got the Yaesu FT-8900R, and had it wide-banded in case I either get an NOV (Notice Of Variation, a way for licenced radio amateurs in the UK to gain access to areas of the radio spectrum not normally permitted to them under the terms and conditions of their normal licence) for 146 MHz, or go abroad with the radio at some point in the future.

Anyhow, I'm at my better half's this weekend, and while we enjoy each others company immensely, there are occasional times we like to do our own things (even while we're in the same room), so I did some work on the memory settings for the new radio earlier.

I used the Chirp CSV generator to compile a list of all amateur radio repeaters (put simply, these are dedicated rebroadcasting stations, to allow mobile and portable stations to increase the range at which they can talk to each other) in the UK, from 10m (28MHz)  through 70cm (432MHz). The list came to 294 or so entries!

However, I found that CHIRP baulked at uploading the list; seems there were problems with the list - three entries were blank for CTCSS tones, and it appears that one repeater in Wales doesn’t use either tone burst OR CTCSS, just, by all appearances, a valid carrier (a radio transmission) is enough to 'open' that particular box! So, I bunged generic tones for the three missing ones into the csv spreadsheet file, and the list uploaded after that; went into CHIRP and fixed the entries - job done!

All I have to do now is order that darned coaxial cable and connectors, and then I'll be able to install the radio in the car - I still can't believe I bloody forgot that oh-so elementary item

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The new radio search, part two...

Well, it's been an interesting couple of weeks. I've been doing some research into radios, and had decided that I wanted a quad-band radio. I also wanted to buy it in person, not online: There are two reasons for this;

  1.  It's my version of shopping therapy and instant shopping gratification.
    (Women do shoes, I do radio kit!)
  2. It ensures that I can ask the questions I want answered at the time, by someone knowledgeable on the topic close to where I live (well, relatively close, the other side of London from me, in this case), and not someone cribbing off a cheat sheet at a customer service desk in, potentially, a far off land. I do prefer to shop for my stuff in this country, where possible. Helps the economy, and so on ;)
So. I'd finally short-listed three radios: The Yaesu FT-8900 and FT-857D radios, and the Wouxun KG-UV950P.  The first and last of these are both quad-band FM radios, able to operate on 10m, 6m, 2m, and 70cm; the FT-857 is an all bands HF (160m) through to VHF and UHF (70cm) (not VHF 4m though), and multi-mode as well.

In addition, the 857 can be operated via a BlueCAT bluetooth adaptor (which I already have for my FT-817 portable all-band, all-mode, low-power radio) to be operated through a couple of apps on my Android phone. However, costs are interesting.

All in, the Wouxun is cheapest, then the 8900, then the 857. So, cost alone suggests that the Wouxun would be ideal for my purposes; the reviews on the radio, especially the one here, suggest it's a good contender for the more expensive Yaesu FT-8900.

The problem was that my preferred option for programming such a radio, CHIRP, does not yet support this radio. Which means that I'd need to use the factory software, and somehow connect via a USB cable to the radio from the Linux computer from within WINE.

This was something of a show-stopper for the Wouxun, as I'd need to be able to program severs dozen - possibly a couple of hundred - memory channels before being able to effectively use the radio; without the ability to connect a computer to the radio, in order to perform this programming, meant that if I got the radio, I'd have to do it manually, though the radio itself, reportedly a saga-like task, and VERY time consuming.

Then I had an OHO moment...

Now, most people will tell you that connecting to a USB port from within WINE is a nightmare of migraine-inducing proportions. Well, I believed them too - until I checked. There's a very helpful article written by G8OGJ, which details how to get USB ports recognised under WINE. You can find the article noted here (it's a PDF download from his site, go there and click on his link!).

It transpires that all I had to do was check which port my FTDI cable was mirrored to: It seems that somehow (and I'm not look a gift-horse in the mouth here) the cable was automatically mapped to a com port under WINE - All I had to do was confirm which COM port it would map to, and I did this with the "ls -al /dev/ttyU*" command from within Terminal - I didn't need to do anything else at all.

For those interested to know, here's the Terminal blurb (non-pertinent details redacted, of course)...

roger@REDACTED:~$ cd ~/.wine/dosdevices
roger@REDACTED:~/.wine/dosdevices$ ls -al
total 8
lrwxrwxrwx 1 roger roger   12 Jan 14 01:55 com1 -> /dev/ttyUSB0
Somehow, and I don't know how or when precisely, I made a permanent mapping to the USB ports as COM1!

I was beginning to grin, here, I have to tell you.

However, there was still one itty-bitty problem.

Given a review I saw on the programming software from Wouxun elsewhere, which said that while it installed ok, it crashed on running under WINE (review), I was under the impression that what I'd read was pretty much the end of the story. This said, and still on a bit of a success high from the USB revelation, I decided to check this out as well.

It turns out that while his version, for 2.5k channel spacing, might be iffy under WINE, the British-specific version, with 5k channel spacing, does not have those issues,

It installed with no problems under WINE, and likewise ran up successfully, albeit with no radio connected).

So, it very much looks like the Wouxun KG-UV950P is back in the running!

I'm planning on visiting ML&S if I have the time tomorrow, so I'll keep you updated :)

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Another set of wheels, so time for another radio...!

About a month before Christmas, and with the acquisition of another car (my Land Rover being off the road due to a problem that I cannot nail down just yet), I decided it was high time I sought a new radio for my Amateur Radio hobby, to replace the one that vanished, along with a previously stolen car of mine. So, I began to save for one, calling it “Roger's Radio Fund”. I reckoned to myself that I should have enough squirrelled away to get a decent radio, within about two to three months (probably four at the outside). So imagine my shock on Christmas day when a certain member of my family gave me a cheque for a decidedly impressive enough amount to complete my funding exercise well ahead of schedule!

So, it was time to decide on WHAT radio to get.

Band-wise, at the very least, it had to be dual band 2m/70cm (VHF and UHV, the two most commonly-used bands for mobile amateur radio communications), although 4m (70 MHz) and/or 6m (50 MHz), and even 10m (28 MHz), would be nice. I'd obviously need a multi-band mobile antenna for it too.

Mode-wise, it would have to have, at the minimum, FM; ideally, it would also have some form of DV (digital voice) mode as well, such as D-Star (Icom's somewhat proprietory implementation of digital communications), System Fusion (Yaesu's somewhat proprietory implementation of digital communications), DMR (Digital Mobile Radio, the actual Open Standard that's ironically beginning to be used in commercial equipment, see, or similar.

My specification also called for the new radio to be able to be programmed using a computer using the Ubuntu Linux OS (I have CHIRP, and can also run some Windows applications under WINE on my laptop). For times when manual operation is required, it had also be able to be relatively intuitive to program, and have an easy to read display (no cluttering and/or small-print!). If it could be operated via bluetooth and/or an Android application as well, so much the better.

For security, it had to have a removable head unit, for when the radio wasn't being used.

Make-wise, I have predominantly used Yaesu in the past, and had an FT-7800 until that car got stolen from my garage one night, dammit (a few years back), so I'm used to their radios; I've also used Icom hand helds (I have an ID-51E, and find it irritatingly complex to use, although that's probably the compact menu system on it), and a very simple Baofeng UV-5R, which I find ridiculously easy to use. The FT-817 is a joy, and is used for QRP when I get the chance (not very often). The 817 can be operated from my Android phone as well, using Repeater Book and other applications via bluetooth, which is nice.

This then raised a very good point: Shold I include DV as a requirement, in the hope that my crystal ball would be right on the money a few years down the line (I already have the Icom ID-51E hand held), or should I save my money, and go analogue, which will still be there down the line?

As mentioned above, already there are three standards being used in DV boxes in the UK: Icom's D-Star, Yaesu's System Fusion, and DMR.

There were similar arguments, I recall, about the pros and cons of the 1750Hz toneburst versus CTCSS/DCS (this concerns an audible tone burst, versus subaudible coded tones, used to access repeaters – these are rebroadcasting stations on the amateur bands), which was eventually settled by the authorities over here making a preference for CTCSS, if I recall correctly. Only took maybe ten years to settle!

Anyhow, with all the choices and options, I came toa relatively easy decision:

Icom were going well, but were frankly too expensive, and as yet, as pointed out above, the DV aspect has not yet really settled down sufficiently well enough to decide on a full-size DV radio at this time. Also, my experience of DV has been less than impressive, with "underwater speech" a regular thing to hear (granted, it's been with my ID-51E hand held, but not any the less valid for that).

Kenwood don't have anything I'd call affordable within my budget with the capabilities I'd like (the dual band TM-G710GE came close, with the APRS/GPS, but was close to half a grand on its own), and most the other contenders don't measure up either.

So currently, and after much deliberation, the shortlist is down to the Yaesu brand. Specifically, the Yaesu FT-8900 Quad Bander (10m/6m/2m/70cm), with the YSK-8900 head separation kit, and a Diamond CR-8900 quad-band antenna. It also has the benefit of being a direct descendant of the FT-7800 that I owned a few years back, which should make operating it relatively straight-forward for me; in addition, being a Yaesu, it'll be very reliable, as are, of course, all the 'big three' makes.

The interesting thing here is that I can probably add APRS/GPS (a way of showing where you are, using GPS units relaying their data over the amateur bands) capability via the data socket in the back of the radio, with the use of a cable and either an Android phone or a Raspberry Pi-type computer later on. I'll have to look into that, but if it's a non-starter, it's not really a big deal, to be honest.

Now, it won't do Digital comms, nor can it be controlled by bluetooth with the Repeater Book package for Android by, but it's a decent compromise between affordability within budget, coverage, and ease of use; I'm going to mull on this a little while longer, but I suspect this is going to be the way I go.

So, in the next couple of weeks tops, I'll be heading off to Martin Lynch & Sons in west London, who I've used many times before, with very satisfying results, to buy the new radio, and then it'll be down to me, to install the stuff in my car!

More updates on this, at that time!