Return of the ARSIB

It’s time to dust off the Amateur Radio Station In a Box (ARSIB) and get it ready for field day.
Back in 2006 I was inspired by other hams who had put together portable stations that were built inside waterproof containers, capable of multimode (phone, CW, digital) HF, VHF, or UHF operation, easily powered by 110v/220v AC or a 12v source, able to carry with one hand, and ready for immediate operation with minimal setup.
My prototype was the ARSIB which I used on several occasions.

The ARSIB was based around my FT-817 to provide complete flexibility of a minimalist operation on AA batteries if need be. For normal operations, the 100W Tokyo HyPower amplifier gets me were I need to be. I had a lot of fun with the ARSIB using it during an RV DXpedition and for a lighthouse activation.
I now want to take the ARSIB to the next level – fine tune the design a bit. In searching around I have found several sources of inspiration:

  • Notes on building a portable self-powered communications station suitable for RACES, ARES, remote station, or general QRP use
  • Second Generation EmComm Station
  • KA5CVH Portable

    For my second generation ARSIB, I would like to improve the inner shelving structure supporting the radio equipment. Another goal of mine is not to put any holes in the waterproof container, which has limited some of my arrangements inside the box. I also want all the equipment to be able to travel well, without worry of damage. I also need to clean up the wiring; power, audio, and antenna. Some more ascetically pleasing, but functional.

    I think the Dell Mini will serve as the perfect companion for the eARSIB.

    Ultimately I hope to use the eARSIB (“e” is for enhanced) for Field Day 2009. The plan now is to link with KD6EUG, Larry, up in the Sierra Nevada’s for Field Day. In addition to participating in the event, we will string up an antenna or two for his cabin/shack… and maybe even get an APRS weather station operational as well.

    Now it is time to make it happen!

  • Era Of The Communicator

    I enjoyed AB9RF and KE9Vs recent postings concerning the ending of the “era of the communicator” – I am a big fan of both blogs. Kelly (AB9RF) argues that to continue to attract new hams, we need to focus the image of ham radio not as a means to talk to far away place (as this can be accomplished with any cell phone) but as a means to explore the latest computer technology. I understand her point but disagree with her premise. The best refute is Dave Bushong’s blog 99 hobbies (although not updated recently). As the title of his blog indicates, ham radio is a multifaceted hobby… DX QSOs is just one element. Kelly further argues that the ham community is in danger of loosing some of its spectrum privileges if the community is mired in the past by an aging population of hams who have failed to contribute any innovation to the radio art in recent memory. D*Star, Echolink, WinLink2000, APRS, PSK31, and Olivia immediately come to mind. Look at usage of 2M repeaters in your area – chances are if you wanted to set a repeater up yourself, you couldn’t because all the bandwidth is already filled. As hams, we are communicators, we are innovators and ham radio is what we make of it. Unfortunately, I’d say the key argument to maintaining our amateur spectrum is not in innovation but in disaster and emergency communications support. Now I am not an orange-vest wearing, special badge and whoopy-lights on the top of my truck guy… but from my perspective, emcomm has earned us respect from the general public in the past (… just look at Katrina). I for one am glad there is a devoted following of hams who support emcomm, although I do not fall in that category. I do believe that all hams must maintain a basic capability to use their equipment to provide support in an emergency…. nothing fancy, just the basic ability to pass traffic or relay a message. But I truly believe that the hobby will continue to survive due to the vast variety that is available to we hams, the practitioners of the radio arts. The ionosphere’s the limit… oh, no wait – now you can reach out to the Sun as well.

    WorldRadio… online


    WorldRadio has been my favorite amateur radio periodical. QST, DX Magazine, CQ, and QEX didn’t compare to what WorldRadio offered (at least to me). The Aerials column by “Kurt N. Sterba” and the QRP column by Richard Fisher (KI6SN) were the first columns I turned to. Next was the Rules & Regs by John Johnston (W3BE) – always interesting (and straight forward) interpretations of what the FCC says right looks like. But the BEST column is HF Mobile by Lee Cobb (W6TEE). Lee’s column was a constant source of motivation for my mobile setup.

    Then WorldRadio decided to close up their print operations…. and me a lifetime subscriber. I was not happy. But today their first online issue came out…. and you know what? It looks pretty darn good in color. And if I want to, I can always print the articles out to read if I don’t want to read them on the computer (sometimes I’m old school like that).

    The downside – Lee announced this was his last column. I hope WorldRadio can find someone who does 1/10th of the job Lee did. Thank you Lee for your years of HF Mobiling columns… you will be missed.

    Victory over the Dell Mini

    After a few hours of toil and despair of trying to tweak my Dell Mini with Ubuntu in an attempt to enable the ability to use the 2GB of RAM instead of being limited to just 1GB. At one point I had the 2GB recognized but lost wifi and sound. In the end I completely reinstalled the initial Dell Ubuntu 8.04+ OS, did a full apt-get update and install…. and everything worked (2GB of RAM, wifi, sound, and on board webcam). And by now in Ubuntu I can add my network printers and permanently mount my networked shared drives with my eyes closed.

    And yes, the Dell Mini is just a bit more zippy with 2GB of RAM humming under the hood.

    Working in the shack


    I spent some time this afternoon trying to get the shack a little better organized. I mounted two power strips on the wall behind my desk to help organize my power cables. I also mounted the console for my Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station directly above my computer monitors for easy visibility. I use Anderson Powerpoll connectors and West Mountain Rigrunners for my power distribution. Things were looking a bit like a rat’s nest, so I shut everything down, unplug all the connectors, rerouted them in a more coherent fashion, and replugged everything in. I also added in my West Mountain PwrGate and hooked in my 12v deep cycle marine battery. The PwrGate keeps the marine battery charged and automatically switches to it should there be a drop in the 120v house power. I still need an UPS for my computer running the Weather Display software and UI-View32.

    Also added a lamp to the desk to help me see what the heck I’m doing.

    Finally, I fired up the IC-7000 just to make sure it was still working and had a nice QSO with VE6CQ operating from Calgary, Canada.

    Dell Mini 9…. 2GB with Ubuntu?

    I got a Dell Mini back in October and have been enjoying it very much. What I like the best is its portability and battery life. At the time, the version that I purchased from Dell came with a specialized version of Ubuntu 8.04 and 1GB of RAM. I wanted to upgrade to 2GB and purchased the RAM. However, the Mini failed to recognize the additional RAM, stilling telling me I only had 1GB installed (even though it only has a single 2GB DIMM). I learned today that the problem is not the RAM but the specific Ubuntu kernel that Dell used for the Mini. And here is the fix:

    Mini 9 Kernel Re-compile for 2 GB ram:

    - Open a terminal
    - Enable root login using the command:
    sudo passwd root

    - Change to the root user and then execute the following commands:
    su
    lsmod > /tmp/modules.old
    apt-get install linux-source
    apt-get install build-essential
    apt-get install libncurses5-dev
    cd /usr/src
    tar -jxvf linux-source-2.6.24.tar.bz2
    cd linux-source-2.6.24
    cp /boot/config-2.6.24-19lpia .config
    make oldconfig
    make menuconfig

    - In the menu that opens, go to “Processor Type and Features”, enter the option “High Memory Support (off)”, select the option 4GB, exit and save.
    - Execute the follwing commands:
    make
    make modules_install
    cp arch/i386/boot/bzImage /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.24.3
    cp .config /boot/config-2.6.24.3

    cd /lib/modules
    cp -r 2.6.24-19lpia/volatile 2.6.24.3
    cp -r 2.6.24-19lpia/ubuntu 2.6.24.3
    update-initramfs -u -k 2.6.24.3

    - edit /boot/grub/menu.lst and at the very bottom add an entry for the new kernel. It is recommended that you also increase the delay time to something greater than 0 (like 10 seconds) so you leave the stock kernel as the default, but select the new one from the grub menu till you know it works.
    - Reboot and select the entry you created for the Kernel 2.6.24.3
    - Several modules won’t have loaded after the reboot, You can identify which ones by doing a “lsmod > /tmp/modules.new” (without the double quotes) and comparing to the /tmp/modules.old generated previously. One that fails for sure is wireless, another one is the embedded webcam.
    - To fix the wireless, just open a terminal and type the following commands:
    su
    depmod -a
    modprobe wl

    - at this point, perform a modprobe for the other modules listed in /tmp/modules.new that are missing from /tmp/modules.old . In my mini 9 the commands were:
    modprobe michael_mic
    modprobe arc4
    modprobe ecb
    modprobe blkcipher
    modprobe unionfs

    - At this point everything should be working normally in your Mini 9, and it should recognize all 2 GB of RAM. I did a last reboot before testing the camera and everything.
    - If you are confortable that everything is working fine, edit /boot/grub/menu.lst again, change the delay back to 0 and make your new kernel entry the first one on the list of options.

    I’m going to try this tomorrow – I hope it works!

    There seems to be some debate on if it would be easier to just upgrade to Ubuntu 8.10. The apparent downside of the 8.10 upgrade on the Dell Mini is that it takes a bit to tweak the hardware settings and the potential loss of the battery efficiency of the Dell’s Ubuntu 8.04. More info here.