Transcript - Episode 049 - Glen Popiel - KW5GP
Eric, 4Z1UG: QSO Today Episode 49. Glen Popiel. KW5GP
Eric, 4Z1UG: Welcome to QSO Today podcast. I'm Eric Guth, 4Z1UG, your host.
One of the ways that I find guests for the QSO Today podcast is to go through the amateur radio, books, and magazines looking for authors with a long history in amateur radio. I infer from their contribution of writing to their longtime in the hobby that they have a story and know how to tell it. My guest today is Glen Popiel, KW5GP, and he has both a longtime history and is an author of a ham radio book, and working on another. KW5GP, this is Eric, 4Z1UG.
Glen, KW5GP: Yes, Eric. Nice to meet you.
Can we start at the very beginning of your ham radio story? When and how did it start for you?
Glen, KW5GP: Oh, gosh. It was way back in '72 and '73 when I was still in high school. I had some friends who were hams. Among them, Mike Jaggers at WB4TTZ. Mitch Gil who was in WN4TUT, and later on he actually became NA7US and wrote for popular communications and CQ magazine for a while. Then Grant Newland, WB4SWH. They got me into the hobby. I'll never forget learning those five words a minute was just absolutely incredibly hard.
Eric, 4Z1UG: It was grueling. I think we started about the same time. '72, '73 was when I got my first licenses as well. How did it go when you got from five up?
Glen, KW5GP: Well, it started out the rig I got was actually, I believe, Mitch's rig. It was an HW16 from Heathkit. They had modified it with a 6146 final so it put out a little bit more. Because of the power draw, that thing was chirpy as all get out, even on a crystal, but it worked. Used that as a novice. I think back then you only had two years to upgrade. It was kind of a crunch. Then I had to go to the FCC office and pass that 13 word per minute test. That was just scary, sitting in that desk doing the code.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How did you do that? How'd you get from five to 13? Did you use records or did you do it on the air?
Glen, KW5GP: I just did it all on the air. Back then, we didn't have the Internet and stuff. I was just a kid so I couldn't afford a whole lot so I did the HW16 with CW only. I just banged a lot of contacts out.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You had, according to your QRZ page; you actually had an antenna on the roof?
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah. Back then I had a two element beam for HF and once I got my general I built myself a home brew two meter antenna, about a 13 element beam for the roof on that. My parents just absolutely loved me with all that stuff on the roof.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I remember those days. What was your call sign back then?
Glen, KW5GP: Back then it was WN4FTX. Then it moved up to WA4FTX when I got the General in '74.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Then you upgraded shortly after that?
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, a little while later I decided I wanted to play with slow scan. I went ahead and got the advanced. Did a little bit of slow scan. I pretty much ended up on two meter RTTY with the local gang that we had there. Of course I still had the HW16.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you still have the HW16?
Glen, KW5GP: No, no. When I moved out, I had to sell it all and pretty much start it over. Ended up building an HW101 and used that when I lived in my apartment. Couldn't have antennas there so I'd run out with a piece of coax that had alligator clips on it and I'd clamp on to the rain gutter of the apartment complex and throw a little wire through the trees for a long wire and that was pretty much all I had for an antenna for four or five years.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How did that work for you?
Glen, KW5GP: About as good as loading a rain gutter can work. It was living proof that just about any piece of wire or metal can be used as an antenna.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well the HW16 was my novice rig as well. I'd love to have another one.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah. It was really a nice radio for that era and for what it was. The other option at that time really was the more expensive rigs or you had to go with the Heathkit DX60 and then, believe it was the R10. I'm not sure.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Right.
Glen, KW5GP: I like that having all in one and the break in keying on the HW16 was really nice.
Eric, 4Z1UG: In those days, as I remember, CW transceivers for novices were kind of limited.
Glen, KW5GP: Right.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Right.
Glen, KW5GP: It was pretty much Heathkit or else.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That was it. Exactly right. How did ham radio play a part in the choices that you made for your education and career?
Glen, KW5GP: I got really lucky. The high school that I went to was brand new and they had built electronics class in it. I actually wanted to go into the mechanics class because my dad was a mechanic with Eastern Airlines. I had a whole family history of airline folks and mechanics so I wanted to do that. That class was full. My dad suggested that I try the electronics class and that was just love at first sight. Once I got into the electronics, it was obvious that's what I was made to do. Of course that's where I met Mike and Mitch and Grant and those folks.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I see. The ham radio came from the electronics class.
Glen, KW5GP: Yes, it did.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Cool. Then what'd you do after that?
Glen, KW5GP: Well, as part of that, I ended up with a PDP8 mini-computer in my bedroom with a model 35 teletype and the whole nine yards and learned how to program with that. Ended up going to work for General Dynamics on one of their projects in West Palm Beach with the south Florida water management district. That was VHF and microwave data telemetry. We had little remote units all the way out in the middle of the Everglades that they could use to control the flood gates and receive rainfall levels and water levels and all of that, report it all the way back to the computers at West Palm Beach.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You're doing this in high school?
Glen, KW5GP: I had just graduated high school. My first real job was as an announcer/technician/DJ for a local Spanish radio station while I was still in high school.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Are you a Spanish speaker?
Glen, KW5GP: No. This makes it even more fun. It was a Spanish radio station and I was a kid. I had a third class radio telephone license so that's what they were looking for. They just needed someone to do the meter readings and whatnot. As turnover happened they taught me how to run the board and all that stuff and ended up running the whole Saturday night to Sunday morning shift because nobody else wanted to work midnight to 6 a.m. They gave it to the kid.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you remember the call sign?
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, it was WCMQ.
Eric, 4Z1UG: WCMQ
Glen, KW5GP: It was AM and FM. Then in the morning when the DJs came in, they split the AM and FM off. Yeah, it was a whopping one and a half kilowatts on AM.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Can we go back a little bit to the PDP8? How'd you end up with a PDP8?
Glen, KW5GP: Mike, I believe, Mike Jaggers, worked at Cultural Electronics. They had actually scrapped a couple of them. We picked them up, or Mike got them. We fixed them up. Grant actually designed a floppy drive interface for it. Here I am 1973 with an eight inch floppy drive computer in my bedroom.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Amazing.
Glen, KW5GP: I'd just learned how to program in, what was it, focal and basic and some of the language, assembler of course.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Right, Fortran maybe?
Glen, KW5GP: It didn't have Fortran or anything like that on it. This was a bare bones mini-computer. I want to say it was a 12 or a 14 bit mini-computer. It actually had magnetic core memory.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That would be amazing just to look at it.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, I mean, it was in a 19 inch rack in my bedroom. My parents just absolutely loved me. Then I added to all of that. I had a model 15 teletype because we had a local two meter RTTY group. Now, I've got this huge model 15 and you know how noisy those things were. I had one of those on my bedroom starting and running all hours of the day and night. I think my parents were really happy when I moved out.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, mine were. Absolutely. I had a bedroom full of equipment. It looks like my office does right now. They were afraid to walk in.
Glen, KW5GP: Right. Because of all that, the electronics I had, I was actually hired by General Dynamics on the water management project. I was originally brought on board as just a computer operator and then they found out that I knew electronics so they paired me up with their electrical design engineer, or electronic design engineer on the project. These were pre-microprocessor era CMOS chip based telemetry units. They were incredible for that era. They had a 40 bit data word with all sorts of error correction and everything. This is all hardware based, no processors.
Eric, 4Z1UG: This is like 4000 based CMOS?
Glen, KW5GP: Correct. Hundreds of them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, that sounds really great. That was like a SCADA system? Early SCADA?
Glen, KW5GP: I'm not familiar with what SCADA is. Basically right. This was all prototypes. It used VHF radios on the devices out in the middle of the field. Some of the requirements were that these devices had to run on their own power, solar or whatever, for up to two weeks. Again, we're talking 1970's era with those CMOS chips so that was some kind of tough stuff. Then those VHF units would communicate with a microwave tower. That would then feed the data back to us in West Palm. We had an HP mini-computer front-ending it and then the back end was a pair of Control Data 3000 computers which was roughly the same computer used to put man on the moon. It had a whopping 16k of RAM in it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow, what a great project. You can combine radio and computers at the same time.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, and that's kind of where I got my start because I was one of the lucky ones that I could understand hardware and software. I didn't know I was that rare at the time, but usually you just had the hardware guys and the software guys and the two really couldn't speak the same language. Control data saw what I was doing on their stuff. Because I actually was at that time I did program in Fortran in their mainframe. They saw what I could do. They snatched me up. I spent seven or more years out at Pratt Whitney, the aircraft government products, with the Control Data. That was pure data telemetry, data acquisition on research for jet engines for the military.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you operate the HW101 during that period?
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah I actually built the HW101 when I was working with Control Data and was living in an apartment. Back then the Pratt Whitney facility was like 30 miles from town. Everybody tried to live as close as they could. I wasn't ready to buy a house yet so I just lived in the apartment complex closest to the facility.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What rig do you operate now?
Glen, KW5GP: Depends on the day of the week. At home, I've got a Yaesu FT950 and an FT847. I use the 950 for HF and 6. I've got the 847 because I want to play some with the satellites. Of course two meter and 440 side band. I also have a Ten Tec Rebel, which is the open source Arduino based transceiver that Ten Tec makes. I've done a lot of development work with it. Then for portable events like field day and things like that, I've got a go box that has an FT850, I'm sorry and FT450, and an FT8800. We use the 450 for field day and things like that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Now, you say you operate side band on VHF and UHF. I don't think I've had very many guests that are operating side band up there. Why do you do it and what do you think of it?
Glen, KW5GP: I haven't done a whole lot of it. The gang here is into it. Being in the central part of the country any time you've got any kind of a band opening, you can get pretty much anywhere. I really like six meters for that more so than the two meter and 440. I really got the two meter and 440 to play with satellites.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you have an Arduino control tracking system?
Glen, KW5GP: Yes I do. In the book actually I designed a controller for the Yaesu 5400 and 5500 series controllers. It interfaces into ham radio deluxe or sat pc 32 and can actually automatically track the satellites for me.
Eric, 4Z1UG: We'll get into Arduino in a little bit. I just had a couple more questions coming from your background. Glen, there's a period of time where you got out of ham radio and it appears that you pursued another interest. Why'd you get out of ham radio and what was the interest you pursued?
Glen, KW5GP: Part of it was because I had moved from West Palm to Birmingham. We had a local group there, very good group. Met one of the locals in town who was showing a cat called a Maine coon cat. For those not familiar with a Maine coon cat, picture a three quarter size bobcat with a big, big bushy squirrel's tail; a nice wonderful, long coat that doesn't mat; and then give it the temperament of a marshmallow. These things are wonderful, wonderful cats. That was Dave Boswell, N4APY. He introduced me to Barbara Ray, the woman who bred the cats, and I had to have one. Next thing you know, I'm showing cats. It was kind of an either/or. You can only afford one or the other. It's kind of funny because one show that we were going to, I was currently reviewing the ICOM 735 for computer trader magazine. Here I am, we have 17 cats, 5 people, and an ICOM 735 running mobile to a cat show down in Louisiana. The cats really took up most of my time. I got very lucky and had a gorgeous female that was doing really, really well.
We actually took a best in show at Madison Square Garden. I showed her for a number of years. Then I showed a few more cats after that. I ended up moving to Memphis. When I moved to Memphis, again, I'm back in apartments and I pretty much got rid of all the ham radio gear and I was down to an HT and that was when everything was changing over to tone control and I didn't have a tone board. I just pretty much fell out of the hobby and had to focus on work for a few years.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That's interesting. Did you breed cats as well?
Glen, KW5GP: No, no. I just strictly showed them. I leave the breeding to other folks. Now, it's interesting because I did become a judge for the household pet division and as part of that they want you to learn genetics and everything. I'm actually fairly well-versed in feline genetics at the same time. It's just ... It was one of those ... It was a whole new area to learn and explore and play in. That caught my interest for a few years.
Eric, 4Z1UG: If you're comparing cats to ham radio, I guess, ham radio won out in the end.
Glen, KW5GP: Oh, yeah. Actually the Arduino in ham radio won out in the end.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You mentioned that you installed the first pack of digipeater in Alabama on Mt. Cheaha?
Glen, KW5GP: Mt. Cheaha.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Cheaha. Linking Birmingham to Atlanta, Georgia. For new hams, what is a digipeater and how is it used?
Glen, KW5GP: Back then packet radio was the big thing. Predominately it was on two meters. You can still catch some today on two meters and on HF now and then. Predominately, that was the method of digital communication back then. It was all VHF so you were pretty much short range but what a digipeater was, this was pretty much true of all of the packet radio stations or what they call nodes. You could relay your traffic through them and go up to 14 hops I think or thereabouts. You could go 14, 15, whatever VHF hops away. With the Mt. Cheaha, we had nobody between Birmingham and Atlanta, plus you had the mountain ridge there. What we did is we actually put a GLBPK1, which is a little small terminal node controller that's also known as a TNC up on top of the mountain and that would allow us and Birmingham to link to the packet users over in Atlanta.
Eric, 4Z1UG: There were a number of companies that made TNCs in those days.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, I actually built or played with just about every TNC out there at that time. I was, at that point, I was writing with Chet Lambert who did the computer trader magazine for a number of years and I did a lot of the packet radio reviews and built a lot of the projects for him back in, oh that was mid-80s I'd say.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I used KPC3s for my project. I think that was a very popular TNC at the time.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, you had the Kantronics and then you had the Heathkit was a very popular one and that ended up being the AEAPK232.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Oh, really. That's interesting to know.
Glen, KW5GP: Actually the PK232 is still in production today. They've added PSK and some of the other digital mode capabilities to it. I actually still have one of those upstairs.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Let's skip ahead a little bit. What's an Arduino computer?
Glen, KW5GP: An Arduino is roughly a credit card sized micro-controller depending on where you get them. It's all open source which is really neat because its hardware and software open source. You can basically copy the design and produce your own version. You can get the boards for roughly ten dollars off of eBay. Basically, what it gives you is 13, 14 digital IO pins and six analog input pins. It's all programmed in a very simplified version of C++ so it's real easy to program and because it's all open source everybody is sharing all their information and libraries which is packages of software to interface to all the various components. Because of the price and the ease of use, you can pretty much take any control and acquisition scenario and use it with an Arduino.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How much memory is on board?
Glen, KW5GP: Let's see. You've caught me blank. Shoot.
Eric, 4Z1UG: It's not really that important. I guess what's important is if there's enough memory on board to do just about any project that you're doing right?
Glen, KW5GP: Not really. You've got to really scrimp it down and it's kind of like programming with the stuff of old. It's very, very tiny.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Very basic.
Glen, KW5GP: Very basic, yeah. You're talking a 16 megahertz processor. You've got 32k of flash memory, and that's permanent memory for your programming. You've got a whopping 2k of static RAM and then 1k of double-e prom that you can burn and save parameters and stuff into. It's kind of taking you back to the 70's and 80's era micro-controllers in terms of memory and everything. The difference is you've got this really nice development environment that you run on a PC, Mac, or a Linux machine and then you actually upload that into the Arduino. It's much easier to program. The programming language is a whole lot better than doing it with assembler. It's just really easy to program and use.
Eric, 4Z1UG: It teaches you to be a pretty efficient programmer.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Given the limited amount of space that you have.
Glen, KW5GP: Right, you got to shoehorn stuff in so you've got to really plan out the program and fit it in, but you would be amazed at some of the things that you can fit in here. For example, a full-blown electronic keyer or like they say the antenna rotator controllers. I've even built, basically, a JT65 radio using one.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Let's roll back slightly. How and when did you become interested in the Arduino for ham radio projects?
Glen, KW5GP: That would be about the same time that I got back into ham radio, back in about 2010, 2011. One of my coworkers decided he wanted to get his ham license. He mentioned that to me and I'm like oh that'd be cool and then I found out that I didn't have to do that 20 word a minute code for the extra and I said that's even better. The two of us studied together, him for his technician and me for the extra. After I got that we took the test out at one of the local field day sites. Actually right in the middle of the Mississippi Delta with the club down there. After that I'm like, I remember field day, this is fun. I looked for a field day group a little closer and another friend at work mentioned the Olive Branch Club. I showed up at one of their field days and met the folks there and one of the folks I met was Tim Bilingsley, KD5CKP, and he was big into the Arduino then. He introduced it to me and that was just pretty much the end of it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You were hooked on an Arduino.
Glen, KW5GP: Oh, absolutely. I had always played with micro-controllers. I was published way, way, way back in 1979 for playing with the RCA1802 micro-processor which was almost at the micro-controller level back then. I've always done little things with the micro-controllers, played a little bit with the Z80 and stuff like that in the mid-80's. I've always had this data acquisition control and micro-controller mindset. The Arduino just fit that perfectly. I just started running and building little projects. It was really kind of funny that one of the first major projects that I built was a lightning detector. That came out of ... Our club has breakfast meetings every Saturday morning and we just kick around and talk and whatnot over breakfast. I brought up the topic of wouldn't it be nice to have a lightning detector that would disconnect your antennas when you're off on the road somewhere.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yes, absolutely.
Glen, KW5GP: The discussion came back, yeah that would be great, but those things are expensive. Of course I came home and started googling on the Internet. Lo and behold I found a lightning detection module based on the Advanced Microsystem's AS3935 chip. Found out that they had a module for it, for the Arduino, for only $20. This will detect lightning out to 40 kilometers. 21, 22 miles.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow.
Glen, KW5GP: It will also give you the strength of the storm et cetera. I started wiring that up. The thing only took eight wires and had it working shortly thereafter. That's turned out to be just an absolutely fun project. It does exactly what I thought I wanted it to do.
Eric, 4Z1UG: As a project engine for amateur radio, why use an Arduino and not like a pic, or some other micro-computer board?
Glen, KW5GP: Well the one thing is, the Arduino with its open source approach, there's a lot of people sharing software and everything else whereas the Pic is more of a proprietary. It's a little, I don't know. The smaller pics are more limited. The interesting thing is actually as you move up in the Arduino chain, the chip kit Uno which is built by a company called Digilent which is the core of the Ten Tec Rebel is actually a pic that is set to emulate the Arduino.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That's interesting. I see that the Elecraft radios for example, use the pic microprocessors in them. Maybe that was just the designer's processor of choice.
Glen, KW5GP: I think it's mainly; the pic is smaller, a little more efficient. It's tiny. It's cheap. Again, it's proprietary code so you don't have to share anything and worry about other people stealing your stuff.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Go ahead.
Glen, KW5GP: For me the Arduino with its open source, the simplicity, and the fact that everybody's playing with it. There's just so many easy to hook up modules and what they call shields which are devices that actually stack on to the Arduino’s headers. It's real easy just to build stuff out very quickly.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What are the best resources for getting into Arduino, in addition to your book?
Glen, KW5GP: Sparkfun, electronics at sparkfun.com. Adafruit at adafruit.com. Of course the Arduino website itself at Arduino.cc. All of these places have some really good tutorials; some good introductory kits to get you started and play with it. I bought myself just a general purpose kit that had servos and motors and LEDs and all that stuff. Real quickly, I graduated up and said I want to build ham projects. I want to automate my shack with this stuff and that's where it went from there.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Does the Arduino have a communications bus? Can you chain a bunch of them together?
Glen, KW5GP: Theoretically yes. Every Arduino has a communication. The older ones it's, oh gosh, it's more of a TTL serial, but the newer ones are strictly USB. They connect to your computer for all the programming and whatnot. They also have Ethernet modules, wireless module. They have a little XB wireless module. You can actually tie everything together over Ethernet. Matter of fact, one of my friends here in town took the lightning detector and added Ethernet to it and now he actually has it on his website with the lightning detector data showing.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That's very cool. What do you think is the coolest project that you've ever made for ham radio?
Glen, KW5GP: Oh, that would have to be the project that I just built for the Dayton QRP ARCI four days in May. It is a little cube radio. It's actually mounted inside a baseball display trophy case. It is a little QRP transceiver that natively transmits JT65 even though it's a CW only rig. It's basically a little QRP JT65 transceiver in that little cube.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow. You can put that ... It has the Ethernet port so you can actually connect to the Internet as well and report back on ... Oh well I'm thinking of WSPR.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah you're thinking of WSPR. No, this one, it talks. You have a little tablet or something that it uses USB. You would actually run a variation of Joe, no W6CQZ. Joe Large. We use a version of Joe Large's software that he custom wrote for the Ten Tec Rebel when we put JT65 on the Rebel. Which again is a CW only transceiver. You have to really step back and think of it. How can you make a CW rig do a 65 tone transmission? Joe wrote that software for the Rebel and then I turned around and adapted it for this little cube radio. It uses a very inexpensive QRP transceiver board that I got off of eBay. It's like $12 now. It's a 40 meter CW crystal bound transceiver and I replaced the crystal with one of the DDS, direct digital frequency synthesis modules in the Arduino and it controls the frequency and all the tones for JT65. The PC software is also the key component for that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow. You're making all kinds of fireworks go off in my brain.
Glen, KW5GP: Well, the cool thing is it only costs $65 to build that little radio.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You use a tablet PC to actually run it?
Glen, KW5GP: That's correct. You have the windows software running on the tablet and it actually does all of the JT65 processing. What it does is in the link to the rig and the Arduino in the rig, it is actually sending control codes telling the rig what frequency to shift to, to send the appropriate tone. Basically what we're doing is frequency shift keying for the 65 tones. We're just rapidly shifting the CW rig's transmit frequency using the DDS chip.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, that's amazingly cool. I can also think of other ways to use a DDS trip that's Arduino controlled as well. I'm inspired.
Glen, KW5GP: I also built a CW only rig based on that same module and same design that's just a little 40 meter QRP transceiver. Does the whole band. It's got built in RIT and dual speed tuning and a built in keyer. Everything fits in that same 4x4 inch cube. That costs about $15 to build.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you mind sending me the link to that little transceiver or the transmitter on eBay?
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, sure well.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That you're using? Okay. Yeah, very cool. I'll put it on the shown up page. Because I'm sure that the listeners that are interested in low cost QRP rigs would be interested in something like this.
Glen, KW5GP: One of the things you can do to find it real quick is on eBay look for the frog sounds or the frogs calling QRP boards. Be prepared because the instructions that come with those are just, they are your classic examples of translation errors.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Like the Baofeng user manual.
Glen, KW5GP: It makes the Baofeng look like a work of English magic. Some of the verbiage is just fabulous and you just end up dying laughing. The good news is, the boards themselves are so clearly marked and so clearly well-laid out, you really don't need the instructions. You can solder them up in about a day.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Can you speak about your book? The ARRL Arduino for ham radio. We've kind of danced around it, but I think you should tell us about what your approach is for those of us that are newbies to the Arduino, how we would take your book and use it.
Glen, KW5GP: This is kind of an interesting story. If you want to, I can give you some background on it first.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Absolutely.
Glen, KW5GP: What happened again with Tim Billingsley and stuff. I got into the Arduino and really loved it and started building some of these projects. Tim apparently was on the mailing list for the Huntsville ham fest and he got an email asking if he knew of anybody that would do an Arduino for them. He forwarded that email to me and naturally I replied. That's where I met Craig Barrens, NM4T, who has become my partner in crime for a lot of the things we've done with the ARRL and at the centennial and all of the forums I've done. He does the QRP forums over there in Huntsville. I put together the Arduino forum and it was a full packed house. Apparently, ARRL at that time was looking for somebody to write their second Arduino book. As you may know, they have the Arduino and Pic-axe book. The book was predominately Pick-axe and very little Arduino. Plus with all of the other Arduino books out there, and I'm talking the non-ham Arduino books.
I kept looking at them and saying, I can do better There's no foundational. It's usually, here's the Arduino, here's its history, now let's go build some stuff and blink some lights. I'm the kind of person, and I guess it's because of my background. I'm a firm believer in a solid foundation. If you understand how to do something, you can build from there relatively easily. Somewhere along the line ARRL heard of me and sent me an email asking if I'd be interested in writing the book. It was totally downhill from there. One of the major criteria that they were looking for was they wanted fresh and unique projects. They didn't want the old stuff rehashed. They wanted new, unique, thought provoking kind of projects.
Eric, 4Z1UG: They didn't want another keyer.
Glen, KW5GP: They didn't want, although there is one in the book. They wanted things like the lightning detector, the rotor controllers, and projects of that nature.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Which by the way are very, very expensive, if you buy a rotator controller is like $400-900.
Glen, KW5GP: Right. The one in the book for the CDE high gain, the ham 2, ham 3, series rotors, only cost about $20. You integrate it in to the existing controller and it just fits right in. Some of the other things I did was a talking GPS and a UTC grid square calculator. Again, a GPS is going to cost you a bunch of money and now you got to translate it to a grid square. Think of yourself as a VHF Rover in a contest. It would be real handy to just have something that would tell you your grid square in the UTC time while you're driving on down the road. I also did a CW decoder and a PS2 CW keyboard which is actually one of the first Arduino projects I did along with the same time at the lightning detector because CW keying is ... Let's just say it leaves a lot to be desired. It's a whole lot easier for me to type and have it send the CW form. That was one of the projects of the book.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Does it allow you to weight the dits and the das in order to make it sound like it's your own fist.
Glen, KW5GP: You could. Again, I use a generic library for CW that somebody else had already built. That's the cool thing about this. You're given all of the source codes so you can modify it and in mine I gave it 5 memories that you can program so that you could use it as a contest keyer just by hitting the F1 key et cetera and having it do whatever you need it to do. The speed is variable. Just things you would want in a keyer.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That's very cool, because it's a unique device, not another program on your PC.
Glen, KW5GP: It's all standalone. With the Arduino, once you program it, you can unplug the USB and it's a standalone micro controller. Everything's kept in that flash memory. That was the task that was given to me when we started working on the book, was it fresh and unique. I came up with, I originally had 20 but one of the projects, I just couldn't seem to make it work. I had just had issues. My brain wasn't on the right page or something. I ended up with 19 pages in the book. We really, I wanted to catch the Arduino wave because it was becoming very popular. They had had such a difficult time finding somebody willing to do an Arduino only book that they were about a year or so behind. I really, it was a night and day thing for several months to get it put together. The end result is what we've got and I really, really love it. It came out beautiful.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What kind of of blow-us-away project do you have in the works right now.
Glen, KW5GP: The JT65 radio is going to be in a second, Arduino book which I will be working on, probably starting beginning next year. Of course that little CW rig. I'm really starting to do a lot more with the external DDC and the little transceiver I just ordered a transceiver board today. That's on a super het design. I think I paid like $60 for that board. One of the things I really would like to do is to build some kind of standalone digital radio where all you do is plug in the keyboard and something like Firidian and then you have a local display. You can actually take this little radio out in the middle of nowhere and all you need is a little roll up keyboard and it has a display built in and all you do is hook up an antenna and you're on the air running QRP RTTY.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Amazing idea. What is the QRP skunk works?
Glen, KW5GP: The QRP skunk works is a group that came out of our working with the Ten Tec Rebel. This is another one of those unique events. At the Huntsville ham-fest, when the Ten Tec Rebel came out, we actually had our hands on the first Ten Tec Rebel that left the plant. I revealed it there during my Arduino forum and we talked about it. At the end of the forum, one of the questions was asked, can it do JT65. I just thought for a second and said well, you know, if you can shift the transmit frequency fast enough and clean enough, you can do FSK so theoretically yes you can do JT65. Craig Barrens, who's a former engineer, he actually worked at the real skunk works. He's a retired project manager, electrical engineer, and a just really good guy all the way around. He started grabbing up people and said you know what let's do this. He got myself, Rob, and I'll remember Rob's call in a minute. He got Joe Large involved. Joe just jumped on it. Shortly thereafter, we actually had working prototype code on the Rebel to transmit JT65.
Before long we had the full up JT65 program running on the Rebel. In about, I'd say eight weeks from start to finish. The skunk works is a name that we gave ourselves basically because of the things we do are similar to the real skunk works. We come up and we do things that haven't been done before. We look for the kind of ideas like with the lightning detector where people say it can't be done or there's no way you can do it at that price or whatever. That's a challenge to us. Craig will usually find the right people and we put something together.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You like to solve the difficult problems.
Glen, KW5GP: Right. To me, saying it can't be done is just more like a slap in the face than a challenge.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Can we back up a little bit on the Ten Tec because those of us that have been around a while, and maybe even those of us who have been around more recently, are familiar with the traditional Ten Tec transceivers. What is a Ten Tec Rebel and why is it different from the other Ten Tec transceivers in the Ten Tec line?
Glen, KW5GP: The Ten Tec Rebel is a CW only 20 and 40 meter QRP rig, but it's all open source. It actually uses the chip kit Uno, which is an Arduino power derivative to drive the whole radio. Because of that, all of the code is available. The entire source code to run the radio is posted on the Ten Tec site. They have encouraged people to modify the radio and to enhance it and to play with it. It's almost like a hybrid Heathkit of days of old. Except the vast majority of it is now software driven. Because you have the flexibility of the Arduino chip set or the style, you can add modules. For example, on my Rebel, the Rebel doesn't have a display. I added a little organic LED display to it. I've added band switching to it. I actually had a speech module on it that would tell you what band and frequency you're on. I added a GPS module again so it would do my grid square for me. That's the beauty of the Ten Tec Rebel in that it's all open source. Ten Tec wants you to play with it. Think of it as a radio development platform.
It's a fun little HF development platform.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Does the Rebel have the connectors for the shields?
Glen, KW5GP: Yes, it does.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Oh, wow.
Glen, KW5GP: The board is actually plugged in to the bottom of the main RF board. All of the Arduino headers are brought out the top so you can plug in any shield or any additions you want just like a standard Arduino shield.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Wow. For those people that are thinking that you have to buy a $10,000 new Yaesu or a Kenwood station when you get into amateur radio, you can start with Arduinos and the Ten Tec Rebel and build yourself a pretty sophisticated system for under $1,000 bucks.
Glen, KW5GP: Easily. They just released the patriot which is the next model up. They've added side band to the patriot. Now you've got the same basic concept except now you've got the side band and of course direct access to the digital modes just like any other rig through the side band audio. Now you've got a 20 and 40 meter side band development platform that you can play with.
Eric, 4Z1UG: If you're willing to roll your own toroid and change some capacitor values, can you actually put that transceiver on another band?
Glen, KW5GP: I wouldn't think that would be a problem at all. It's just a matter of reprogramming the DDS control. Because again they use a DDS chip in there as well to control the frequencies. I don't see any reason why you can't put it anywhere 80 through even up to 6 meters. All you have to do is change the toroids on the output and whatnot.
Eric, 4Z1UG: We've had a lot of interest in mesh networking since my interview with Jim Kinter, K5KTF in episode 18. You mentioned that you're doing mesh networking. What are you doing now?
Glen, KW5GP: Right now, I am in the process of writing a mesh networking book for ARRL. The biggest question with mesh is not so much getting it working. There are multiple technologies out there. Of course you've to get the BBHN ham net type. Now you've got the AREDN group. There's also a group called Ham Wham that is doing a variation on the technology that's more of a ...
Eric, 4Z1UG: Up in Seattle, right? Up in the Washington area?
Glen, KW5GP: Correct. There's also a major development group here in the Memphis area. I've got direct access to those guys and that's more of a traditional Internet hub and spoke style network whereas the BBHN ham net stuff is more like the old days of packet where anybody you can hear, you can relay traffic through. ARRL asked me to write a book on that. We waited a little bit for the technology to stabilize down a little bit. The biggest question that comes out of the mesh networking though is not so much the putting the equipment up, but it's what do you do with it after you've got it on the air. Because it's not like a traditional radio where you just hook an antenna up to it and start talking. This is more of a wireless version of the Internet that can or doesn't necessarily have to have connection to the Internet, but you want to offer similar services such as web servers, file servers, chat servers, voice over IP servers. The title of the book is currently High Speed Multimedia for Ham Radio.
It's going to cover pretty much what do you do with the mesh networking once you've got it all connected. Although we do plan to cover the basic connection of the hardware, programming the links or the ubiquity or whatever we're using and getting that on the air. The focus is going to be on what do you do with it and then also one of the things that's lacking for the ham radio side is the application of the TCPIP protocols and addressing and routing and how to understand all that. There's nothing out there for ham radio as it would apply to a mesh networking so that's going to be a large portion of the book as well.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, I really liked mesh networking as a way to use those frequencies that we have up there. The two gig, three gig, five gig range. Just to plant our flag and let the world know we're still there.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah, I was actually surprised. This is something I got into about a year and half, two years ago. I was actually surprised to find out that we had a frequency allocation right in the middle of the 80211 BNG 2.4 gig wireless range. I think it's channel 1, 2, and 3 are actually ham bands and we can run regular ham power in those bands.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, pretty amazing.
Glen, KW5GP: Although I'm not sure any one of us running a kilowatt at 2.4 gig unless we're going to barbecuing stuff at the same time. I thought it was very interesting that we had allocations in that area and that's when I heard they were taking the Linksys routers, the old WRT54s that you can get for a dime a dozen and reprogramming them for mesh. I think that's one of the nicer things about mesh. It doesn't cost a whole lot to get set up and get into.
Eric, 4Z1UG: No, it doesn't really. Even the Ubiquity stuff is very inexpensive. It was one of the things I learned from Jim, K5KTF, when we had him on the show was that when you're doing a point to point link over a community you'd think that with all the Wi-Fi activity, and I have to tell you here in Israel everybody has the same Wi-Fi router in their house. If you're running wide bands then you really only have three channels. You think there's going to be all kinds of interference but if you change the polarization on the antenna that you're using for a link you can cut a link that's 20 miles long on two gigs with little interference and some pretty good throughput. It's quite interesting what you can do with mesh networking. I'm looking forward to your book.
Glen, KW5GP: Thank you. That's next up on the plate. Then they want a second Arduino book after that. Turns out the first one's been so successful that they ... They couldn't decide which one they wanted first but they really needed a mesh networking book and they decided that I was the only one crazy enough, or whatnot, willing to write it so I got tagged with the assignment. It's going to be a lot of fun.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, Glen you're not complaining are you?
Glen, KW5GP: No. No. Before everybody starts thinking I'm doing this for the money. There is no money in writing books. However, I will say that this book, the Arduino book is pretty much paying for my hobby and toys. That's about it. Maybe a cheeseburger now and then. There is no money. I write this mainly because I enjoy sharing what I know, the things that I have done, and the mentoring. That's really what I get out of it, is for people to come up and say, hey I built your lightning detector and I modified it and I did this and that. It's just amazing to me to see what other people do with my basic ideas. That's where I get my kicks.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That sounds great. If you were looking back on your younger ham radio self, is there anything that you would have done differently or something in the hobby that you would have pursued?
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah. I would have told myself to stay in the hobby in the '80s and '90s and play more with the digital modes and get more in on the ground floor of some of these things as they came to be rather than having to play catch-up now.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I think I would give myself the same advice.
Glen, KW5GP: I'm kind of making up for it in a way. One of the things we've done is we've partnered up with a local library here. We do Arduino and robotics classes.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Really.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah we're putting one together right now. We're getting the kids involved in the electronics. Because again back to my issue with foundation. I'm not seeing the kids getting the foundation of electronics and ham radio and things of that until much later in life if at all. What I'm seeing is they run straight to the iPhone, the Androids, and start texting and they got all these cool apps and stuff, but they really don't understand the electronics and the designs behind that. My biggest worry in that area is if you look around, most of the people doing some of these cool designs and things we're getting old. There are not a lot of younger folks coming in with that design knowledge and concept and willing to solder and do that kind of stuff.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well certainly ham radio, it seems to me to play a very important role to preparing the next generation for being able to handle the technology that is being manufactured. Even if it continues at the level, if the state of the art stayed where it's at, we still need people in the future that know how to fix it or even how it works. I'm with you.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah and really the world has gone to a TCP/IP based world. If you don't understand IP and routing and the protocols, you're going to have a difficult time setting up your refrigerator here in the next couple years.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Exactly right. I heard something on a podcast where, I guess it was Leo LePorte was complaining that he had a problem with his dishwasher. You think that a dishwasher has a mechanical timer. Apparently his dishwasher had like four PC boards in it and the reason it wasn't working properly was because the guy that came out to fix it didn't know how to fix it with a PC but another guy came out, plugs in his laptop into the dishwasher and troubleshoots the product and replaces the boards. Even things that you don't think would be that sophisticated are becoming even more sophisticated.
Glen, KW5GP: Right. As we move forward, you keep hearing this term the Internet of things. Basically it's coming down to everything possible is going to be Internet accessible, Internet controllable, and Internet managed, and Internet supported. Again, if you don't understand how the Internet works, how the protocols all work, how everything ties together, you don't stand a chance at really troubleshooting this other than just following the instructions that somebody else tells you to do.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah this is a whole Pandora's box. It is, isn't it? Because also, if you don't understand how it works, you may not know how to protect yourself, protect your privacy, or protect yourself from people that want to control your refrigerator, or hack into your clothes washer or something like that when you're away.
Glen, KW5GP: Right, I mean there was a Big Bang Theory show where they actually had their house lights put on the Internet and that kind of thing and just had people all over the Internet controlling them. If you don't understand how to secure it and how this all works, there's no way. With everything happening today as far as you look on TV and see all the hacks and all of this stuff, somebody's going to have to understand how that works to stop that, to help prevent it, to work with it, to fix it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah, yeah. I think you're right.
Glen, KW5GP: What I'm seeing ... My primary job today is I work in the State of Mississippi Department of Education. Actually I work for a company called Cyber and we are under contract to the Department of Ed to provide tech support and consulting and stuff to these school districts. One of the things I see in the kindergarten through twelfth grade, which we call K12, world is I'm not seeing a whole lot of kids coming in looking or getting that kind of knowledge. They're going straight to the iPhone apps and the web page development, things of that nature. The stuff that you and I had back when we were in school of the basic electricity, the electronics class, the soldering, in my case, vacuum tubes. That's not there anymore. Again, as we move forward into the future, you'd need people who can look at that stuff and just have that native understanding of how electricity works to be able to fix something that maybe the only guy who ever worked on he’s retired and gone. Who's going to take care of this thing? I'm not seeing that in the younger generation.
That's one of the reasons why we paired up with the local library to work with some of these kids. Because the interest is there. The desire is there. When we show the kids this stuff, they're all over it, but they're just not getting exposed to it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I think that's very clever. We have to develop the knack, right.
Glen, KW5GP: Yes. They told my parents the day I was born, sorry, he's got the knack.
Eric, 4Z1UG: He's got the knack. I'm sorry. My parents had the same problem. Oh, he's got the knack, what are we going to do with him.
Glen, KW5GP: Yeah.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What advice would you give to new or returning hams to the hobby?
Glen, KW5GP: Find what you like to do and do it. Don't be afraid to try something new. I think that's one of the fun things about ham radio. I don't think it's really a hobby you can get bored with because there's just so much to do. If there is a part of the hobby that you find not so interesting anymore, find another one. Play with JT65. Play with PSK. Go to side band and play down there. Just stay in the hobby and just find a part that you're interested in. I think the number one criteria would be to try to find yourself a group, a club that has that same kind of thinking as you do and share between each other.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I agree 100%. I want to thank you very much for coming on to QSO Today. It's been great. I could have this conversation for another few hours. I know you're busy and we don't run a few hour podcast. Again, Glen thanks so much for coming on board and talking to us today about your ham radio journey and about Arduino. 73, Glen.
Glen, KW5GP: Thank you. 73.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That concludes this episode of the QSO Today podcast. Check out the show notes for this episode and all of the other episodes. I try to include links to all of the topics mentioned in the podcast so that you can deep dive into the subjects discussed.
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Until next time, this is Eric, 4Z1UG, 73.