Automating the Eclipse

We did not include plans to travel to view the total eclipse taking place this August, it just didn’t work out with other family obligations scheduled for late this summer. So I was really excited to learn about the Solar Eclipse QSO Party, a neat way to participate in some crowd-sourced science from our location in the Northeast, where we will only see a partial eclipse. I made plans to take the day off (Monday August 21) and operate from the alt-QTH in New York’s Southern Tier. QRP operation and simple wire antennas.

RBN, here I come.

The folks running the experiment/event, HamSci, have a very nice resource page for the SEQP. Among other things, it notes that the very popular logging program, N1MM logger, has been updated to include a contest template for the SEQP. N1MM is a very capable program, but one that I have not used in the past. However for this event I downloaded it, installed it, and got it up and running with a minimum of fuss. My original intent was to use it for logging only, performing all other functions manually. Reviewing all the capabilities that could be mine if I interfaced my rig (Elecraft KX3) was sorely tempting, and I began to play with hooking the rig up to the computer. From there it was a slippery slope indeed…

Elecraft provides a USB cable for CAT operation and firmware updates for the KX3, along with a very nice utility program. I have used these tools for updating the rig, but not for actual operation, although the utility program provides CW and digital mode capability.

Knowing that this functionality works, I carefully reviewed the N1MM documentation for interface instructions. They seemed almost too simple. With a few mouse clicks, I had my KX3 connected in SO1V (single operator one VFO) mode, reporting band and frequency changes to the N1MM window. Easy. But wouldn’t it be nice to have all those N1MM macro buttons working?

Checking the N1MM documentation, and then some general web searching revealed the following pieces of information:

  • the KX3 does not support the DTR/RTS signals needed for hardware CW keying on the ACC1 serial port used for CAT operations [CAT is an acronym for computer control of a transceiver over a serial port. Couldn’t find the origin of the acronym on the web – n2htt].
  • Computer driven CW from the Elecraft Utility program is accomplished through the CAT commands KY and KYW, which instruct the radio to send the accompanying ASCII text as Morse code
  • the N1MM documentation specifically states that CW operation via CAT commands is not supported – they suggest the use of third-party hardware interfaces for CW

Dang. I don’t have a third-party interface handy. I did have a hardware interface that I had built a while back, that used USB to serial port conversion to toggle the DTR line for keying my Yaesu FT-897. I played with this using the KX3 ACC2 input configured for PTT, but could not get it to go.

Some of the web results I found seemed to indicate that despite N1MM documentation to the contrary, limited support of CAT based CW was possible with the KX3 (thanks K4MTX). I then spent most of a perfectly lovely Saturday indoors in front of computer screen, and in the end got it to work… pretty much.

N1MM logger hooked up to the KX3

N1MM logger hooked up to the KX3

Sparing you the exquisite details of everything I tried, here is what the problems are that must be overcome:

  • the Elecraft KY command can only handle a 26 character message. The KYW command allows concatenating as many messages as you like seamlessly, so that is not a radio side limitation.
  • A problem occurs when an N1MM macro, like {EXCH}, expands out to make your message longer than 26 characters. When this occurs, your attempt to send the message results in nothing. No error, no CW, just silence.
  • N1MM polls the radio periodically for status, and if the radio does not respond in time, N1MM reports a timeout and presents a dialog asking if you wish to continue talking to the rig. Say yes. This was occurring a lot during long CAT controlled CW messages, the EXCH macro was particularly bad. (N1MM provides a setting to increase the timeout by 50 or 100%, but even at 100% the time-out still occurred.)

The solution for making (unsupported) CAT driven CW work with the KX3 is to do the following:

  • wrap each N1MM macro in its own KYW command including a trailing space
  • break up the macros into as small chunks as possible to minimize time-outs

My macro setup requires three button presses to respond with an exchange, as I separated the call signs (yours and his) out from the exchange macro. Slightly clumsy but it works.
Here then is my macro file for the KX3 and N1MM supporting CAT driven CW:

------------------ clip here -----------------------------
###################
# RUN Messages 
###################
F1 CQ SE,{CAT1ASC KYWCQ CQ SE ;KYW{MYCALL} ;KYW{MYCALL} ;KYWK;}
F2 EXCH,{CAT1ASC KYW {SENTRSTCUT} ;KYW{EXCH} ;KYW{MYCALL} BK;}
F3 TU,{CAT1ASC KYW{TU {MYCALL};}
F4 {MYCALL},{CAT1ASC KYW{MYCALL};}
F5 His Call,{CAT1ASC KYW{CALL};}
F6 Repeat,{CAT1ASC KYW{SENTRSTCUT};KYW{EXCH};KYW{EXCH};}
F7 Grid?,{CAT1ASC KYW GRID?;};
F8 Agn?,{CAT1ASC KYWAGN?;};
F9 Rpt?,{CAT1ASC KYWRPT?;};
F10 Call?,{CAT1ASC KYWCL?;};
F11 Spare,
F12 Wipe,{WIPE}
###################
# S&P Messages 
###################
F1 QRL?,{CAT1ASC KYWQRL? DE {MYCALL};}
F2 EXCH,{CAT1ASC KYW{SENTRSTCUT} ;KYW{EXCH} ;KYW{MYCALL} BK;}
F4 {MYCALL},{CAT1ASC KYW{MYCALL};}
F5 His Call,{CAT1ASC KYW{CALL};}
F6 Repeat,{CAT1ASC KYW{SENTRSTCUT};KYW{EXCH};KYW{EXCH};}
F7 Grid?,{CAT1ASC KYW GRID?;};
F8 Agn?,{CAT1ASC KYWAGN?;};
F9 Rpt?,{CAT1ASC KYWRPT?;};
F10 Call?,{CAT1ASC KYWCL?;};
F11 Spare,
F12 Wipe,{WIPE}
------------------ clip here -----------------------------

Happy eclipse QSOing!
73,
de N2HTT

 

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