Don’t Ever Do this – Flaming Someone that asks a question to an email reflector

Here is a response I got when I asked a question on a Ham Radio Forum about people’s experience using RF Sensing External Antenna Tuners with a particular radio:

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Let’s play a game: It is called… “Find the Provision.”
Here is how it works:

1 Start a stopwatch.
2 Do a Web search to find a relevant document.
3 Then skim through it to find the salient instruction.
4 Stop the watch when you locate a provision that clearly
answers your question.

OK… I will go first…

I started my watch, opened a browser, and performed web search. My
search string was simply your MFJ model number. I clicked on a direct
link to the MFJ product page, and I downloaded the only available file,
which is the MFJ product manual. In a daring and reckless move, I
skipped the Table of Contents, and went directly to Page 1, and
immediately hit pay dirt… as it says “maximum SWR tuning accuracy
occurs when one uses between 10 and 20 watts.” But wait… not yet
satisfied, I continued to scroll through the document, until I found, on
Page 23, it clearly states: REGARDLESS OF TRANSCEIVER FOLD BACK, ONE
SHOULD ONLY TUNE USING 10 to 20 WATTS… only THEN, did I stop the
watch, and record my time:

First Round Time: 3 Min 12 seconds.

OK… Now it is YOUR TURN!

Let us know your score!

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I won’t put out the guy’s callsign, but I think this is a great example of why I rarely frequent email Forums on the ‘Net. If I had asked how to plug in the radio, I might expect this kind of response. But I was asking about others’ experience, which can not often be found in a manual. In fact if I consult the manual for my Radio, it doubtless tells me not to use any external tuner not made by the manufacturer. By the way – I never actually told this guy what particular Tuner model I was going to be using.

Comparing the ICOM IC-7600 and the Yeasu FTDX-3000

Happy New Year! Here is an email that I sent on the FTDX-3000 reflector. It was in response to questions about the Yeasu FTDX-3000 vs. the ICOM IC-7600. I happen to have both radios and here are my thoughts on a comparison between them. I did not even mention the DSP, as they both do a good job there, but I am still evaluating that on the FTDX-3000. Initial look at its DSP functions have left me very impressed. One other thing I forgot to mention is QSK mode. The FTDX-3000 has a relay you hear on QSK keying. That bugs me. The IC-7600 has very quiet QSK switching, which I prefer. Bottom-line, you can’t go wrong with either of these. Here are my comparisons:

USB interface, especially for digital modes – FTDX3K has better integration. You can have true FSK TX/RX with only the USB cable. Yaesu has done a great job here. The USB driver creates 2 ports: one for normal computer control (CAT) and the other for PTT or CW/FSK keying

Display – IC-7600 is a little bigger and I would say better, but not my much. The band scope display on the IC-7600 is better but Yaesu seems to be making improvements on the FTDX-3K display.

IC-7600 has the dual-watch receiver function. That allows you to listen to two freqs on the same Band at once. I hardly ever use that feature as I prefer an SO2R setup. My “second receiver:” is my second radio

Receivers – I can not recommend one over the other in y limited A/B comparisons. Both seem sensitive. The FTDX-3000 receiver just seems to be very quiet, maybe due to a lower noise floor and/or roofing filter differences.

External IF output – only available on the FTDX-3000. Great foresight by them. If you really want a big, fancy spectral display, you can’t beat that. A good external display is going to be better than any internal display, in my opinion.

Firmware updates – I like to complain about ICOM not doing a firmware upgrade for the IC-7600 in 3 years. Some dismiss this and the radio is great, but nothing is perfect. Yeasu seems to being more proactive about this, but I  must admit the FTDX-3000 is also a newer radio.

External receive accessories – IC7600 has the ability to switch in a receive filter/preamp external to the unit. I have not used that yet, but I really like the feature.
Manuals – I am still reading the Yeasu manual for the first time. The manuals in both radios cover everything, but I think the ICOM manual does a better job of explaining some features. Of course that is why we have this Reflector – great help can be found here.
Rig Tuning – IC-7600 is better here, but this is something that could be improved on the FTDX-3000. The IC-7600 has the ability to do a “normal” Tune cycle where the power is reduced and the Mode changes to CW temporarily. There is also a feature that automatically retunes the antenna tuner if the SWR increases to a certain point. I use my rig remotely and always have this feature enabled.
Mode selection – you will see a lot of complaining that the FTDX-3000 does not have a button for each Mode. I agree that this is a bit annoying, but hardly a deal breaker. The IC-7600 does have individual Mode buttons.
Price – last time I looked, there was still a pretty big difference here, in favor of the FTDX-3000. You can decide about the value comparison.
So if you are agonizing over which one to get, just make a move. You won’t regret it.

FTDX3000 USB Virtual COM Ports

Setup of the USB interface with the FTDX3000 is very simple but it can seem confusing. It is only confusing because people may not be familiar with the idea of a Virtual COM Port, which only exists inside the USB connection between the FTDX3000 and the PC.

Yeasu has done a nice job of implementing the USB interface. It is explained in their USB Driver Instructions.  When you install the driver it creates 2 COM Ports. One is called “Enhanced” and is used for the normal interface for CAT communications with your PC applications. The other “Standard” Port provides an Application Interface for CW keying, PTT, and FSK keying. You can see these COM Ports in the Device Manager and tweak their settings. Here is what mine looks like after installation:

DevMgr_COM_Ports

I use COM6 for the CAT interface and COM5 for CW, PTT, or FSK keying. I use N1MM as my main PC Application, and use the MMTTY RTTY software which is called from N1MM. MMTTY has the ability to interface to the Virtual COM Port using something they call EXTFSK for specifying where to get the FSK binary keying signal.

You can read all about how this works with N1MM, my favorite Contesting software, in the N1MM documentation on RTTY and MMTTY. You can also get more of the details in the MMTTY documentation.

FTDX3000 USB Interface with N1MM+

This note is to help you setup your FTDX3000 with N1MM+ using WINDOWS (I am using WINDOWS 7). I am using only the USB interface. So the Radio has one cable to the PC, the USB cable.

BEFORE YOU CONNECT THE USB CABLE, install the FTDX3000 USB Driver from Yaesu using the instructions that come with the Driver. Once you have done that, you should be able to identify the correct COM port in the WINDOWS Device Manager. Two COM ports are created when the Driver is installed. The one you will use for the PC interface will say “Enhanced.”

The first thing to do is to make sure the “CAT” MENU selections on the FTDX3000 are correct. These should be set as follows:

  1. Menu # 037 CAT SELECT –  USB
  2. Menu # 038 CAt RATE – 38400 bps
  3. Menu # 039 CAT TIMEOUT TIMER – 1000 msec
  4. Menu # 040 CAT RTS – DISABLE

It is very easy to get this setup. It is just a matter of loading the USB Driver, connecting the USB cable, then getting 3 things in sync; N1MM Port settings, FTDX3000 Menu Settings, and PC Port Settings.

I recommend using the suggested settings from N1MM. When N1MM suggests a configuration, it is usually safe to use it. The screenshot below displays the Port settings from the N1MM Config Menu. This is the screen you see when you select SET next to the COM Port which has been connected to the FTDX3000 N1MM Port Setting FTDX3000 This shows the N1MM Port settings (the first 6 boxes). I am using a 2-radio setup, That is why you see “Right Window” and “Radio Nr2″ here. The last thing to do is to get the PC Port settings correct for the COM Port you are using,

The values of all three (CAT MENU settings, N1MM Port settings and PC Port settings) must match for any communication to take place between the PC and the Radio. Finally, go into the Device Manager in the WINDOWS Control Panel and find the COM Port you will be using. It should be under COM and LPT Ports. Right-click “Properties” and you should see a screen like the one below: USB PC Settings FTDX3000

The settings shown should work. Hope this all works out for you. If this helped you, please let me know. If it did not help, please let me know why.

2014 ARRL Sweepsatakes – Much Fun but no Sweeps

I enjoyed working the ARRL Sweepstakes again this year. I operated in both CW and Phone this year. My major effort was in CW, where I managed a personal high score, finally breaking the 100K point barrier. For several years I have been wishing I was involved with a Club that could use my scores to help their totals. After receiving an invitation, I joined the Potomac Valley Radio Club (PVRC) the week before ARRLSS. So I was happy to give them my scores. Hopefully they will be a small contribution to a winning PVRC effort.

In addition to CW, I also put in a reduced-hours effort for Phone. I did enjoy it but it is just not as much fun to operate a modest 100w station in a Phone contest. You get very little traction when trying to “RUN” on the higher Bands unless you have a superior antenna. My wires and one ground-mounted vertical do not stand out against the beams and towers. I ended up with around 340 QSOs.

Once again – no Sweep. In each of the two weekends I ended up with 82 of 83 Sections worked, lacking VE8 in both CW and Phone. In the CW contest, I only heard a VE8 working other stations in S&P Mode. I tried every trick I could think of, but he never found me. I operated with spotting assistance during the Phone weekend. With about 2 hours remaining, I saw a spot for a VE8. I went to find him and encountered an unbelievable pileup. I probably spent close to an hour trying to get through, but finally gave up. In the end, I think I am better off without getting the Sweep using Spotting. I think I want my first Sweep to be Unassisted. I just think the satisfaction will be much greater.

Maybe next year…

ARRL Sweepstakes CW (SSCW) 2014

Here we go again. Time for ARRL Sweepstakes CW (SSCW) 2014. Same plan as always – main objective is to get a personal high score. Secondary objective is to get that elusive “clean sweep” – all US and Canada Sections in one weekend. I have been within 1 or 2 sections the last several years, with Nebraska being the holdout last year. Never even heard it! Yes, really, NEBRASKA. Oh well..

I always like to try a new antenna or 2 for SS. This year I may  need them as the forecast is for high winds nearly all weekend. Got 4 antennas and two radios for the hunt this year.

  1. 80m dipole, ladder line fed, usable on all other HF Bands as a doublet
  2. ZS6BKW oriented E-W
  3. ZS6BKW offset 45 degrees from antenna #2
  4. 6BTV Vertical on a pier over the Chesapeake Bay

The radios are an ICOM IC-7600 and an Elecraft K2

I have no idea how I will do in terms of score, but I know I will have fun. Hopefully one or two of the antennas will still be standing when Sunday night gets here.

“Updgrading WINDOWS XP” – a Walk Through Hell

Well my main Shack PC was running XP.  It is “no longer supported” by Microsoft – which may mean it is finally stable. I was going to just keep it, but the Microsoft-subservient software vendors do not make updates for XP. This is their part in helping M$ to force you to upgrade. So I decided to go ahead and upgrade to WINDOWS 7. What a nightmare. As is typical of WINDOWS, you lose all of your programs when you “upgrade.” That is because they are more concerned about piracy then they are about the convenience of their user. When you are a monopoly, you can do that. We all use WINDOWS because we have to, not because it is the best product in the marketplace, which of course, it is NOT.

So I bought many new components – may as well update the old hardware at the same time. Once I realized I had to get a more powerful power supply, it all seemed to work fairly well. That is if you can call losing all of your programs “Fairly well.” But it worked fairly well considering it is WINDOWS.

“Fairly well”ended when I connected to the Internet. M$ thought it should do 104 updates to WINDOWS that I had just installed – seriously, there are 104 updates that they consider to be important, since my OS DVD arrived on the shelf of MicroCenter – where you should buy all of your PC hardware and software. Once it was nearly finished with the 104 updates, it decided that it did not properly install them. So now the PC is telling me to please wait, while it undoes all of the changes. Wouldn’t you think they would check something before they start the updates, to see if they can properly install them??? I’ll bet this 104-update fun is not over.

I am sure I will get the “upgrade” done eventually. Took me about 8 hours so far. When (if) they get all the updates right, I will spend 6 hours or so reinstalling all of the important Applications. Somewhere, Bill Gates is laughing …. The good news is that I know the LINUX install will only take about an hour, and it will install everything properly.

Mobile Antenna Testing

I was doing some testing of mobile antennas on my F-150 this weekend. I had a mag mount on the roof, and a door-edge mount on the rear door. Both had NMO mounts, so I could easily move antennas between the mounts. Here is what I found:

I had an HT (Kenwood TH-F6A) connected to an antenna switch, connected to the two antennas. I tuned to a weak repeater. I found that I could hear it with the roof-mounted antenna, but not with the door-mounted antenna. I could switch the antennas between the 2 mounts with the same result, so it was the mount or the mount location making the difference.

When I opened the door with the antenna on it (moving the antenna and mount away from the chassis), I suddenly could copy the repeater with either antenna. I had the bottom of the door-mounted antenna about 4 inches below the roof line. moving it up about 2.5 inches made a huge difference in reception.

So if you are using one of the door-edge mounts, you may want to experiment with the placement.

IC-7000 and N1MM Interfacing

Getting prepared for the upcoming VA QSO Party (check it out if you want to work a great contest this March). My plan is to operate mobile this year using an IC-7000. I used it in the past with N1MM just for frequency control. This year I plan to use N1MM again, but adding the full CW/SSB/PTT interface. Stay tuned.

Sweepstakes – Close Again

Well, had a good time in the ARRL CW Sweeps this year. Still no sweep. It was the curse of the ‘askas. With a couple hours to go I needed Alaska and Nebraska. Surprisingly enough, I got Alaska but never heard Nebraska. Oh well. At least I am convinced that poor antennas is no longer the limitation. Biggest issue this year was having to quit several hours early. The good news – the rigs, software, etc. worked flawlessly.

 

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