The Amateur Amateur

Welcome to the new home of The Amateur Amateur

The American Radio Relay League has indicated that it no longer wishes to publish the column,
so I have set up this site as its new home. My thanks to all of you who have sent me messages of support. They are greatly appreciated.

The Amateur Amateur is a column about my experiences in ham radio. Since I have little technical expertise and not much knowledge of electronics, I make a lot of mistakes. I consider myself to be just an amateur amateur radio operator, but I keep pressing on and trying new things. This column details my triumphs - and foibles - and I try not to take myself too seriously. Whether you are an experienced ham or new to the hobby, I hope you find these chronicles of my efforts to be entertaining.

Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

March 2015

The Amateur Amateur: Cross Species Cloning

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H

Kenwood TM-V71A

The radio that started it all, my Kenwood TM-V71A

Icom programming kit

The Icom programming kit: Less than useful when it comes to cross species cloning

Under back seat of RAV4

Where's Waldo? Underneath the back seat of my Toyota RAV4. There's a Yaesu FT-8900 somewhere in this mess.

dented speaker

External speaker for the FT-8900: Dented, distressed, and now defunct.

Speaker jack on Yeasu VX-8G

The data jack on the Yaesu VX-8G, right? No, that's the speaker jack.

Data jack on Yeasu VX-8G

The data jack is hidden just below the speaker jack.

RT Systems CDs and cables

I keep RT Systems profitable.

It started out innocently enough. I just wanted to make sure that my transceiver at home had the same frequencies in it as the transceivers located at the local hospitals. Simple, right? Ha-ha-ha-ha! When will I ever learn? No Amateur Radio related task that I take on ever winds up being simple!

The first problem was that the hospital radios have over a hundred frequencies programmed into them. I had a printed list, but no digital copy. Even though I had software to program my Kenwood TM-V71A (the same model as at the hospitals), it was still going to be a lot of typing.

And while I was at it, I should probably also enter the local, district, and state-wide ARES frequencies. Plus SKYWARN, the ShowMe Intertie, the simplex channels and so forth and so on.

It wound up being about 300 frequencies. I think. I lost count somewhere while entering them. But I did finally get them all typed in.

Well, it had been a burdensome task, but not a complicated one. I was tired but happy. The job was done and nothing had gone wrong.

Then it occurred to me that I should program the same frequencies into my Icom ID-5100. Yeah, I should probably do that.

But there was no way that I was going to type in over 300 entries again! No, what I would do this time was just clone the settings that were already in my Kenwood.

Ah, but it isn't quite that straightforward, is it? We're talking about two different models of radio. More than that, we're talking about two different manufacturers.

Still, I was hopeful. Direct copying wasn't possible, but some sort of “cross species cloning” might be. In particular, I noticed that most of the cloning software that I'd seen had “import” and “export” features. And after checking, yes! Both the Icom CS5100 cloning program and the RT Systems program that I'd used on the Kenwood could import and export.

So I cheerfully exported the Kenwood's memory settings to a CSV file (Comma Separated Variables, a text file with all the data separated by, obviously, commas). And then I imported those settings into the ID-5100 using Icom's cloning program.

That, of course, isn't what happened. It's only what I assumed would happen.

The export phase worked fine, but the CS5100 program choked when I tried to import the data. Apparently it's very picky about what's in the CSV file.

I should have anticipated this development. Icom doesn't seem to play well with others.

There was no point in moping. Nor in wasting a perfectly good CSV file chock full of useful frequencies. I did have yet another transceiver that I could load up, a Yaesu FTM-350R. Better still, I also had the RT Systems software for it. If that couldn't read the CSV file I was going to be quite miffed.

It worked just fine. The CSV file opened without a hitch and the data import and upload went as smooth as silk.

Thus emboldened, I ordered the RT Systems cloning program for the Icom ID-5100. I already had their programming cable. Icom's own cable had caused all kinds of conflicts on my computer during an earlier project.

Need I say it? The program arrived. I installed it on my computer. I ran it. It had no trouble at all with the CSV file, and effortlessly uploaded the data into my ID-5100.

Oh, this was great. What else could I program? Well, there was the Yaesu FT-8900 in my Toyota RAV4, and the FT-8800 in my wife Nancy's Corolla. Was that going overboard? No, surely not. I needed all those emergency frequencies in my car radio. (Well, actually, I did.) I'd programmed the FT-8900 years ago, so it should be easy this time. I still had the software and cable I'd originally used, and again, they were RT Systems products. They were older versions, but they still worked.

But trying to program the FT-8900 was pushing my luck. Things really started to go wrong at that point.

The first problem was that the FT-8900 sits under the back seat of my SUV. It's not bolted down, a nice strip of Velcro keeps it from sliding around. Still, for someone of my bulk it takes some effort to see and work under the seat. I'd had, however, the foresight to orient the transceiver so that the back side faced forward, thus making the jacks and connectors easily accessible.

I say “easily”, but the data jack was for a 6-pin mini-din connector. If you don't know what that is, thank your lucky stars. I hate those things. Even when they are clearly marked, I can never get them properly aligned. And while hanging upside down, peering into the darkness beneath a car seat? Forget it.

After dozens of abortive attempts, I just ripped the transceiver free of its Velcro mooring, and with the aid of about twenty-eight lamps and flashlights and my strongest pair of glasses, I finally got the blasted plug into the jack.

Whew!

It was freezing cold in the garage when I did all this, but I was quite warm by that time. I went ahead and connected my laptop computer to the transceiver and fired up the cloning software.

It worked... and it didn't. All of the frequencies transferred to the radio, but I noticed three complications.

  1. The channels didn't line up properly. This could be a problem. If I was expecting to find the ARES repeater on channel 80, as it was on my other radios, but it was on channel 81 on my FT-8900... well, you get the picture.
  2. The cloning software tries to match up what's in a CSV file with the transceiver's own unique features. In this case it did match up “Tone” to “Tone Mode”, but it didn't import the data.
  3. It did not import the CTCSS settings. Argh! I did not want to manually enter 300 CTCSS tones!

I wasn't about to give up at this point. I was battered, bruised, simultaneously frozen and overheated, and just plain irritated. There was no way that I was going to quit.

Solution to problem #1: In this case I had to edit the CSV file and change the channel numbers... all 300 of them. By this time, though, I'd built up quite a head of steam and the work went quickly.

Solution to problem #2: Computers are literal. The Kenwood had used the word “Tone” to indicate that a CTCSS or DCS tone should be sent when transmitting, and that's what it had exported to the CSV file. The RT Systems program for the Yaesu FT-8900 picked the right column, but couldn't find the word it was looking for, which was “Encode”. This, also, required editing the CSV file. Fortunately, the editor allowed me to do a mass substitution of the word.

Solution to problem #3: This one was easy. The import software did not know that column header “CTCSS Tone” was the same thing as “CTCSS”. But it had been designed with a lot of flexibility and I was able to tell it, “Hey, these two are the same thing”. After that it merrily imported all of the tone settings.

Okay, I had survived hanging upside-down without the benefit of a prehensile tail, squinting at a 6-pin mini-din plug looking for a black-on-black arrow telling me which side was up (and by the way, “up” was “down” on the radio itself), and having to yank the radio out and then fumble it back onto its Velcro cradle. What else could go wrong?

The external speaker died. I had to replace it.

I had one more radio to reprogram, the one in Nancy's car. Her FT-8800 was very similar to the FT-8900 in my SUV. It took the same cable, but different software. I sent in an order to RT Systems.

In the meantime I thought about how nice it would be if my hand held transceivers could accommodate all of those frequencies. It'd be great to have the same channels on my base, field, mobile, and hand held radios, but I knew that wasn't possible.

As it turned out, it was.

One of my hand held transceivers did, indeed, have enough memory channels in it. It was a Yaesu VX-8G, and as you've probably guessed, I already had the RT Systems program and cable for it.

Imagine my disappointment when it didn't work.

This time it had nothing to do with the CSV file. The program imported it just fine. It just wouldn't communicate with the radio.

Imagine my embarrassment when I discovered that I'd plugged into the speaker jack instead of the data jack.

It uploaded the data with no problems after I sorted out that little, umm.. faux pas.

Right, moving on, the programming disk for the FT-8800 arrived. It was another bitterly cold day when I opened the trunk of Nancy's car, plugged my laptop (now loaded with RT Systems programs for virtually everything) into the transceiver, started up the radio's data transfer feature...

...and nothing happened.

I kept trying, but eventually had to give up because my fingers were getting numb. If I'd been able to drag Nancy's car into the house where it was warm, I would've kept on going.

Anyway, such enforced breaks often wind up being useful. Once my fingers.. and brain.. had warmed up, I came up with a plausible reason why my laptop had not been able to communicate with the FT-8800.

For the FT-8900 in my SUV I'd used the older software and cable. For the FT-8800 in Nancy's car I'd used newer software... and the older cable.

Really? Could it be that RT Systems, in upgrading the base software, had made it incompatible with the older cable? Or had my old cable passed its sell-by date?

Well, I had no better ideas, so I ordered the newer cable, thus improving RT Systems' quarterly profits yet again.

Yep, that was the problem. Once the new cable arrived I plugged it in and it worked like a charm. I was in and out of the freezing garage before any of my fingers or toes fell off.

I learned a lot from the experience, that's for sure. For example, cross species cloning is possible, but it's best to stick with one brand of software. If the software company also makes cables, buy them! I also learned that “some assembly is required” when performing cross species cloning, which is to say, it's likely that I'll have to edit the intermediate CSV file.

But the most important lesson?

Stop buying radios. I have enough.

Glitches in the System
A series of cartoons about what really happens when your radio breaks down

New "Glitch" added March 2015!

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to see previous columns.

All previous columns are now in Web-page format.

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