Please note, I have no equipment whatever for sale or wanted.
The station is on Shelter Island, NY, an island 110 miles east of New York City. I sometimes remote control the rig from New York City using LogMeIn Windows remote control software and Ham Radio Deluxe/DM780. Remote control can be done with a Windows computer, and also with an Apple iPhone or iPad which allows remote control from any location. I operate remotely using PSK31, Olivia, SSTV, and SSB with two Skype accounts for two way audio. I also operate mobile, usually on 20M or 40M SSB. At the station, I use surveillance cameras to check the condition of the equipment.
Here’s a description of my remote operation setup. It’s pretty simple, and I still can’t figure out how it’s taken so many years to get it right. I think it was mostly in working out the details, although advances in software and hardware capabilities especially on the iPhone and iPad have helped a lot.
Basically, I use Windows browser-based remote control software called LogMeIn to control the computer at the station. All that’s necessary for controlling the rig from a Windows laptop or desktop is the free version, although I pay a yearly fee for the Pro version which includes file transfer capabilities. It’s available at www.logmein.com. There are iPhone and iPad apps called LogMeIn Ignition, but they have a one-time charge (although now there’s a free version too with less features). LogMeIn shows you, on your screen, exactly what the remote computer’s desktop looks like, and pretty much lets you control it just as if you were at the remote computer. You have to experiment with screen resolution and color settings to get it exactly as you want it, although there are automatic settings for those parameters and they work OK. LogMeIn will operate on a local area network, or over the internet, and even through a 3G or 4G cellular connection to the internet. Its bandwidth requirements are fairly low as long as you avoid the HD color setting.
For equipment at the station, any computer running Windows ought to work fine. I use a Signalink USB interface between the computer and XCVR and a computer control cable with a West Mountain Radio USB adapter. The rig is an old ICOM IC-718 which has not been turned off in eight or nine years and still works great. The auto tuner is an LDG AT-100ProII and the antenna is a G5RV up about 35 feet, so I can change bands automatically and can work 80M-10M remotely. Since the station is on an island off the tip of Long Island and electrical power flickers a lot I use a UPS that’ll keep things running for maybe 20 minutes, long enough for most outages.
Rig control software is Ham Radio Deluxe/Digital Master 780 v.6. This takes some patience to set up but once running works fine in the digital modes. For a long time I operated only PSK31, Olivia, and SSTV (HRD/DM780 will operate SSTV but now I use MMSSTV which does a better job). The main thing to remember in using this equipment is that the Signalink USB requires HRD to be configured for VOX, and it takes some time to get the level and VOX delay settings right and those have to be done manually at the station.
There are different rig control settings in HRD/DM780 for different XCVRs and some of the newest rigs I believe don’t need an interface such as the Signalink at all. I’ll be glad to furnish a screen capture of the IC-718 settings if anyone wants to actually use this old rig remotely.
All this took a while to set up and as long as the Internet at the station didn’t go down or power go out too long everything worked fine for digital operations. I did a lot of digital operation, both from the desktop and also from the iPhone and iPad when the LogMeIn Ignition apps came out. It was always fun to have a PSK31 qso from a restaurant waiting for someone or hiding in the lobby during a boring movie.
Until recently, though, operating SSB remotely was not so much fun. LogMeIn now allows for one-way sound, but that’s defeated by the HRD audio settings. There’s a two-way sound program called IP Sound that may still be available, but I keep reading how rough it is to set up and keep running and have stayed away. The best solution is Skype. Skype is also free used computer to computer, but requires two accounts, one for the station and one for the remote location. At the station end – at least in my setup using the Signalink USB – audio in and audio out in Skype settings must both be set to USB Codec. This took a few hours (maybe days, I’m trying NOT to remember) to figure out. Also audio levels take some experimenting with and should not be left at the Skype automatic settings. I’ve found that to get enough audio drive for the rig audio out and especially in they should be pretty near maximum. Then, once you set Privacy to accept only calls from your remote account, not automatically to turn on Video, and (Yes) to automatically answer your remote calls, Skype should be ready to drive the rig and provide receive audio to you remotely.
Well, sort of. There’s the problem of VOX which, since you can’t use PTT for xmit/rcv (or at least I can't), combined with the slight latency that the connection introduces, can make SSB operation a problem. I spent quite a while trying out different mikes and playing around with levels in both Skypes and at the mike. It comes down to trial and error. The best mike for my desktop remote operation is the mike built in to an old Logitech webcam, although I guarantee there are better ones around somewhere. Triggering the VOX is a problem which can be solved by either holding your breath and keeping everyone else in the room quiet while receiving or using the Mute switch on the mike or on the Skype Call screen.
And that brings me to remote operation with the iPhone or iPad. As I mentioned, there are LogMeIn Ignition apps for both devices and they work great. And there are Skype apps for both devices too, and they work great too. But that’s now. A couple years ago when they came out, neither app could multitask – on the iPhone/iPad that means run in the background – so to work SSB meant booting LogMeIn, setting a frequency, shutting down LogMeIn, booting Skype, calling CQ until maybe someone someday answered, and so on. But now the iDevice hardware and software is capable of excellent app operation while multitasking, so you can run both LogMeIn and Skype simultaneously, switch between them smoothly, and operate almost as conveniently as if you were at the rig. (You can’t, however, see them both at the same time which is a limit of the iOS operating system’s version of multitasking.) However, there was still the VOX problem and it took me until about two weeks ago to figure out that with both apps running instead of staring at the remote desktop in LogMeIn mode, I should be staring at the Skype app and when not transmitting just mute the mike with the Skype mute button.
There are a couple of interesting additions you can make to your remote operation. Because my old IC-718 doesn’t include power out and SWR readings in its data line, I have a webcam pointed at the 718 front panel and the LDG autotuner which has a good SWR and power out LED display. It lets me check if everything is running OK, especially during those long periods when no one is answering my SSB CQs or not-so-rare DX on 20M is ignoring me. It’s good for checking for smoke too. And, if you’re really nuts about remote operation there’s the Griffin PowerGlide tuning knob. It’s a very neat little knob with a USB connection that sits on your desktop and works under Windows. By installing its drivers on both your local and remote desktop computers, and a little (well, a lot) of tinkering, you can get it to control the XCVR remotely by just turning it the same as you would turn the rig tuning knob. Not at all necessary, but kind of fun.
There’s one downside, and it’s a big one. It’s easy enough to shut down the system remotely, but I haven’t found any way to bring it back on line remotely short of a three hour drive and 20 minute ferry ride for me. That means that all the equipment has to stay on all the time. The XCVR itself doesn’t take much power, and after a few minutes the monitor shuts down (and comes up on use), but the computer needs to always be on line. In the eight or nine years I’ve been working remotely I’m on my third desktop computer and this one is not all that happy now. I haven’t tried a laptop, although that may be the best answer, because I’m not sure it’ll wake up reliably when I ask. There is at least one possible solution someone suggested to me a while ago, a kit that claims to bring the computer up on command, but I haven't tried it.
That’s how I set up my remote operation. There are some screen captures from my iPad attached. If you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them but remember, this was all trial and error. I really don’t know much about how this all works technically.
Recently, I've been learning the ins and outs of D-Star with the ICOM ID-31A. I was doing my best to use RF to directly access the 440MHz repeaters in the New York City area, although that means mostly finding the right high rise building to reflect from. Sometimes, a small, hand-held beam such as the light, three-element one from Arrow Antennas helped. But finally I got tired of doing handstands in front of the window and bought a 440 DVAP and a Raspberry Pi. They work fine together. Here's a picture of them tucked behind a single-ended triode design hifi amplifier using 300B triodes, originally designed by Western Electric in the 1930s for PA systems. It's quite a contrast between the two technologies!
Last modified: 2013-05-26 02:15:49, 11934 bytes cached
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