Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day on the Battleship Iowa

We had food trucks, radio and TV stations, Talking Heads and Politicians, military vehicles and a fly-by, live music, fun and games for the kiddies, and thousands of people.

But most importanly, we had Vets.

We had Vets from WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and all the other battles, named and un-named, that have happened since December 7th, 1941.

We had Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Enlsted and Officers, and others.....

And we thanked them all.....

And thank you all for your service, wherever, whenever, and whatever it was.

God Bless You all.......

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"The Moving Wall" to be in SoCal Over The Weekend

Specifically, it will be at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.

I'm going to stop by tomorrow and pay my respects.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

300k Page Hits.....

Which aint diddly squat compared to some of you, but then my writing eloquence can't hold a candle to most of you.

I'm just glad I've met everybody here, and we consider ourselves friends.

Friday, May 15, 2015

US Navy/Marine Corps MARS Program To End

"MARS" in this case means "Military Auxiliary Radio System", a radio network of non-military stations (Hams) allowed to communicate on military frequencies.

I was encouraged to join the MARS network, but the requirements for actually operating on-the-air are pretty stringent as to the amount of time required, so I declined the invitation.

MARS station have very unique callsigns, as in the case of the Battleship Iowa, NNN0CIA. No idea how we managed the "CIA" suffix, but it always gets a chuckle when radio people visit the Comm Center on the Iowa.

Besides handling routine traffic such as "Health and Welfare" messages, the MARS network is also a complete stand-alone emergency radio network with direct connection to the US Military. And the MARS stations get activated for the Armed Forces Day Cross-Band Test, which allows Amateur radio operators to communicate directly with the military radio stations by transmitting in the Amateur Radio bands, while listening outside the Amateur bands to the military frequencies.

We also have a MARS digipeater for the MARS packet radio network (yes, packet is still alive!) that get excellent coverage due to the antenna being on the top of the ship which gives an unobstructed radio view of the coast line from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

Back in 2009 the Navy/Marine Corps segment of MARS was almost shut down, but a change from "Affiliated" to "Auxiliary" status saved the money, and the Navy/Marine Corps segment of the program.

Well, this time it's for real. From The ARRL Letter:

US Navy-Marine Corps MARS Program to End:
The US Department of Defense is phasing out the US Navy-Marine Corps Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) program. Its operational mission will transition to the other MARS service branches by the end of September. MARS volunteers are Amateur Radio operators who provide auxiliary or emergency communications to local, national, and international emergency and safety organizations, as an adjunct to normal communications.
"The intent of the transition is to best align the program to support national mission requirements," the announcement said. Chris Jensen of Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic (NCTAMS LANT) told ARRL that the Navy no longer has any service-specific requirements for Navy-Marine Corps MARS and is working within DoD to transition the program into Army and Air Force MARS by September 30.
The announcement encouraged current Navy-Marine Corps MARS members and clubs to submit applications to the US Army MARS or US Air Force MARS programs as soon as possible.
"The US Navy greatly appreciates the thousands of MARS volunteers, past and present, who have been integral to the success of MARS," the announcement concluded.
An individual very familiar with the MARS program said the change was not unexpected and came to a head as the US Strategic Command embraced Army MARS as the lead branch for contingency communication and Air Force MARS began partnering with the US Army program on the operations side.
"The Army and Air Force MARS branches have an obvious role in providing contingency communications for the 50 states," said the individual, who preferred not to be identified by name. "Members are everywhere 'on the ground,' and experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has proven the tactical usefulness of HF on land. There was no similar role for the landlocked membership of Navy-Marine Corps MARS."
He said the MARS program can use all the volunteers it can attract. Read more

The Army and Air Force segments will continue to exist and operate, but "Navy MARS" and "Marine MARS" will be gone forever as of 30 September.

We'll probably be assigned a new callsign for the Iowa, and the digipeater will get reprogrammed, but it's good that at least a portion of MARS will continue to exist.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Battleship Iowa Transmitter Progress **We're Getting There!**

Well, good news!

I took my accurate, calibrated, LP-100A Digital Vector RF Wattmeter in today, and we re-ran the tests on the transmitters today using the LP-100A rather than the built-in panel meters.

We also wanted to make sure each exciter was outputting its 100 milliwatts (+20dBm) of rated power.

First, a little background....

The Iowa originally had 11 transmitters; 10 on shock mounts in a racked arrangement, two high and 5 wide, "odd" units on the top, and the "even" units below them, with #11 sitting by itself at the far left end of the rack mounts.

Numbers 2 and 8 were missing from the ship when she came out of the reserve fleet, leaving us with nine units. Three of the nine were stripped of usable parts in the PA (Power Amplifier) assemblies, leaving us with six more-or-less intact units. We might be able to "mix-and-match"  the three partially stripped ones to make a seventh unit, or just keep them "As Is", or as a possible source of "spares", as we really don't have any reason in the world to have seven functioning transmitters!

Originally the "need" was to have two, fully function transmitters, one being the primary unit, and the other being it's back-up, for "Special Event" use, such as the Military/Amateur Crossband Event, or perhaps Museum Ships Weekend.

As of today, two of the units has an exciter with 100mW (+20dBm) or more (+23dBm) of drive power, and one exciter is low on output, only doing 50 mW (+17dBm).

The two with the "good" exciters easily exceeded 1200 Watts output ( ! ), while the one with the "low" exciter did about 800 Watts output.

This is significantly different that what the panel meters read, by a factor of 2 to 3!

And we have another transmitter that appears to be good, as far as the PA Plate Voltage and Current go, but with a dead exciter that only puts out about .5dBm, a little over a milliwatt.

And it took quite a load off us as to trying to figure out where the "missing" RF Power was going. It wasn't "missing", it just wasn't being measured!

And on the Ham Radio side, I installed, and got operational, a Signalink USB interface box on our Kenwood TS-850 HF radio. As soon as I finish my homebrew soundcard interface, we'll have two stations capable of digital operation on such modes as SSTV, PSK31, RTTY, and other modes.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Panoramic Views of Battleship Iowa Internal Spaces

These have been updated again, with some new areas to virtually explore.

I've seen most of these spaces, and the photography is excellent. These panoramas are actually better than viewing them in person, as the lighting is much better.

It's still quite a thrill to actually visit these spaces, but the panoramas bring out more detail than you'd normally notice, and you can spend as long as you want looking at things.

Battleship Iowa Panoramic Views

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Small Block Chevy Time-Lapse Rebuild

This is pretty neat!

They start with an oily, crusty "lump" of an engine, tear it down, bore, hone, and deck the block, rebuild the rods, put hardened seats in the heads, mill them, and then put it all back together all shiny and pretty.

I've lost count on how many times I've done this with Chevy, Ford, and Pontiac V8s, and an unknown number of 4 and 6 cylinder engines!

Nothing real high-performance, as it started as a 2-bbl, a two-bolt block with a cast crank and pressed-in rocker studs, but I'll bet it purrs like a kitten now....

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sunday, April 26, 2015

HackRF One First Use

Well, I was able to get it running on Windoze using SDR Console V2.2 (the olde V1.5 will NOT work), and SDR#.

No joy with HDSDR, at least not with any of the DLL's I tried, and I'm not about to risk trashing my Windows PC by trying to get GNURadio to run on it.

And I was finally able to get it to run on Gqrx on my Linux box by removing, and then reinstalling, Gqrx. Gqrx uses a block of code (gr-osmosdr) to communicate with the device, and if that code isn't on your machine when you install Gqrx, it won't detect and use it if you install it after Gqrx.

Once I did the "RnR" to Gqrx, the HackRF showed up in the list of drivers to use, and it's running happily right now, and I'm listening to KLOS with it.

The more I delve into the documentation (what there is of it), the more I realize that the only way you'll be able to make this little puppy sit up and shake, and roll over and bark, is to use it with GNURadio. ALL of the "Plug and Play" software out there treats it pretty much the same as a "$10 USB Dongle", and can't take advantage of the flexibility of what GNURadio can do with it.

And it's still just an 8-bit receiver, like a $10 dongle, even though it can generate some RF as a transmitter. Read the link to get a basic understanding of 8, 12, or 16-bits in this context.

Is it worth $300?

That's a tough question to answer. If you want something to plug-and-play, then you're probably better off with a $10 dongle, or one of the better ones available out there. It will plug right in to a Windows or Linux PC, and work with minimum effort.

If you have the time to spend to learn how to set up a GNURadio "definition", AND you understand what you want to do, then this might be for you.

And if you're really serious about a DIY SDR for whatever purpose, you'll find other choices out there that may suit your intended use better.

I haven't decided yet if I'll keep this little guy, or eBay it. I don't really need it for anything I'm doing, but it's a great platform to learn GNURadio on.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

HackRF One Arrived Today

For those that don't know, a HackRF One is a small, Software-Defined Radio, meaning that it lacks most of the hardware in a "regular" Superheterodyne radio (mixers, local oscillators, IF filters, etc), and performs many of the normal radio functions in software, using Digital Signal Processing routines.

I've been on-the-fence about buying one of these since they came out (like I need another SDR in the house!), but a recent post over at The Silicon Graybeard's place pushed me over the edge.

My previous SDR experiments I've posted here have been about using the "$20 USB Dongles" to do things like receive pictures from the APT weather satellites, and the "FUNCube Pro" dongle, which is around $175 these days, but offers vastly superior performance compared to the "pocket change" USB dongles.

The HackRF One module goes for around $300, plus shipping and any accessories you order with it, and it will be interesting to see how the receive section compares to the FUNCube Pro + dongle I have.

One of the more interesting things about the HackRF is that it will also transmit, albeit at very low power levels, typically from +5dBm, about 3.2mW, to +15dBm, about 32mW.

I wasn't making much progress with it until I finally got some "permissions" set right so a normal user could access the USB port it runs on, but now I've done my first "Hello World" with it, using GNURadio Companion, an application that generates Python code to interface to GNU Radio, and run the radio from the flow-chart style elements you enter in to it.

Here's a screenshot of my first experiment:

The FFT Plot is a slice of the local FM radio spectrum out here in La-La Land.

I can't take any credit for coming up with this, as I learned how to do this from watching the excellent tutorials on the HackRF website.

I've always been put off by GNU Radio, as I've only tried to run it from the Command Line, and always had pretty mediocre results. It's one of those programs that's too configurable, and if you don't understand what you're doing, your results will be disappointing.

Enter the GNU Radio Companion, and now that I've viewed a few of the tutorials, one of those little light bulbs went "CLICK!" in my head, and I'll probably be able to make some progress.

For being FOSS, GNU Radio is a full-featured, industrial-strength developer environment for doing SDR experiments with a staggering array of hardware.

And now that I've started learning how to use the GNU Radio Companion, I might make use of GNU Radio in a much more efficient manner.