Digital Station

This is my portable digital radio station, as it is as of Sunday morning. I have Winlink Express, WSJTX, and JS8Call all running the KX3. Image captured with iPhone 13 Pro Max.

A week or so ago, I was motivated to get some of the digital modes operational on my portable station. I did not bring the Digirig Mobile that I specifically purchased for the Elecraft KX2/KX3 radios with me this trip. It was one of several things left behind because I simply did not have enough time to prepare for the trip. So, I did what I always do… I bought another module.

It is not actually a waste because I will put one in each of the KX3 and KX2 go-kits. Then there will not be a (significant) risk of leaving the module behind (again).

The WSJTX software gives access to the FT8 and FT4 modes, which are useful for quick exchanges such as those for a POTA or SOTA activation, or for a contest1. I have yet to use these modes for any of those things. But I do use them when home (in the radio noise) so I can play a little radio. I have yet to use FT8 for a park activation, although that is a thing.

JS8Call is a digital mode based on the FT8 engine, but permits more text than the quick exchange of the latter mode. That is, a full conversation contact is possible along with a lot more capability. This is a potential mode for emergency communications when voice operations are not possible or not advisable. I do use this mode to make contacts when at home and the noise is too much for me to hear other stations.

Both FT8 and JS8 are called weak signal modes because the computational engines are capable of extracting usable signals at the noise floor or below. This is amazing!

I spent a good part of Saturday getting everything running and testing the results. The main issue I encountered was a change in Windows 11 that treated the soundcard (the Digirig) as a DVD device with a data rate of 48KHz. I think the software was expecting a datarate of 44.1KHz (the CD rate).

Once I sorted this problem out, all three programs worked fine. I was able to send and receive email (Winlink) via HF radio. I was able to make contacts using both WSJTX and JS8Call modes. And these tasks were accomplished with the KX3 at five watts output into the Elecraft AX1/AXE antenna. The antenna is a tiny thing that I use when there is no room to deploy something larger. It is truly a compromise antenna. Yet I was able to accomplish my goals in a noisy environment using a compromise antenna and five watts.

The next step is to get the FLDIGI suite working on my Surface Go 2 and with the KX2/KX3 radios. This is another digital software package that has a lot of capability for many modes. It will be useful in an emergency setting when other means of communication (Internet, phones) are unavailable. But, for now, I want to spend time working with JS8 so I can learn its capabilities. I also need practice with Winlink so I can get around in it efficiently.

  • Setup of WSJTX and JS8Call are closely related (use the same engine). Once one of them is working, the odds are that the other will work with only some small adjustments.
  • Use the USB mode and not the DATA mode on the KX2/KX3 radios. That is what works best, at least for me.
  • The bitrate of the soundcard is a big deal. It took some hunting to find it and I did not see it documented anywhere else. The search engines failed me in that regard.
  • Getting VARA HF to work with the soundcard can also be a bit fiddly. The sure to pay attention to the ALC function of the radio (set the audio output of the soundcard or audio input the radio carefully). Any audio compression should be turned off. I suspect the same will be true of other modems (ARDOP, Packet, etc), although I have not tried them (yet).
  • If you find you do not have enough headroom with the audio input or the audio output, an adjustment to the soundcard levels is appropriate through the Windows Sound setup page. (Which one will depend on what version of Windows you are running.)
  • I am generally good at remembering how to do these configurations once I sort the approach out. However, it is probably a good idea to get the setup procedure recorded in one’s radio notes in case adjustments need to be made under the pressure of required operations.

That is my report for this little exercise. In total, I probably spent five or six hours fiddling with the equipment and software and another few hours playing with the radio. It was an intellectually challenging exercise because there are so many moving parts. But, it was still a good day.

I also had the chance to visit with my buddy in Montana, who decided to work on some of this as well.

Maybe some of these notes will help someone else over the hump. I know there was a lot of research to solve simple (ha) problems.

Life is good.

1Yes, some contests permit use of the FT8/FT4 digital modes.

AAR Parks on the Air — K-10387 Joe Crighton SRA

This was my KX2 station setup at K-10387, Joe Crighton State Recreation Area. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.

I was up early Wednesday morning to see Older Son off to work. He leaves the house about 0630h and I like to get up and spend an hour or so with him as he readies himself for the day. I have a cup of coffee and chat with him and DiL. She also gets up to spend time with him before he heads off and her day starts.

DiL runs the Springfield Barnes & Noble, so her hours are variable. She sometimes leaves just after Older Son. And sometimes she leaves much later. That is the nature of retail work. But she always gets up with him and I respect that.

After he leaves I sometimes return to nap for a few more minutes. It all depends on how well I slept the night before. As I age, I find that sometimes I do not sleep as well. I am sure my experience is not unusual.

Fortunately, my work permits me a lot of flexibility. I like that and take advantage of it.

But, Wednesday morning I warmed my cup of coffee and sat at the desk. A hydraulic model I am working on completed late last night and I wanted to review the work and decide what to do next. In reviewing the results, I had good ideas for what needed to be done. So, I got started on it. I worked until my brain rebelled, so I decided it was time to take a break.

DiL had returned to bed, so I got a shower and dressed for my day. That brought Sera out to see what I was doing. I decided I needed a waffle in my face and Sera could tell I was moving with purpose.

So, she went with me. We drove up to the Waffle House and I had sausage and eggs and a pecan waffle. I saved some of my sausage and my hash browns for Sera. She was very excited when I returned to the rig with a treat. 🙂

We drove home and I returned to my hydraulic model. I finished the amendments about noon and started a run. Once the preprocessor finished developing the solution grid and the computational engine started, I knew it would be a few hours before I had any results.

That meant — I had a few hours to play. The weather was gorgeous so I decided to get out and activate a new park. Sera and I headed out, I bought a sandwich and a bottle of water, and we arrived at the park in a few minutes. I got lunch and Sera out and we shared my sandwich and chips. She sniffed around while I deployed an antenna.

It took four or five tries to get a line over a branch. This is a new skill for me and I can tell I need practice judging where to aim to get the line over the branch I want. But the equipment I have is just about right for the light wires that I typically use.

I setup the little Elecraft KX2 with the Tufteln end-fed random wire antenna, connected directly to the radio. I brought a small Bioenno LFP battery, which I connected. I also brought a N3ZN key along as well. It took longer to get the antenna setup than any of the other equipment.

I had a cellular signal, so I was able to spot myself on the POTA website with my iPhone. I also used my iPhone to log contacts with the HAMRS app. I find it easy to log on the iPhone, although I am sometimes a bit fumbly and fat-finger the text.

I have a CQ message stored in the radio, so I set it off to call while I finished getting ready to take calls. And take calls I did. Even running just five watts of power, I worked a pile-up on the 20m band for nearly 45 minutes. When the hole was fished out, I changed to the 17m band, found an open frequency, and started calling. The Reverse Beacon Network picked me up and the POTA scraper respotted my activation at the new frequency.

I worked another pile-up for another half hour or so.

One thing I noticed was that my passband was a little too narrow. I had it set that way during my last activation, probably trying to improve the signal-to-noise ratio or because another operator work working on a nearby frequency. Nonetheless, I could hear a couple of station outside the passband, so I opened it up a bit so I could copy the signals and worked those callers too.

After a couple of hours, I had 32 or 33 contacts in my log, plenty for the activation. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and I still wanted a walk before the day ended. I also needed to attend to the model run and see what needed to be done, if anything.

It did not take long to recover the station and we were off towards home.

When Older Son arrived, we got The Girl out for a good walk. We got home just after the Sun fell below the horizon.

As usual, I learned a few more things.

  • Using an arborist throw kit is a learned skill. I need more practice to get the weight and line over my target branch. It is just practice.
  • I really like the lighter throw weight and the 1.7mm or 1.8mm line that I got on my second buy. The first kit is too heavy for what I do. The lighter kit will be perfect for the light wires I use and is a lot less weight and bulk to carry, should I decide to pack the kit in.
  • I need to work with the Tufteln EFRW antenna more. I could not get a good match on the 30m band (10MHz) with the KX2 and the EFRW antenna connected directly to the radio. This should work. I have an adjustment to make, I think.
  • The little KX2 is a fine radio for this kind of application. It is not as good as the larger KX3, but it is a lot smaller rig.
  • I should have used headphones for the activation. There was enough traffic noise to be distracting and interfere with my ability to copy the calling stations. I do not like to be isolated from the surroundings, however. So I have to get my powered headphones setup to wear while running the radio. They are also active ear protection, so they have microphones to provide situational awareness with control over the balance between communications and environmental sound levels.

All in all, it was a good day. I am grateful. Life is good!

Valves

Valves at Lowes Hardware. Shot with Bronica S2A, Nikkor 75mm f/2.8 at f/4 (or close) on Ilford XP2.

As I write, it is about noon on Wednesday here in Ozark, Missouri. The Sun is shining and the temperature is supposed to get up to about 60ºF this afternoon. I have a modeling running that will need a review in a few hours (it is a long run) so I have some time to do other things.

One of those will be to get The Girl out for a walk. Given that it is sunny, I might actually go somewhere else and make a few photographs. I am still testing some new equipment and learning to use film again.

I am enjoying the Sun and the warmer weather. I heard from the RV shop yesterday and my camper should be done soon, probably by Friday. It will be time to retrieve it and check everything out.

I also want to get in some radio play while the weather is nice. The forecast calls for clouds and rain this weekend, so this seems to be the time to strike. I have my eye on another park that I have not activated and it is not far away. The Girl and I could go over there and play a little.

The image is another from my test roll in the Bronica. I am a civil engineer. Valves are something I know a little about. The cluster of valves (fire outlet I think) caught my eye on a very cloudy, very cold day. So I made the capture.

Now for some outdoor time while the model runs. Life is good.

New Drone for 2024

This is along one of my regular walking paths in Ozark, Missouri. I had the new drone out for a test run and made this capture. I like having the ability to get an aerial image of an area.

Late last year I determined to upgrade my DJI Mini to the newest version, the Mini Pro 4. There are a lot of upgrades to the smallest DJI drone, but the one I wanted the most was an independent controller. I have never liked using my iPhone as the controller and was always concerned I would get a phone call in the middle of a flight. I had no idea what that might do to the controls and I get a log of spam calls.

I had a pretty good chunk of Best Buy store credits from my computer upgrades last year. So I elected to use them against the purchase of the new drone. I got about a ten percent discount as a result.

I like the ability to add aerial shots to my photography and will need to get Part 107 certification so I can legally use my drone on field walks. The imagery will help provide context for the ground shots. This will be a good thing.

The drone flies well, too. Life is good.

Tree in James River — Test Frame Bronica S2A Nikkor-P 75mm f/2.8

Fallen tree on James River. Shot with Bronica S2A and Nikkor-P 75mm f/2.8 at f/4 on Ilford XP2.

I recently acquired a Zenza Bronica S2A medium format camera. It shoots 6x6cm frames and came with a Nikkor-P 75mm f/2.8 lens. I have a lot more to say about the camera but will save it for another day.

I ran a roll of Ilford XP2 through the camera as a test roll before I decided to accept it. The scans came in on Saturday and I started to review them.

What I can say so far is that the camera is working correctly, at least for the test conditions used. The scan of the negative looks good, but a review of the negative with a loupe and good light will tell me more detail than the scan can. Nonetheless, I think this is a keeper.

I am looking forward to spending a lot more time with this camera. I want to shoot some real black and white film, such as Tri-X, FP4+, or HP5+, and then develop the negatives myself. I will figure out the scanning later, but I could use a DSLR to do the scans or dig out my film scanner.

I am grateful. Life is good.

The Complexity of Modern Cameras

The above YouTube video is by a favorite content creator, Alex Kilbee. He is an excellent photographer and a great teacher. It is definitely worth the watch. If you have not watched the video, then I suggest you watch it first. Then the following will make more sense.

Although I think I am a bit older than Kilbee (heh), I grew up with a simple mechanical camera and film. I was young and had little money to spend on equipment, so I made do with what I had… A body, a 50mm lens, and two aftermarket lenses — a 35mm and a 135mm. That was my kit.

I shot semi-pro back in the 90s with a pair of Canon AE-1 bodies and a few lenses. I made a few bucks, helped out some students and bands, and had a blast. Then I moved into the digital realm and got sucked into the quagmire of increasing cost and complexity.

I set my cameras aside nearly 10-years ago and used the iPhone for snapshots. Last year I was so busy I decided to pick up my cameras again so I could do something creative while hiking with my dog. I upgraded the Fuji X-T1 to the X-T5 and was astonished at the increase in quality and complexity, although the latter camera was far more refined than the former. I also picked up a Fuji X100V and found that to be the camera I carried most of the time… because of its simplicity in comparison to the more capable and more complex X-T5.

And therein is the key, I think, to Kilbee’s thesis for the video. I (we) need simplicity to focus on what is important, the image and working the subject. Digital is nice because the incremental cost of shooting is minimal whereas film is a real expense for each frame.

So, now I find myself with three old (but new to me) cameras: A Bronica S2A, a Nikon F2, and a Contax TVS point and shoot. Why? I have two reasons… well, perhaps three reasons.

First, I really like film. I am not shooting for hire or for publication; I am shooting to please myself. It is a creative outlet.

Second, there is a simplicity in the cameras. The point-and-shoot has some settings, but the camera mostly handles everything once you drop the film cassette into it. I find it an easy way of having a film camera handy when something interesting shows up. The Bronica and Nikon are simple, but capable cameras. The Bronica has no metering system — an external meter is required. The Nikon has a metering prism that uses a center-weighted meter. Both require the photographer (me) to set the shutter time and aperture. This is how I learned when I picked up a camera all those decades ago.

Third, I am learning to ignore the complexity of my digital cameras. The X-T5 will do a bagillion things in any number of ways. The X100V will do half a bagillion things in few ways. I find that setting them up for auto-ISO and auto-shutter speed, setting up back-button focus, adding one or two favorite custom settings (film simulations), and then running the aperture to create the depth of field I want is sufficient. I then forget about every other capability of the camera and just run it.

Aside: I run a black diffusion filter on my X100V — the smallest amount of diffusion possible. I find that this filter, coupled with a film simulation (Reggie’s Portra 400 and Tri-X are my favorites), provide a filmic look to the resulting JPGs. The filter also makes the X100V weather resistant, which is a bonus. I also keep the RAW files handy (sometimes) in case I want to experiment with different film simulations after the fact.

Kilbee is absolutely correct about the complexity of modern cameras and how that complexity can interfere with making photographs. It is one reason I am experimenting with film once again. But I also know that I will continue to use my digital cameras because they are capable of great images. I can dumb down the images with appropriate filtration and post processing, although I do not enjoy post processing.

The bottom line is to stop fiddling with all the camera options, pick a few to set up the camera so it works for you, then get busy looking at the world around you and making photographs.

Remainders: 27 January 2024

With the rain comes humidity. When the temperature drops to near the dew point, we get fog. It was a foggy morning. Shot with the iPhone 13 Pro Max and converted to a “film-like” look in SnapSeed.

I was neglectful of the remainders list this week. I looked at many more websites during the week and few more were notable. Alas, I did not capture the URL.

  • pyGeohydro is a QGIS package that provides access to a lot of public data.
  • USGS Stream Mapper is another QGIS package that provides access to the National Hydrography Dataset, a map of many of the streams and rivers here in the United States.
  • If it isn’t clear, I am using QGIS for my mapping needs now. This is an interesting open source project that is quite usable and recommended.
  • A contemporary of Henri Cartier-Bresson was Robert Doisneau, who also made many iconic images.
  • Rick Oleson makes upgraded focusing screens for many medium format and large format cameras. They are called the BrightScreen. This looks really interesting to me.
  • It is no secret that I am a fan of Kodak Tri-X film. I started using Tri-X more than four decades ago. I found another photographer who did a lot of experiments with Tri-X (and Ilford FP4+) varying exposure index and development times to push and pull the film speed. His results are very interesting, as are his developer choices.

The Waffle House

An iconic American diner, the Waffle House. Shot with my Contax TVS on Kodak Gold 200. Exposure details not recorded.
Some decades ago, probably in the 1980s, my practice of long road trips began. They were mostly associated with traveling from where we lived to visit family in Missouri. However, with time (and age), they have morphed into long travels for a variety of reasons. I still visit my family, but have added to that list old friends. Then there are trips added to visit work sites and just because I want to go.

What I found is the Waffle House. I have eaten breakfast at these places all over that part of the country that the franchise serves. The food is decent. It is not bistro-quality, but the short-order kind of food. I really like the waffles, the batter they use is very good. And I found that pecans in my waffle is an added tasty treat.

There is a Waffle House a few miles north from Ozark, Missouri. I am here visiting with my kids and waiting for the camper to be repaired after the blown tire tore s#*$ up. The parts are in and the camper is in the shop. Before the next leg of my trip, it will be good to have the little house restored. I really prefer sleeping in my own space.

My most recent bout of GAS1 I wished I had brought along a couple of my film cameras. Specifically, I had a Nikon FA kit partly assembled and the Pentax 645 kit was mostly assembled. But, I ran out of time to get everything done before I needed to leave. So, I left my film cameras behind.

This I regretted enough that I bought a Contax TVS point-and-shoot. It is a little Vario-Sonar zoom based 35mm camera that is very good. I wanted the T2 version, but the wannabees have driven up the price of the prime-based Contax that they are no longer reasonable. The TVS is a kind of sleeper that makes solid images at some cost to control. It is a point-and-shoot, after all.

I have always wanted a mechanical Nikon camera. When I was a young man, I wanted a Nikon Photomic. It was a tool of the professional, with prices accordingly. I could not afford one. I can now, so a F2AS joined my inventory along with a couple of lenses that are not in my collection.

I have lusted wanted a Hasselblad 500-series camera for a very long time. They were always out of my price range. I might have been able to buy one four- or five-years ago, but then the prices were driven up because of the Hasselblad reputation, I suppose. I have a couple of the V-mount lenses in my collection. I suppose it is now time to sell them… because…

After substantial research, the Bronica S2A is an acceptable substitute for the 500-series Hasselblad. No, it is not the equivalent. But it is close, close enough. It will provide the 6x6cm experience (and challenges). The Nikkor glass for the camera is quite good. It is a mechanical camera that should run the rest of my life. If it needs repair, it is repairable.

One wandered into my life a few days ago. I still need to introduce it. I will.

So, now at the end of my mental wandering, the image can be explained. I was running a test roll through the Contax TVS and saw this scene. So I turned off the flash and made the capture. I love having access to a Waffle House from Ozark. I am often up early, so I can get out for breakfast at a favorite place. It can be an interesting place to make a few captures as well.

I like it. Life is good.

1Gear Acquisition Syndrome, an affliction of lust that many photographers succumb to that causes an increased load and a reduced bank account.

Daily Image: 23 January 2024 — Books

One of the stacks at Dixon Books in Fayetteville, AR. Shot with Fujifilm X100V 23mm f/2 at f/2.8 using the Tri-X film simulation.

My kids and I took a day trip down to Rogers and Fayetteville, Arkansas on Sunday. Despite the cold, winter day (but not as cold as it has been), we had a blast. We visited a Duluth Trading Company bricks and mortar store. There I bought The Girl a jacket for our cold outings (and to keep some of the rain off). I bought myself some gloves as those I have are insufficient when it gets this cold.

We drove into Fayetteville for a Mediterranean meal and the headed downtown to Dixon Books. I love used book stores and carried a camera inside with me.

Dixon Books is one of those rabbit-warren bookstores that has lots (and lots) of bookshelves and stacks of books with small aisles to traverse the stacks. I love it.

I carried the Fujifilm X100V in my hand and made many captures surreptitiously of other wanderers of the stacks. A couple of those might be worth sharing. I also carried the Nikon F2AS, but decided that it is a bit noisy for that environment. A quite rangefinder was just the trick. (The X100V is nearly silent.)

I did not buy any new books, not having a list with me. But, I hope there will be another (perhaps many) trips back to Fayetteville and the next visit I will have a list with me.

After the bookstore, there was coffee at Doomsday Coffee, just a couple of blocks away.

It was a good day. Life is good.