John's Musings


Yeah, Me Neither

pfSense Hardware Firewall

I am always blathering on about network security. The only real security is a firewall. Your router that you bought on Amazon or at Walmart is NOT secure. Look at the box. It says it is FAST. It doesn't say it is secure. Furthermore there is a sticker on the bottom of it with a WiFi password that looks like this:


098798te6rfghjvhfydtHY(UYGIGUYTTUI^(*&)(&*(^*&T*&%TGYIKHLNLKL


That's awesome. It really is.


So then you plug your router into the cable modem which attaches it to the INTERNET via direct physical connection. Guess what the password is for that direct physical connection?


Answer: password


I'm not fucking kidding. Every router out there has a default WAN password that is something stupid like password or actually no password. And silly you thinks that long wifi password makes you secure.


Probably the BEST non-enterprise firewall out there is something called pfSense. And best of all it is FREE. You can download it for free. You just need some hardware to install it on. You can take an old desktop computer and put an extra ethernet port in it and you are ready to rock however the big old desktop will be on 24/7 and will probably jam your power bill up more than it is worth. What you really want to do is get a small hardware appliance that sips power.


One way to do it is to buy an appliance from pfSense. They are a bit pricey though but you are also buying support which you may need as pfSense is a bit geeky. pfSense is basically FreeBSD Unix. FreeBSD is probably the most stable and secure operating system there is. The internet backbone that you use every day doesn't run on Windows. It runs on Unix and Linux. It is rock solid stable.


One of the "gotchas" in using a computer or getting an appliance is that the next version of pfSense will require the CPU to support the AES-NI instruction set. So if you spend your money and your hardware does NOT support AES-NI you will not be able to update.


I previously had a pfSense Netgate SG-2220 (and by the way it is for sale now). It still works, it has AES-NI, etc. Just if you know me I have to have the latest and greatest is all.


One way to keep costs down a bit is to buy a mini appliance. I bought a Minisys E3845 Quad Core device from here Got it for about $230. The nice Chinese company that ships it even sends it with pfSense installed!




Uh......yeah..........I totally trust a preinstalled firewall from China. I also trust my 401K to Hillary Clinton and Mexican tap water.


Best to blast that OS to the moon and install a fresh copy. Go here to download. Also to do this you'll need a USB keyboard and a VGA cable to a VGA monitor.




Configure your download like this:




It will download a compressed file with a .gz extension. Unzip that compressed file and inside will be a file named:


pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.2-RELEASE-amd64.img


Get yourself a USB thumbdrive and a program called Etcher and burn the image file to the thumbdrive. From there you set your Minisys to boot from the thumbdrive and follow the install routine. Follow these directions. I'm not going to write them out. These are great instructions.


You will have to set port assignments after it boots. Set as follows

WAN = em0

LAN = em1



that corresponds to LAN 1 and LAN 2 respectively on your Minisys.


Now plug this bad boy in directly AFTER your cable modem using the WAN port (LAN1).

Now plug your router in to the LAN 2 port.


You can access and control your firewall from going to a browser and pointing to http://192.168.1.1

at first the credentails are:


user = admin

pass = pfsense


For God's sake change these. At this point you have a decent hardware firewall.


Oh yeah there is tons of configuring you can do. You can add ad blockers, and all manner of protection programs such as Snort, Squid, and pfBlockerNG. I encourage you to read up on that stuff, there are guides galore on the internet. if I can figure it out, so can you.


But just as is you're running a fairly tight ship with just the hardware firewall. You probably won't keep North Korea or the NSA out but you'll keep most of the common hacks from penetrating your network. Is it perfect? No. But it is TEN THOUSAND times better than plugging a router full of security holes and no password up to the internet.

Comments

JumboSpot DMR Hotspot

One of the latest crazes in the world of DMR radio is the Chinese iteration of the DMR hotspot. The principal attraction? Low cost. The Jumbospot costs about $45 and I've heard tales of people getting them for $35. Slap it on top of a Raspberry Pi Zero W which costs $10 and an SD card and you are on the air for about $70 or so if you factor in everything. Add a $9 OLED display and you still haven't broken the bank yet.


So JumboSpot is cheap and like it or not this is the way that a lot of people are going to go. So I ordered one.


To tell you the truth I didn't expect much, heck I even expected that it might not work but I was up and running in 20 minutes and much of that time was spent soldering the firmware header pins on and the antenna connector. I had read several horror stories on the internet regarding Jumbospot (which many call "ChinaSpot") and they are downright scary. Then after working through it myself it is fairly apparent that the problem here is the Linux and Raspberry Pi aspect of it. Many people just don't know or understand Linux, Linux networking, etc. And it is a bit daunting if you have never been exposed to it before. And plan on doing a little soldering. They don't even come with the antenna connector on them. At least mine didn't.


Also it seems to me that there are Jumbospots on eBay that have subtle differences. You might be best served to buy one from Aliexpress.com where at least you can send it back if it doesn't work. I bought mine from eBay and paid $45 for it. So lets take it out of the anti-static bag and lets prepare the hardware. Bust out the soldering iron.


NOTE: If you intend to solder an OLED display to the JumboSpot beware that some OLED pin arrangements are GND, VCC, SCL, SDA. The OLED's that I have here have this arrangement. Be sure your Vcc (Voltage) and GND are not reversed before you install and solder.


Also mine came with no ceramic antenna soldered on the board. This is good because most folks are removing them anyway.





Solder a 2 pin header to Pins 38 and 40 of the Pi. Your Jumbospot will work fine without these two pins but you will NOT be able upgrade the board firmware without it. I don't want to get too technical here but pins 38 and 40 are the corresponding Pi GPIO 20, and 21 pins. Here's one of the lines from the script file that update the firmware.

(sudo stm32flash -v -w 7021_HShat.ino.bin -g 0x0 -R -i 20,-21,21:-20,21 /dev/ttyAMA0)

You might notice there a lot of 20, and 21's in that command. That's where the action happens folks. No 2 pin header.........no firmware write.






Okay.......We have a 2 pin header on pins 38 and 40 and our SMA connector is soldered to the board. Lets prepare the software. We're going to use Pi-Star OS which is basically Debian Linux or Raspbian Raspberry Pi OS. Go to the Pi-Star download website It will download a zip file. Here's one of the big problems with burning the image.


UNZIP THE FREAKING FILE! Inside the zip file is a file with a dot img extension (.img). That is what goes on the SD Card. Make sure to Download the RPi file (if you are using a Raspberry Pi. If you have no clue how to burn the image look down the page and there are guides for WIndows, Mac, and Linux.




I'm going to make it easy for you. I have a Mac and the command is called "dd" . That is the old Unix/Linux command called "Disk Destroyer" so since many folks reading this page will undoubtedly be angry if they follow this guide and wipe their hard drive on their computer I'm not going there here. I'm serious. If you put the wrong device number down for your device you'll wipe and re-write your hard drive, back up drive, whatever.


Sooooo.........download a program called Etcher Point it to your Pi-Star Download image file. FOR GOD'S SAKE UNZIP THE FREAKING FILE. DON'T BURN THE ZIP FILE. DID YOU HEAR ME?


Then select your SD card reader and hit the flash button. Takes 5 minutes or so. And then you are DONE.





Now..............before you remove that card go back to the Pi-Star website and go to the WiFi Builder page Insert your credentials and hit the "submit" button.


LEAVE THE SD CARD IN .........find it in the file manager and stand by to add a file to it.




Once you hit submit it will download a file called


wpa_supplicant.conf


SIMPLY DRAG AND DROP THAT wpa_supplicant.conf FILE TO YOUR SD CARD. At the first boot up your JumboSpot / RPi combo will connect to your wifi. I hope you know by now the Pi Zero W has to have a 40 pin male header soldered to it as well.



Install the JumboSpot on the Pi






Now you can get on the SAME wifi network with a computer, open a browser and scroll to pi-star.local/


Be sure to include the dash. If for some reason THIS DOES NOT WORK, clear the cache in your browser and try again, especially if you've had other pi-star devices connected before. If that doesn't work open a terminal (in Mac it is called terminal, in Windows it is called CMD for command prompt) Then type


ping pi-star.local (this time WITHOUT the trailing dash)


You'll notice that it answers WITH THE IP ADDRESS. So in this case just point your browser to 192.168.20.69 (your IP address is going to be different).



At this point you need to configure Pi-Star. I'm not going to go too deep here. Initially you will be asked for a password. The default user name and password is:


user = pi-star

pass = raspberry


I'm not going too deep here but to configure Pi-Star for DMR essentially just add the following at the configuration page:

Select MMDVMHost

Simplex Mode

DMR Mode

If you have an OLED soldered on add it here by using the drop down box

Your host name can be anything. Just leave it at pi-star

Add your Callsign

Add DMR ID (initially this will not be on the first configuration page. It will have you reset the modem then you can add it)

Add your Simplex Frequency

Lat/Long/Altitude is optional but nice to add.

Hit auto for URL and it will add your callsign

Use the Radio/Modem type I have selected

Set Time Zone

Set your BrandMeister server. I use 3102 most of the time.

Color Code is 1


BE SURE TO HIT APPLY CHANGES BUTTON SOMEWHERE ON THE PAGE WHEN FINISHED. IF YOU NAVIGATE AWAY FROM THIS PAGE YOUR CHANGES WILL NOT BE SAVED.



OK! Congrats! You should be talking to people by now. Now lets upgrade that firmware. This is tricky stuff.


Navigate to Expert mode in the browser using this address:


http://pi-star.local/admin/expert/


Then select SSH Access and login using your credentials. (pi-star, raspberry)




Once logged in follow the directions on the screen and type in this command


rpi-rw


That lets you in write mode so you can update the firmware.


Now issue these commands to upgrade the firmware:


cd /usr/bin 
sudo wget http://vk4tux.duckdns.org/izspot/hsfw.sh 
sudo chmod 755 hsfw.sh
sudo hsfw.sh


after the last command it will write the firmware and re-boot the JumboSpot/Rpi. Here's something not mentioned. Once you download that firmware file (hsfw.sh) the next time you go to download a firmware upgrade Linux will probably name it hsfw(1).sh or something like that. I'm not positive but that's probably what will happen. At any rate you do not need the file after the firmware is flashed so for general housekeeping and tidiness (not Tide Pods) let's get rid of it. Again log into SSH ACCESS first.


rpi-rw
cd /usr/bin
sudo rm -r hsfw.sh


You are good to go and running the latest firmware. And be sure and call for KN4FMV on TG 3100 USA if this helped you at all!.





*****************************UPDATE 12 FEB 2018*****************************


Finally received the proper OLED and soldered it in. Works as advertised.




Also got one of the aluminum cases that they sell on eBay. Looks nice and professional.




You can say or think anything you want about the JumboSpot but this simple fact remains. They cost $45. Because of the price of competing hotspots people are going to buy these. They work. The OLED and case are cheap and look GOOD.


Before you jump too deep in my shit.........as some people have already, look around my blog page. I own an OpenSpot, a DVMega, and a Zumspot (so far). I'm buying the other ones with my own money and I am writing about them too.






Building The Perfect DMR Beast

Thanks Don Henley for the Subject Line inspiration.



Decided to transition my Raspberry Pi / DVMega combo into a proper enclosure. I had previously just printed a Pi/DVMega Case which was fine and all but a proper enclosure is a completed project and a conversation piece.



I've included a Build Of Materials (BOM) but only included major items. There are a few things that you'll also need to include some hook up wire, a USB cable with a micro-USB connector on one end that you use to power the Pi. You'll have to cut it and wire it to the Output on the Power Supply. Also i didn't include an SD Card for the Raspberry Pi.


Also I've left off a small kit of stand offs. These are invaluable for a variety of projects.









Ok, so here is the Build Of Materials. You don't have to use these exact parts. Almost everything can be substituted including the DVMega. You could use a Zumspot or the dreaded JumboSpot (Chinese Clone of MMDVM_HS board).


NAME

Price

Notes

Raspberry Pi 3

$36.39

Can substitute Raspberry Pi Zero W. To utilize older Pi variants you will require a USB WiFi Dongle

USB to TTL Conv.

$8.99

There are others you can use but this one is inexpensive

DVMega

$129

UHF only

Buck Power Supply

$8.89

There are multiple power supplies that can be utilized to power the Raspberry Pi. Pi Requires 5v and 2 amp minimum (recommended)

Enclosure

$17.40

Shipping costs $16.40. Hey, still cheap for this enclosure

D.C. Input Connector

$11.99

Bag of 25. Hard to find just one. Can order singles from Mouser or Digikey

Ant. Panel Mount Connector

$7.33

SMA male to SMA Female

Power Switch

$6.99

Pack of 10. Mouser or Digikey for single panel switches.

Nextion 2.4

$19.99

Must program screen for DRM with HMI file.

Bezel

?

Must 3D Print


Optionally, since the box is so freaking big you could add a panel mount ethernet connector on the back to just hook it up to your home network and not rely on wireless. If you go this route realize that you'll need a short hunk of Cat 5 or better cable. I have a spool of cable and connectors and an RJ-45 tool so I can make my own cable that is the perfect length.

Wow! Where to start. Probably the first thing you want to do it program the Nextion 2.4" screen. I have directions to do this here. Once you have it programmed you'll have to cut a hole for the screen in the front panel and fit the bezel into it. It's not too hard. I did it by tracing the bezel, drilling holes on the inside of the lines and cutting with a hacksaw blade in a handle. It's not rocket science and the bezel is wide enough to cover tiny mistakes.




Then you need to mount the Raspberry Pi on 4 stand offs. Make sure to give yourself access to the SD card, the Pi power micro USB connector and leave plenty of room for the FTDI USB to TTL Converter.




Before mounting the power supply take a micro-USB cable and cut the appropriate length to reach between the Pi and the place where you intend to mount the power supply.


A micro-USB cable has 4 wires (and 5 pins). The wires are as follows:

  1. Red - Vcc 5 volts
  2. White - Data Transmit
  3. Green - Data Receive
  4. Black - Ground


We only need the red and black wire to carry power to the pi. So prep the cable like this and tin the ends of the red and black wire with solder.



We're not transmitting data or doing any mode detection here, we're just sending 5 volts to the Pi.


Before you connect this and plug it in make sure your power supply output is 5V


Hook the red wire to the + side of the output on the power supply and hook the black wire to the - side of the power supply.







The pic below shows the output side of the power supply. Again lets not power this up just yet.



Ok now lets wire up the power supply. Right for the moment let's keep it simple. We can add a switch later. On the DC input jack are two legs. Place the red wire on the short leg and the black wire on the longer leg. Apply the red wire to the IN+ and the black wire to the IN-


DO NOT have power routing from the output terminals to the Raspberry Pi at this point. We need to adjust the output voltage first. You'll need a power brick with a 5.5 mm connector on it. The power supply goes from 4-32 volts DC. Obviously you need something more than 5 volts. Tons and tons of old electronics hardware around the house probably have 12 volt or 18 volt bricks on them. You probably have 10 laying around the house on stuff you don't use anymore.





Once the proper voltage is obtained you can connect the Raspberry Pi.





Essentially this is all you really need to do to be up and running. Once you plug it in it should power up beautifully and function.





At this point you can wire in a switch and fuse if you want. To add a switch just take the red wire from the DC input plug and put it on one terminal of the switch. Continue the other leg on the switch to the IN+ on the power supply board. The black wire still goes from the long let of the DC input plug to the IN- on the power supply board.






An external antenna cable can be added at this time as well. I swiped that small antenna off of another radio I have laying around the house and it may just be that this project remains with an internal antenna. Haven't made my mind up yet.


Since this thing occupies a lot of space no real reason for it to be using WiFi. Might as well hard wire it. Ordered that panel mount ethernet connector and installed it. Works great.




And just for a nice finishing touch I added a dust cap to the ethernet port.




Comments

A Newbie's DMR Primer

Bear in mind that I am a DMR newbie of sorts and this is a blog from the new dude discussing his opinions on DMR goodies and gotchas. I may get a technical detail or two wrong but I bet if I have this impression many other newbies would too.


There are two ways to connect to DMR.

  1. Digital Repeater
  2. Hotspot


Let me briefly discuss my understanding of connecting via a repeater. First of all your radio must be in range of the repeater. Once in range the repeater will have certain talkgroups that can be programmed into your radio. Here is an example from the D-Marc.net repeater list. So if you are in the range of this repeater on Hoosier DMR these are the talkgroups that you can talk on when connected to this repeater.




Here's the closest repeater to me below. By the way I cannot reach this repeater from my home but can connect to it from in and around my office. This connects to the PRN DMR network.




So just for comparison if I want to talk to someone on the repeater in Muncie Indiana I'd have to do it on TAC 310. So simply you are a bit limited in talkgroup channels if you key in through a repeater.


The 2nd way to connect to a DMR network is via a hotspot. You use the internet to get into the DMR network. The most common way to do it is via the Brandmeister network. The Brandmeister network has some crossover with the DMarc network and such local networks as PRN which is the one closest to me. But Brandmeister has the MOST talkgroups. They are segregated dozens of different ways. If you want to get on DMR, and your goal was to talk to someone in Wyoming about the weather your best bet is Talk Group 3156, Wyoming Statewide. Here's the US BrandMeister talkgroups. Don't forget they have groups in other countries, and world wide groups etc. There is seemingly no limit to the groups you can listen in on or talk on.

The biggest problem with hotspot is that it is only as good as your internet connection and won't work at all if the internet breaks, gets hacked, EMP burst, etc.


That being said I think that most of us newbies are going to go the hotspot and Brandmeister route. So now you need a hotspot. I'm going to list some pros and cons of some of the more popular ones.


SharkRF Openspot




This might be the most popular hotspot out there (for the time being). And for good reason. It just works.


I bought one of these and initially didn't like it and I'll explain more about that here in a bit. I've grown to love it now though.












OpenSpot Pros:

  1. Attractive and well constructed
  2. Easy to connect
  3. Boots and connects fast
  4. Built in operating system already installed
  5. Easy to find on the network (sometimes)
  6. Can calibrate it for best modulation between your radio
  7. SharkRF has a opensource server program for Linux you can run to create private channels. (Very cool) I set one up here.
  8. Can cross platform between DMR and Fusion. You don't need two separate radios.


OpenSpot Cons:

  1. Expensive
  2. No Wifi. Ethernet Only.
  3. Web interface only. Cannot add OLED or Nextion screen.
  4. If set to DHCP it changes its IP address frequently
  5. Supposed to be able to find it in a browser at Openspot.local/ (doesn't always work on my network)
  6. Mine has reset itself a couple of times. Poof. Reset. (I do run the beta firmware though)


So you'll notice my first con is that it is expensive. It runs about $230 on a good day. That's steep but $230 plus a $90 radio will allow you to talk to anyone in the world. Back in the day $320 would barely pay for your coax, and antenna. Forget about the transmitter, tower, etc. $300 is a bargain to open the whole world up to you.


One of my pro statements was that it has a built in operating system. All of the other hotspots (almost) are boards that connect to a computer of some sort (i.e. Raspberry Pi, Orange Pi Zero, etc). I'm going to say this in bold for emphasis. While some the other hotspots are considerably less expensive essentially the operating system on the hardware board (i.e. Raspberry Pi) must be installed and configured by the end user. The OS used is Linux. Also if you opt to use a Raspberry Pi Zero W you better know how to solder because the header pins don't come installed.


So yeah, you can save some money but you have to know Linux well enough to install the OS, ssh or VNC into the OS, configure the wifi, etc. Then you have to possibly hand configure system files to get your hotspot to actually connect to the network.


Me. I love Linux. Been using it since the late 90's and man do I love to solder. So let's tackle the Pros and Cons of another board, shall we?


DVMEGA


The DVMega is a HAT device which sits atop a Raspberry Pi or other small board computer. It comes in a UHF only or VHF/UHF board. Cost is about $129 for the UHF only and $169 dollars for the VHF/UHF board. Now consider this. Get the dual board, add a $35 Raspberry Pi, and a $10 SD Card and you're rapidly approaching the cost of the SharkRF OpenSpot. And there is no attractive case either. Just the boards.


Add a Nextion screen and it costs more than an OpenSpot however having a Nextion screen displaying all the necessary information that you as a Ham operator want to see is worth the extra expense.








DVMega Pros:


  1. Cheaper than OpenSpot
  2. Can utilize wifi from the Raspberry Pi 3 or Pi Zero W board.
  3. Can easily be used as a portable device in the car or camper. Use your cellular data for hotspot.
  4. Uses Linux! Yes that is a Pro for guys like me. Can tweak under the hood.
  5. Can easily connect an exterior OLED or Nextion LCD display screen.
  6. Raspberry Pi uses SD card. You can make up cards with various OS's and MMDVM instances and pick your favorite.


DVMega Cons:


  1. Uses Linux (yeah I know that bullet was a Pro as well) If you know nothing about Linux it is a Con.
  2. To upgrade the firmware requires soldering and mad Linux skills with one method.
  3. To upgrade the firmware with another method requires additional hardware and the removal and replacement of the IC chip on the DVMega.
  4. No case. Must make or 3D print one.



The DVMega is a sweet little board. Firmware programming is weird and the easiest way to program it I've found is just to program the chip in an Arduino R3 Uno. There are several nice cases that can be 3D printed for it. My favorite OS to use with it is Pi-Star. And just above I talked about the ability to add an external screen to the device. Having a Raspberry Pi underneath the DVMega allows for this. With a FTDI controller and a properly programmed Nextion screen attached you get access to all kinds of cool information. This feature is the OpenSpot killer in my opinion.





Let's move on to the Zumspot. Right at this moment there is no real link for Zumspot. Zumspot sits ideally on top of a Raspberry Pi Zero W.



Time for the Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  1. Small. Small. Small. Can be used on Raspberry Pi Zero W (or Pi3)
  2. Portable. Perfect for the vehicle or camper
  3. Does P25.
  4. Like the DVMega you install Linux on the Pi.
  5. Easy to add OLED or Nextion.
  6. Comparatively inexpensive compared to the others ($99).


Cons:

  1. If you buy just the Zumspot board you'll have to solder header pins on the Pi Zero.
  2. Zumspot is UHF only.
  3. Zumspot seems to ship with original firmware. Mine came with 1.01 and is currently up to 1.13.
  4. Currently there is no "Official" Zumspot website. Got firmware off a message board.



If I had this all to do over again I'd just buy 2 Zumspots. I'd slap one on a Pi Zero W and put it in the truck armrest console (I'm doing this now) and the other one I'd build up in a big fancy enclosure with a Nextion screen on it. (I'm doing this now with a DVMega). But think of the money I'd have saved with 2 Pi Zero W's, two Zumspots, and 1 Nextion screen. The Zumspot currently does all the digital modes to include P25 whereas most of the others don't do P25. If you aren't scared of Linux and even better not scared of running Linux completely headless.........get a Zumspot. They are awesome.


And lastly you have to figure that if something works well the Chinese will copy it and sell it cheaper. Such is the case of the JumboSpot or as some call it, the ChinaSpot.



$45 gets you a Jumbospot on eBay. I have one on order but don't have it yet. I've heard the gamut on the internet from "These work great" to "they are complete crap". I'll add to this blog and let you know as soon as mine comes in. There are multiple sources on eBay. I found one that had a lot of sales of the Jumbospot with good Feedback. One assumes there are multiple sources copying and selling these. Probably some are better than others.


JumboSpot Pros:


  1. Cheap. If you get a good one and it works you end up dropping about $65 total for your entire setup. That's awesome.
  2. Very easy to add an OLED display.
  3. Alum high quality enclosures available for just a few dollars. Fits the added OLED display perfectly.


JumboSpot Cons:


  1. Expect that once you drop your $45 for one that that's it. Don't expect a warranty. Pay extra for all the Paypal and eBay protections if $45 is painful to lose for you.
  2. From China. You spend your money, you take your chances.
  3. Many users are removing the ceramic antenna (labeled AE1 in the drawing above) and reporting lower Bit Error Rates having done so.
  4. Some horror stories with firmware updates.


Received my JumboSpot and added an OLED and fancy case. What can I say? It works. It works fine. Nobody says "Your other hotspot SOUNDS BETTER" or anything like that. For the amount of money I paid and what I received I'm extremely happy.



Comments

SharkRF IP Connector Protocol Server

Here's a cool little trick that took me a bit to catch on to. I kept hearing about people buying 2 SharkRF OpenSpots (at $240 a piece) and doing something cool with them. Never quite caught on. Then one day I'm reading around the internet about OpenSpot and found out that SharkRF had created a Linux Server for SharkRF.


In the name of simplicity it works like this. You run the server, then connect to it. Then you give someone else with an OpenSpot your IP address and port that you are running the server on and they can also connect to it. The two of you are in a private talk group that no one else can hear because they aren't connected to the server. No one can hear. NSA and FBI proof (ha ha, probably not).


The server stats are viewable on a web page as well so you can see who you are talking to, etc. Thanks to W4EKG for helping out with the testing.



So, it's a bit geeky to install. Way geeky but really just a series of cut and paste commands. Start here at the Project Github page.


fire up a terminal on your linux machine. Yep, you need a linux machine. Clone the following 3 repositories


mkdir /var/sharkrf
cd /var/sharkrf
git clone https://github.com/sharkrf/srf-ip-conn-srv
git clone https://github.com/sharkrf/srf-ip-conn
git clone https://github.com/zserge/jsmn


Then Compile.


cd srf-ip-conn-srv/build

SRF_IP_CONN_PATH=/var/sharkrf/srf-ip-conn JSMN_PATH=/var/sharkrf/jsmn ./build-release.sh


First you need to install Apache2 and PHP. Then configure it.


On his web page though he directs you to a web page to configure Apache2. When you open this page though it is a problem someone had. The solution however is further down the page. This was a head scratcher for me. Scroll down until you see this part. Don't do what the person who had the original post did. The screenshot below shows what you need to do.





Now go to this web page for configuring the server. Follow HIS directions. He did this. Not me.



So essentially you need to


- Follow the Github

- Install Apache2 and PHP

- Follow the directions I just posted above to configure Apache2

- Follow the directions on this page


I would have love to have cut and pasted his directions and added mine in but I think it is a little disingenuous to just cut and paste without attribution.


Once the server is working you can connect to it locally on your own network. Configure like this on the OpenSpot Connectors page. Obviously use your own IP address and whatever simplex frequency you want to use:



Now to let someone in internets land connect to your server you probably have to open some ports in your firewall or router. You will probably have to open port 65100. In the case of my server my ISP blocks servers on Port 80 so I moved my Apache2 instance over to port 90 and then went to my ISP configuration page and set an URL redirect up. So if you type (I'm making this up) thatcrazydude.com in your browser it redirects you to thatcrazydude.com:90 and you never even know it. So in addition to opening port 65100 up I also had to open port 90 up. With your firewall just close them when you aren't actually using it. Security first.


Once connected both of you need to be on the same "Channel" you can use any pre-programmed talk group. It doesn't matter the folks on that talk group can't hear you, you are talking on a private server only.


Ok admittedly this install is a little tough. If you don't know much about Linux nor have ever configured Apache2 it might really suck and when you crack that code then you have to be a network guru to open ports and forward traffic to them, but the payoff in the end is pretty cool. Your own your own private Digital Radio Chatroom that only you can talk on. Got a buddy on ham you have long winded conversations with? Perfect place to move to once you connect on TAC 310 or something.








Comments

Openspot DMR Hotspot


I've been trying to figure out for a few days how to write a blog page on the SharkRF Openspot . There really isn't a lot to say about it. First things first. As you enter the wonderful world of DMR radio there are essentially two ways to get on the network. One is through a physical repeater that you transmit to which repeats your transmission across the airwaves to the internet gateway or you can enter via a HotSpot which puts you right on the internet gateway.


As you talk to Ham's on the DMR network (or D-Star, and Fusion) you'll find that they love to talk about what gear they have. I would dare say a great percentage of people on DMR have a SharkRF Openspot. it's really amazing how many folks have them.





One downside is it will cost you about $230 or more to get one and with the influx of cheaper hotspots out there like the $100 Zumspot and then even cheaper Chinese clones of the MMDMV_HS Pi Hat board for about $50 I bet the Openspot may become a little less prevalent.


However, if you have one of the other boards I just mentioned (or others) you have to dabble with the Operating System including installing it and Dear God it is LINUX, something not everyone is familiar or comfortable with. I've been using Linux / Unix since way before it was cool to do so, so slapping Linux on a Raspberry Pi is second nature to me.


Enter the Openspot. Cool little blue box, and the operating system is already installed and ready to be configured from the web interface.


To use the Openspot you plug it into your router (or network switch), find the IP address, and change like 3 or 4 entries in the configuration such as adding your Call Sign, your DMR ID number, and selecting whether or not you want to do DMR, or D-Star, or Fusion. I think most folks will start with DMR.


Here's the config page (advanced button not clicked).


Select:


- Homebrew Connector

- Simplex transmit and receive frequency

- Homebrew

- Callsign

- DMR ID


not shown will be the BrandMeister server (usually US 3101 or 3102) and select Group Call for most of the boxes you can select.




That's literally it. At this point you're talking to people and your status page can prove it. Notice status says "In Call" as well. Cool.




Here's one thing I noticed about OpenSpot that I didn't like and your mileage could vary on this. I have a somewhat complex home network. I almost guarantee your network isn't as complex as mine.


Anyway you are supposed to be able to type http://openspot.local/ into a web browser and it should find the config page. Mine didn't. You can try http://openspot/ as well. Mine didn't work. I had to find and type in the IP. Not a big deal. Get an app called Find on your iPhone or Android and find the entry that shows up on your network called Openspot.


Here's my problem. The friggin IP address was changing constantly and I have no idea why. I spent half my time looking for it. I finally just set a static IP address which fixed that little red wagon. Highly recommended.


If you want to override the DNS servers, click the box and that sends you to 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 which are Google DNS servers. They are generally (but not always) faster than your ISP's DNS servers. I do not use that because I have a hardware switch on a VLAN into a hardware firewall. My DNS on the switch is the VLAN gateway IP address however on the hardware firewall it is the Google DNS servers so I'm using them even though my box is not checked.




Also highly recommended is the Beta Firmware. I installed it and it has been without issue so far.


There are a lot on configuration options and I could go on, but I won't. Buy Openspot, open package, plug into wall and ethernet, change a small handful of entries in the configuration and talk to Ham's.


That's about the gist of it. No wonder everyone has one. Nobody wants to do the Linux on Raspberry Pi thing (except for me).


Comments

Zumspot - DMR Hotspot

To get on DMR radio if there is no repeater nearby you will need a DMR Hotspot. The most "popular" hotspot is something called the SharkRF Openspot Great device but they cost upwards of $200.



There is a cheaper way and it is called Zumspot. Zumspot is as capable, if not more capable than an Openspot and it costs about $100. In addition to that you will need a Raspberry Pi (3 recommended) or a Raspberry Pi Zero W. So now we're up to about $110 and we'll need an SD Card as well. If you go this route be aware that the Pi Zero comes without the header pins soldered on so you'll have to do this yourself. I like doing this stuff. Makes it feel more DIY.


If you aren't comfortable soldering the OH SO TINY pins on the TINY PI ZERO W buy a Zumspot kit for $120. It only costs a few pennies more than buying it all separately anyway and there is no soldering involved.


Now let's make it work. Despite the fact there is seemingly NOTHING to work with on a Pi Zero you can actually pull this off and get up and running using just an SD Card. I'm not kidding.


Lets download a couple of things. First the Pi-Star image file from here. Make sure and get the one for the Raspberry Pi (unless you have the other hardware you are working with).




Now lets get a program called Etcher.


Simply put your SD Card in your reader and computer and open Etcher, then select the Pi-Star image file and click "Flash". Takes a few minutes but it will write the Pi-Star Image file perfectly.






Now, before you go yanking that card out of the SD card reader go back to the Pi-Star website and look for Pi-Star Tools. We're going to set our Wi-Fi connection up here. I use the wifi on my smart phone for this.




Click on wi-fi builder and input your credentials.



It will then download this file to your computer.



If you are inherently distrustful of putting your passwords on a webpage and then hitting a button just do what I did there and put in some nonsense then go back and hand edit the wpa_supplicant.conf file by hand. Also if you want you can change the country from JP to US. It isn't really necessary as it has to do with wifi channels. Change it to US for maximum MAGA!


Now find your SD card in your File Manager and simply drag and drop wpa_supplicant.conf into the SD card.



Now simply put your SD card into your pi-zumspot combo and boot. Open a web browser and navigate to


pi-star.local/



Be sure to put that slash on the end if .local doesn't work. Now we just configure. Set:


Callsign

Frequency

Lat/Long

Country

Set url to auto

Select Zumspot HAT from dropdown box on Radio Type

Node Type is Public (yeah I have it showing wrong here)

Set your time zone.



When it comes back it will have you re-add the modem and then you have a field to put your DMR ID in. Make sure your unique DMR ID gets in.


Also make sure you set your Brandmeister gateway. I use 3101 most of the time.


I know I glossed over the setup. There are all manner of Pi-Star setup videos on YouTube if I left something out. If you got this far you'll figure the rest out. Once you get in you might want to turn off D-Star if you aren't using it. I couldn't transmit or receive and when I really looked close I was connected to D-Star and not DMR.



I've only discussed setting up DMR. You'll have to do some homework on YouTube or Google to set up for D-Star, Fusion, or P25.


Also one quick note that may be of some help. This may be helpful some day to you. I built up my zumspot and used it perfectly for a day or two. Then the next day on the drive to work it didn't connect. It did connect to my iPhone wifi hotspot but never connected to the DMR network. Because there is no mouse, keyboard, OLED, etc. you really don't know what is wrong. I contemplated re-flashing the card and starting over then thought about it a minute.


I connected my laptop to my cell phone network and found the IP address of the Raspberry Pi under the zumspot. I use a command line tool in Mac OS X called Fing. There are all manner of network discovery tools out there as well. Fing has a graphical app for IOS and Android as well so that might be easier for some.


Once you get the IP address just put it in a browser to find the Pi-Star Configuration page. Soon as it popped up I saw the DMR button wasn't green and I switched the Brandmeister server from 3102 to 3101 which then immediately connected. Nothing was wrong with my Zumspot, rather the problem obviously was with Brandmeister 3102 server (at that particular time).


Also there is another way to get your IP address quickly. I have a Nextion screen and I discuss how to program an HMI file on it here. Once plugged into the Raspberry Pi under your Zumspot via USB (and configured in Pi-Star) it will display your IP address. Simply configure the Nextion by selecting it in the dropdown box below and setting the Port to the USB port. When you reboot, the Nextion will be functioning correctly and will be displaying your IP address.




And here's your Nextion screen with the IP address at the bottom. I know you won't want a big screen hooked to the tiny Pi Zero W and Zumspot stack up all the time but plugging in the Nextion to get the IP address could be a quick lifesaver.



Comments

TYT MD-380 vs. Radioddity GD-77

So, you are new to DRM Ham Radio as I am. You've got your unique DMR ID number and you're ready to talk to Hams worldwide on the Brandmeister, or D-Marc networks depending on how you connect. But you aren't sure what radio to get and furthermore you don't even know if you'll like this DMR thing.


The first thing I recommend doing is going to the Brandmeister Hose and just listening to the various talk groups. That's right, you can access just about any talk group from the internet and listen. Doesn't cost a thing and gives you a feel for DMR radio.


So now you've decided you want to play along ............. You need a radio but you don't want to break the bank. There are a lot of choices out there and I'm only going to cover 2 of them because they are both sub $100 radios. To me, those are the entry-level, get your feet wet, DRM Radios.


The two entry level radios (in my opinion) are the TYT MD-380 and the Radioddity GD-77





They both come with free software and a free programming cable. That's a big plus. Both are Chinese made (that used to be a bad thing, not so much anymore) and again, both are less than $100.


The MD-380 has a much nicer color screen than the GD-77 if that matters to you. The MD-380 also shows more information. One of the first things I noticed after programming both with a similar cqodeplug (the software that sets your channels) that the MD-380 used channel names whereas the GD-77 displayed them in frequency. When you set up DMR most people are going to set up simplex channels and use the same frequency on every channel to transmit and receive between the radio and the repeater or hotspot. My point is that I programmed 12 talk groups (or channels) into the GD-77 and they all showed up as 435.25000. Extremely confusing. However there is a setting in the CPS software (configuration software) to set this to Channel Name so shame on me (you) if we didn't check all the programming possibilities.


So when you hear Hams talk one of the things they LOVE about the MD-380 is that when a DMR ID is broadcast on the screen it can display your name, FCC Callsign, and location. On the GD-77 it shows only the DMR ID. For example on an MD-380 if you are talking to me on your screen it will show

John Hagensieker

New Bern, NC

KN4FMV


On the GD-77 is will show:


1137991


However LET ME BE CLEAR. THE MD-380 DOESN'T DO THIS EITHER UNLESS YOU LOAD AN OPEN SOURCE FIRMWARE INTO IT CALLED MD-380TOOLS. Loading this firmware voids your warranty. (chuckle).


So again to be clear the MD-380 with stock firmware behaves the same as the GD-77 but the MD-380 has been reverse engineered and Open Source Firmware developed for it. That open source firmware gets better and better all the time. And boy is it great to see that persons name on the other end. You probably think I'm hard selling the MD-380 here and maybe I am but if you use your DMR radio in the car you don't really have any business looking at the screen anyway. And if you are sitting at home comfortably talking on DMR radio you can open your hotspot configuration page or the Brandmeister Hose and see all that information on a much larger screen on your computer anyway. Also you CAN add about 10,000 contacts to the GD-77 which will let you show aliases but there are about 90,000 registered users world wide so you won't get them all.


So for me, while it is nice, it is much a do about nothing.


Here's the BIGGEE. The MD-380 is single band UHF. The GD-77 is dual band VHF/UHF. That's right. A DRM radio that costs less than $100 with dual band.


Now lets talk about what no one having a technical discussion about radios hardly ever talks about. Sound.


The Radioddity GD-77 SOUNDS BETTER. Clear, crisp audio. Hey, this is a radio. You listen to it. That matters.


Here's an interesting thing I noticed as well when comparing the two. The GD-77 doesn't stand up as well as the MD-380 and by that I mean it has the propensity to fall over much easier when placed upright. In fact in the 3D printing world people have made little stands for it so it doesn't fall over. Hey, whatever works.


I don't think you can go wrong by buying either radio however the tipping point for me is the ability to install MD380tools Open Source Firmware into the radio. The ability to show the talker alias, have promiscuous mode (lets you hear all talk groups even those not programmed in), and showing the last person heard displayed on the screen are super helpful, super cool features.


My take:

- If you are a super geek and want new and cool features get the MD-380.


- If you need VHF your only choice here is the GD-77. You may only have a VHF repeater near you.


- If you need tutoring WAY more people own the MD-380 and therefore there are way more web pages and YouTube videos about it out there.


- If you walk around the house or yard and want to see who you are talking to get the MD-380 and MD-380tools


- If you are an old guy with horrible eyesight and can't see either screen get the GD-77


- If you want a radio for the car or truck or boat to use while in motion get the GD-77


- If you want technical support and fast answers to your problems get the GD-77. They are much more responsive and helpful.



Okay that moment where I say which one is best. They both are great. I'm torn between the geekiness of the Open Source Firmware on one and the Dual Band capability on the other.


Get 'em both!




Comments

Nextion Screen on KB5RAB MMDVM DRM Operating System


I've been dabbling with DMR Radio Hotspots and trying hard to build the perfect rig. Right now I am running KB5RAB MMDVM image with great success.


I'd say that it is a bit geekier to use than an image like Pi-Star You'll note that I didn't hotlink KB5RAB and there's a good reason for that. There isn't a link!


You have to join the Brandmeister TalkGroup 3148 on Facebook and once approved go to the Files section and get the latest link to the KB5RAB image. It comes with a pretty excellent set of directions as well.


I'm using a Raspberry Pi 3 and DVMega UHF board and finally added the Nextion 2.4" UART HMI Screen also to get this screen to work you will need a USB to TTL converter.








The screen is interactive and changes values which is really cool. Here's what it looks like in action. Not the greatest video but you'll get the idea.




So it's not that complicated. So basically you download the KB5RAB image and write it to an SD card. They recommend logging in via a VNC connection. If you want to use ssh right out of the chute after you write the card add a file called "ssh" to /boot. On a mac I pass


cd /Volumes

cd boot

touch ssh


Ok, done deal you should be booted into the image and now you need to configure it. But first lets go back to the Nextion screen and configure it. First you need to download the Nextion Screen Editor and then you need a file to upload to the screen. I got my Nextion screen HMI file from an excellent resource and I won't hotlink his file for a couple of reasons. One, it isn't mine and I don't want to give the appearance it is. 2nd the link is only accessible if you are a member of QRZ.com anyway. So you would have to make an account there. Then do a global search for 2E0XVX. Scroll way down his page and he has a link to the Nextion HMI file.


It's super easy to configure. Install Nextion Screen Editor and open 2E0XVX's file. You MIGHT have to set the device ID. I didn't. Also note that near the upper left is a box I have tagged with the frequency in it. If your simplex channel is different than his you need to change this. Note that on the right the MMDVM line is highlighted blue. and the t22 box is selected. Scroll down on the lower right pane and find the frequency and change it. You have to do it one more time for the transmit frequency. (2nd photo).




Change the transmit frequency as well, then click Upload. You may have to set your serial port slow. I did for some reason. Note that this time I have the DMR field highlighted on the upper right hand pane and I have also changed the frequency in the lower left hand pane. Now simply hit upload.





Once it completes........that's it. Unplug the screen and go back to your KB5RAB image and log in over VNC. (I actually used ssh). Open a terminal and type


sudo raspi-config


Do the following (I'm not screenshoting everything here. If you can't figure out how to change your password by looking at the pic below you're in the wrong place anyway):


- Change User Password.

- Change Host Name (optional. I have a million Raspberry Pi's. I need very unique names so I know which is which)

- Localization Options. Change your Timezone.

- Interfacing Options. (See 2nd pic)




-Interfacing Options (con't.) Select "Serial"



Login shell = no



Serial Port Hardware = yes (I have seen people say both need to be NO. I had to turn on the serial port hardware to make my DVMega modem visible. I guess it depends on your hardware. DVMega needs it. Maybe other hardware doesn't.



Now go to your MMDVM.ini file and make sure display says "Nextion" with no quotes as in the 2nd to last line in the screenshot below.


And that's it. Should work like a champ. Mine does.





Comments

Adding an OLED to MMDVMHost images for DRM Radio

Well, once again I go find a process I want to accomplish and all the information is out there, however spread around in several places with each place seemingly leaving something out or not relevant to the exact thing I'm doing.


So I'm a happy lad running DMR radio with a Raspberry Pi 3, and a DVMega with Pi-Star OS and an external screen (OLED) that shows status.


Then this Ham I talk to invites me to view his YouTube page for information on adding an external screen to your setup. What this guy has done is amazing. His Ham Shack is amazing. And then he makes the statement that "Nah, I don't use Pi-Star, I use the KB5RAB image which uses MMDVMHost software".


It's just a compiled Raspbian Linux distribution that the developer added a bunch of ham tools to as well as MMDVMHost. Well, if this guy is using it, then by golly I should be using it because he sure seems to know a lot more than I do. So I go download it, burn the image file, boot it, configure it and everything works except the OLED screen that I thought was so cool. So then I find a couple of pages with directions for configuring the OLED and the MMDVMHost github page and try the directions on all three with no success. Then I start playing around with a combination of all three also with no success. Then at some point I start getting the drift of the minutia that the geeks are saying.


This is what I hate about the internet and people who figure things out. They know what they did so they say stuff like "patch this file or run a make on this file" but they don't tell you where the file is and leave out any number of important steps and clues. But hey, they know, right?


So here we go. How to add an OLED in MMDVMHost on the KB5RAB image (and probably other softwares that use MMDVMHost). First of all I got the information from here and here and mostly the directions were great with some detail being left out for my installation. The directions are great right up until the last step where you run the makefile on the MMDVMHost.


Assumption time. Assume you have have KB5RAB image installed and working with DRM and that you have an OLED wired up correctly to the DVMega. See here for details on wiring the OLED. Now log into your pi via ssh or attached monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I use ssh.


sudo raspi-config

go to step 5 (Interfacing options and make sure SPI and I2C are enabled.






Now exit rapsi-config and issue this command:

sudo apt-get install build-essential git-core libi2c-dev i2c-tools lm-sensor


Now do


sudo nano /etc/modules

ensure i2c and spidev are added





Now hit CTL + X, then Y then enter to save the file


Now run the following two commands to ensure your devices exist.


ls /dev12c*


ls /dev/spi*


root@raspberrypi:~# ls /dev/i2c*
/dev/i2c-0
root@raspberrypi:~# ls /dev/spi*
/dev/spidev0.0  /dev/spidev0.1


Now run these commands for the OLED library


git clone https://github.com/hallard/ArduiPi_OLED
cd ArduiPi_OLED
sudo make


"sudo make" also installs the libraries in this instance. Now here's where I ran into problems which are best solved by going into the GUI on the KB5RAB image. So boot into it or open a VNC session. Okay first stop the MMDVMHost



Now get the new MMDVMHost gitclone from the updates folder.




Now you'll notice that it put it in the Downloads folder.



Do a


cd MMDVMHost


then list the files


ls




Now you can run the makefile here.


sudo make -f Makefile.Pi.OLED


this takes a few minutes. Once it builds go back to the GUI and select "Update MMDVMHost Script"




Now go to "Edit MMDVMHost.ini"



Now make sure under Display it says OLED



Now reboot and you should be looking at a pretty OLED




Now I used the GUI and some of you may scoff at that. Running headless and using the command line is where it is at, and I agree fully with that. This was an attempt to make it EASY for others. By all means, you can do this from the command line and the instructions are already written for you in the scripts files.


NOTE: ONCE YOU RUN THE COMMANDS IN THE SCRIPT FILE TO REFRESH MMDMVHOST FROM GITHUB YOU STILL HAVE TO RUN make -f Makefile.Pi.OLED BEFORE YOU UPDATE MMDVMHOST.


If you feel I cheated cd to /home/pi/Scripts and nano up your relevant script file (github refresh for MMDVMHost or Update MMDVMHost) and use the commands one at a time on the command line. (I've only shown the example of the Update_MMDVMHost file here). No need to run the commands that start with "echo".





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