Sunday, January 28, 2018

FlexRadio SmartSDR 2.1 is here!

At long last the next release of SmartSDR 2.x is here.

You may download it from here.

As you may remember, Flex had released SmartSDR 2.0 in Summer 2017. This made the Flex-6000 series the first ever amateur radio transceiver platform that can become an internet remote base out of the box. Other systems have had remote capability but Flex was the first to do it without having to add firewall rules (for most people) and incorporated modern technologies like social login and multi factor authentication (MFA) for enhanced security. The backend for authentication is powered by Auth0, one of the leaders in the industry.

SmartSDR 2.1 is the next incremental update, and is mostly designed with new hardware in mind. That said, I don't have one of the new radios, but I do have my 6700, and for us with the previous generation of radios, we have inherited the new features that are non-hardware dependent. This includes visual enhancements like shaded panadapters and tuning guides. It also includes some bug fixes and performance enhancements under the hood.

DISCLAIMER: I am an alpha tester for Flex. However, it is important to note that while I test pre-release software, I am not compensated by them in any way, shape or form. All hardware and software is purchased by me. 

The first thing one will notice is that the logo has changed. Whoa, what happened? I was told that there was a bit of a branding change, but there really hasn't been any big fanfare behind it. Not sure why, but the new logo seems a bit nicer looking. Some love, some hate, but it's what we got now, and I like it. So, it's a marketing thing really. As you may have seen from photos and blogs by others, the PowerGenius XL also carries the same logo.

Here it is:

New logo

Another thing you'll notice is that the panadapters are now shaded, or can be shaded. I mention this like this is a small thing, but in reality it has been a much requested feature by users. I don't necessarily get why but it does look nice.
Shaded panadapters

You can actually turn off or adjust this shading from the left side "Display" button, if it's not your cup of tea.

Otherwise, at first glance the SmartSDR UI mostly looks the same.

SmartSDR 2.1.30

Well, except for the metering which has gotten a user-suggested makeover, and is now much easier to read.
New, more readable meters
Oh, and the button that used to say "Remote" is now called "PC Audio" but it does the same thing - i.e. routes the audio through your computer, rather than the front of the radio.

With this, Flex has fixed a longstanding item that I considered a bug. Previously if the audio happened to route through a DAX device, it would result in a crash. Now, it simply disables the capability unless you have a valid sound card device. I have tested this with regular headphones, HDMI audio and bluetooth headphones and speakers. It works really well through all of them.

There is also a panel for the upcoming PowerGenius XL, but as that is still not fully released yet, that will be in a future post detailing operation of the amplifier. Suffice to say this will make operation of your amplifier pretty seamless - as if you were using a 2kw transceiver. "Into a dummy load of course" because I only operate legally, which means up to 1.5 kW on air.

The biggest update of them all though is the tune guide feature. Yes! Tune guides! This can allow you to see the frequency as you hover over the panadapter and optionally enable single click tune (via the settings menu).
Enable tune guides with a right click

Hover over and see where you will land!
Another minor update, the MAC address is now visible in the network settings:

A word about MAC addresses: The OUI in your radio was previously a Texas Instruments OUI. With the new software release this will update to an OUI provided by Flex. This was done as a result of kernel changes and other software changes. If you set your radio to a static address via your router's DHCP reservation or similar feature, this will have to be updated in your router to keep the reservation intact.

You can also use the mouse wheel to hover over and adjust by rolling/scrolling.

Maestro also shares many of the same enhancements and UI changes. The interface should also be similar on the 6600M and 6400M, which are now shipping. Incidentally there are two Maestro hardware revisions now, since the tablet module in the original Maestro has gone out of production. The new revision of Maestro is functionally identical to the previous revision and visually identical except that the power button is now on the left side, instead of the top.

SmartSDR for Maestro (also on 6400M and 6600M)
Maestro does gain one very important feature - TNFs are now available! Just hold down your finger on any part of the panadapter to drop a TNF there.

But wait, there's more!

Marcus, DL8MRE has also been hard at work on getting SmartSDR for iOS also polished up and updated. I have been fortunate enough to help him with testing it. He has added the shaded panadapters and support for the PowerGenius XL. He has even added color shading that is not found in the desktop version. Some other features found in SmartSDR for Windows may or may not be added.

SmartSDR for iOS on an iPhone X

As far as my impressions go - I will say that this release is pretty good, but is not going to be a huge feature update. Considering that Flex has been working on four new radios, plus the amplifier, and a new partnership with 4O3A signature, I think they have done pretty well. There will be more to come as they continue to update and evolve Version 2.

As far as the new radios go, I am on the fence, as I am very happy with my 6700. However if I plan to set up a remote site, I may consider a 6400 or 6600 for it. It comes down to money and willingness to take the risk. The new radios do bring some better filtering, an extra transverter port and modular design, along with a lower price. However, they take away the 2 meter capability and are limited to four (4) slices. I am one of those weird people that opens up 6-8 slices on a regular basis. So we will have to see.

Mega kudos to the FlexRadio team on this release! Every one of them has been hard at work trying to get the new hardware and software out. Kudos to the alpha team as well who has helped tremendously with finding bugs and supplying performance and other data to the development team.


Friday, January 19, 2018

ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher to retire, cites tax laws as reason.

Press release from ARRL:

I found it somewhat surprising, since President Rick Roderick, K5UR recently dug in his heels when it came to league governance, citing a "misinformation campaign" which was really nothing more than members becoming rightly concerned about the move toward less transparency and the dilution of their vote.

Gallagher has often been subject to much criticism, and many have cited his leadership as part of the reason that the league is in such turmoil with membership lately. I am trying to keep neutral on this, and personally I do not know if he was directly responsible, but it would seem to me that all of these new moves toward reshaping the league started on his watch. So this is either a great coincidence or he is the one responsible.

Personally I don't care who is responsible, except for possibly removing bad actors from office in order put the brakes on any detrimental changes. That said, his departure is a welcome sign, but I take it with a grain of salt. There is much work to be done with the actual BoD, who actually hires the CEO.

On a side note, Gallagher blamed the newly enacted federal tax laws for the change, stating that it made it unattractive to work in Connecticut. I don't know his personal financial situation, and I don't live in Connecticut, but I do live in New Jersey. These two states are similar in that they both have high state and local taxes (SALT). The new law limits deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000. However, it seems too much of a coincidence, given all of the recent activity. I can't say for sure what his problem with the new federal tax law is, but based on my assessment of the law and its impact on residents of high tax states, I think that it was something given to us "to hold" and the real reason was the political climate at the league.

Either way, I wish Gallagher the best on his future endeavors and I hope that the league can find a suitable replacement. I also hope that every league member remains engaged as to what is going on with our league, because our hobby literally depends on it. This goes even for DX hams who are not members because of ARRL being the international secretariat of the IARU. Whether your interest is public service, DXing and radiosport, balloon flights, satellite operation, rag chewing, kit building and homebrewing, digital modes,  ATV, or any of the myriad of activities that the amateur service supports, you have a stake in this. We cannot allow the ARRL to fail, and it will fail only if we let it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Team Bouvet enroute

The biggest DXpedition of the year (unless someone can somehow convince P5 to issue a license) is about to get underway. Yep, that's the 2018 Bouvet island DXpedition. Over a decade in planning, it is about to become reality, and sure to make many happy - and frustrated - when they make or don't make a contact. But that's just how DX goes.

Surprisingly, I don't need Bouvet as an all time new one, since I worked Petrus, 3Y0E in 2008. One of the few to do so, as he was pretty weak. In fact, in Northern NJ nobody heard him for weeks until there was a magic opening. However, a combination of hilltop location and a MonstIR antenna helped me bag that one pretty easily. However I am appreciative for bandfills, and I hope I can work them on every band that I can.

Anyway, my friends are off to Bouvet - and on this team you will find some of the best operators in the world. You'll also find that they are using Flex-6000 radios, on bands from 160 through 2 meters EME, along with two Power Genius XL amplifiers that I personally had the chance to see and help Gerald, K5SDR check out at the FlexRadio labs in Austin, TX before they were packed and shipped. They are also using some Acom amplifiers which were generously supplied by Acom.

By the way, this is also a record breaking, expensive DXpedition, so please support them by making a donation at their website. - and please consider these tips when working them:

  • LISTEN before calling. They may call for different geographical areas - Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, etc. It is of no use calling out of turn and only spoils it for others.
  • SPLIT OPERATION is almost always going to be the default. Don't call on their listening frequency.
  • Only one contact per band and all 3 modes. Don't make 10 contacts on a single band, like some ops have been doing. It deprives others of a chance, and you won't get any extra DX points for doing so.
  • Be grateful if/when you make a contact. These guys are risking life and limb so you can get them in your log. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018


As with all things, sometimes you have to reinvent yourself.

So, as of today, this blog will be known as "Ria's Shack." I've been contemplating this change for a long time now, and much of it has to do with my plans for other amateur radio ventures to help every one of you become better at our esteemed hobby. This especially includes my YouTube channel which I plan to add more meaningful content to.

So, here's to the new and improved blog - henceforth known as "Ria's Shack"



Are you concerned about the direction of the ARRL? This has been on the minds of a lot of US radio amateurs lately. DX hams I am sure are a bit worried as well, since ARRL tends to influence DX, radiosport and awards programs worldwide. Take some time  to visit and make your voice heard.

Facebook group:

We are actively discussing plans, next steps and activism. But they need you, the ARRL member, and also just radio amateurs in general to step up and make your voice heard.

By the way, you ALSO need to make your voice heard to your director! myARRLvoice has put together this handy graphic. How about e-mailing this to your division director, along with some words of your own? Or how about discussing this with them in person? You voted for them, they should be listening to YOU. I will be doing a more comprehensive post about this, but for now, here is this.

2017 year-end and post holiday wrap-up

2017 by far has been a banner year for me in Amateur Radio. Here are some of the highlights.


It's no secret that I'm 100% a FlexRadio fan. This is not without good reason. Ever since I learned about amateur radio I have dreamed about a radio with the capabilities that they have made a reality. As such I have spent a lot of time on their community forum and privately advising their users and prospective users about capabilities of the radio and ecosystem. I have also helped many users get on their radios remotely, not just with the new SmartLink capability in SmartSDR 2.0, but also with VPN access using Raspberry Pi. Flex decided to honor me with one of their customer awards which brings me immense pride, and has earned a prime spot in my shack.

Did I just use the word ecosystem? You typically hear that about Apple, Google and other companies that make computers and electronic gadgets. Well, in this case it is true about FlexRadio. They are really growing their operation and product line and forming an ecosystem by bringing in third party software and hardware. Developers are lining up to either add support or produce new products that utilize the platform. 

In particular, as a FlexRadio alpha tester, I have helped with testing and fine-tuning support for things like the spectrum scope feature in N1MM+ contest logger, testing new features for SmartSDR for iOS, and turning up the Power Genius XL 2kW amplifier. Additionally, 2017 saw the release of SmartSDR 2.0 which was a great leap forward. We are in good company here, and exciting times are ahead. 

There has not been much said by me about the amp, publicly as they are still in testing. However, the hard part is more or less done as they are gearing up for general availability so if you preordered one you should have it in your hands soon. 

Ranko, 4O3A and his team have done quite a remarkable job with the amplifier. Eric, Steve, Gerald and the entire team have also done a fantastic job with the SmartSDR software. And finally, Marcus, DL8MRE has also done great work with iOS integration. It will be a winner for sure. There are so many innovative things in this amp, and I know that Ranko's team has prepared this for extreme duty. Signal cleanliness, duty cycle, and just general fit and finish is excellent. The most exciting thing, however, is the tight integration with the Flex-6000 series, SmartSDR and Maestro. A single ethernet cable is all you need to control the amp, and apart from that it's just RF and power. It will even do T/R switching via the ethernet cable.

When you get yours, be sure to let me know how it performs! I'm hoping I can hear many of them on the air. 

Contesting and station improvements

If nobody knew that I existed in the contesting world, they sure do now! 2017 has been pretty exciting. To begin with, many station improvements have been made here. Additional antennas have gone up, including full SO2R capability. The SteppIR MonstIR has been repaired and placed back up on the tower. And as mentioned, the new amp has been put into place.

2017 saw me winning the North American plaque for the Worked All Europe SSB contest. This is a first for me as I've never won a North American plaque for anything. Hard work did pay off as well as some new techniques learned from some contest veterans. I have also gotten great advice from radiosport giants such as K3LR and KQ2M. In particular, propagation analysis using WSPR and WSJT has been invaluable. Now you know what I am on FT8 all the time! I am mapping out propagation here, to see if I can squeeze out any openings that may not appear on the surface. 

I also placed in the top 10, SOHP Assisted in CQWW SSB. This is a first for me in CQWW as I've never made the top 10. I credit my iron pants - aka planting your butt in the chair for as long as possible. More running is more QSOs, and that means more points. I still did not maximize where I should be, but that will happen in 2018 hopefully!

One final piece of un-sung gear that I added that I believe made a BIG difference - I added the BM800 boom mic, which I got from Amazon. It's a chinese design or something they copied but it works remarkably well. I am simply amazed by how good it is. It won't replace your golden microphone but it's good to rag chew.

Hamfests, events and speaking engagements

In 2018 I returned to Hamvention. This was the first year at the new venue, which was the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, Ohio. It was really nice to return as I had missed going out and being immersed in ham radio. What I did not miss was the rickety old Hara Arena in Trotwood, which is now a relic of history.
Me at the hamvention gate in Xenia

Contest Dinner 2017

HamCom 2017 main floor

I also attended Hamcom, the biggest hamfest in Texas. Yes, I love Texas. I met up with many of my friends in the Lone Star State and we had a good time. I also met up with Emmett, W0QH of RadioWavz and operated the special event station. I also attended the 6 meter BBQ in Austin, TX. It was always on my list to attend, and I am glad I did. I got to meet up with many folks involved in VHF and HF DXing and contesting.

At the request of my friend Van, W2DLT, I got to speak at the Fair Lawn Amateur Radio Club - FLARC. I had fun and I always enjoy speaking at clubs. If you want me to speak at your club and I'm in the area, contact me.

New friendships and partnerships

2017 was the year of greater cooperation with others. I teamed up with Andrea, K2EZ and we worked on a number of projects, including two successful rover sprints. She is amazing with the VHF/UHF rover operation, owning the record for activated grids AND winning the TWO ARRL VHF contests in 2017. Mega respect for Andrea! I am learning a lot from her. 

New DXCC and WAZ awards

In 2018 I am already off and running, and I obtained my DXCC on 160 meters, which makes 9 bands total. I also obtained DXCC in digital mode, thanks in large part to the new FT8 mode, as I am not a big fan of RTTY. I also FINALLY got my plaques for 5BDXCC and DXCC challenge, and started putting the outstanding contest plaques up on the wall. I worked hard for my achievements and it's time to show them!

All in all a great year! I am hoping 2018 is even better. I can already see it getting off to a GREAT start.