N5BOC Duplex Hotspot

I managed to get my hands on one of the hot items in the MMDVM world — an N5BOC Duplex Hotspot. This is really a mini-repeater which uses both timeslots on DMR and has a separate transmit and receive antenna connector. Initial results have been as expected — excellent!

My idea was to have a hotspot where I could configure XLX on TS1 and Brandmeister on TS2. With the N5BOC board and Pi-Star this was a breeze. The key is in the DMR Gateway configuration.

My XLX configuration:

[XLX Network]
Startup=020
Enabled=1
File=/usr/local/etc/XLXHosts.txt
Port=62030
Password=passw0rd
ReloadTime=60
Slot=1
TG=6
Base=64000
Relink=60
Debug=0
Id=1234567
UserControl=1
Module=A

My Brandmeister configuration:

[DMR Network 1]
Enabled=1
Address=107.191.99.14
Port=62031
TGRewrite0=2,9,2,9,1
PCRewrite0=2,94000,2,4000,1001
TypeRewrite0=2,9990,2,9990
SrcRewrite0=2,4000,2,9,1001
PassAllPC=2
PassAllTG=2
Password="passw0rd"
Debug=0
Name=BM_United_States_3101
Id=123456701

If you’re not currently using DMRGateway, make sure that you have activated it by setting the DMR Master on the configuration page to DMR Gateway. This will reveal options to help you manage Brandmeister, DMR+, and XLX, all on the same hotspot.

XRF020B Hamvention Connection

XRF020B is your link to Dayton Hamvention through the end of this weekend. In cooperation with VA3UV and KA8SCP, we’ve linked XRF020B and XRF038C to Dayton D-Star repeater W8RTL. So feel free to connect through the course of the weekend for updates from your fellow radio amateurs.

You can also connect via DMR to XLX020B using TG6. Key up with an initial private call to 64002.

Feel free to post any big Dayton news in the comments.

73 to everyone in Dayton and those who wish they were.

xlxd and SELinux

TL;DR — If you’re not running an xlxd based reflector using SELinux you can skip this post.

I recently migrated the XLX reflector from Debian Stretch to Fedora FC30. Debian is the platform recommended by the software author, but xlxd runs fine under Fedora as well. However, since I’m running with SELinux enabled, there were a couple of issues to tackle.

SELinux tags filesystem elements with a security context and in some cases, xlxd fails to access certain files for which it does not have authorization. There are three files that will require some special attention.

xlxd.pid -- contains the running process number
xlxd.log -- the XML log file used by the dashboard
callinghome.php -- contains the hash value used for registration

In my system, the files are installed in the following directories:

/var/run/xlxd.pid
/var/log/xlxd.log
/var/lib/httpd/xlxd/callinghome.php

I had to create new rules to put the files in the correct security contexts.

semanage fcontext -a -t httpd_sys_content_t /var/log/xlxd.xml
semanage fcontext -a -t httpd_sys_content_t /var/run/xlxd.pid
semanage fcontext -a -t httpd_sys_rw_content_t \
/var/lib/httpd /xlxd/callinghome.php

One issue I discovered is that the contexts do not handle the creation of a new file. For that, I installed restorecond. This system daemon watches for specified files to be created and relabels the security context.

dnf install restorecon

Then, add the 3 fully pathed file names to /etc/selinux/targeted/contexts/files/file_contexts.local. Restart the restorecond service and you’re ready to start the xlxd, httpd, and php-fpm services.

A very useful command is ls -lZ. On an SELinux enabled system it will list the security context labels for each file.

ls -lZ
total 4
-rwxrwxrwx. 1 apache apache system_u:object_r:httpd_sys_rw_content_t:s0 66 May 16 14:12 callinghome.php

Another useful command is restorecon. RTFM.

73

“Peanut” App Adds USA Master

David <PA7LIM>, the very talented developer of the Peanut app, has added a new master server in the USA. This ought to greatly improve voice stream quality once fully deployed. The “020 Project” has volunteered to be the first reflector to move over the the USA master, which is currently in test mode.

When the move occurs, you’ll have to change the “Master” in the Peanut app to USA-Test. Then, you’ll connect to XRF020C as before. XRF020C is the gateway to the repeaters connected to REF020A.

The move is expected to occur tomorrow, May 1. (Update: We’re already there on the afternoon of April 30.)

Happy May Day!

73 de K2DLS

Pi-Star Configuration for XLX020

Some simple changes must be made to the configuration of a Pi-Star based hotspot before it can access an XLX Reflector. Thanks to our partner in the “020 Project”, Scott <KB2EAR>, who helped with following guidance.

To connect to XLX020 via DMR you must configure your Pi-Star hotspot to use DMRGateway. Before you begin, make sure you hit the update button on the Pi-Star menu.

If you have not yet enabled DMRGateway, you will find the DMR Configuration looking something like this:


To enable DMRGateway change DMR Master to DMRGateway (very top entry).

Click apply changes and wait for the menu to come back up. Next change XLX Master to XLX_020. XLX Startup Module will usually be either A (Central New Jersey) or C (Beyond New Jersey, including REF020A & Peanut users). Turn on the XLX Master Enable slider.

Click apply changed. Once the configuration above has been applied you should be ready to go. Next, program the radio.

To talk via DMR on an XLX reflector, you’ll need to use a channel programmed with TG 6. Also set up a receive group list with TG6 so you will receive signals from the hotspot.

If you want to move your hotspot between reflectors and modules, commands are sent via a private call. These should be entered into your digital contact list.

6 Group Call - Talk on the XLX Reflector
64000 Private Call - Disconnect Channel
64001 Private Call - Switch to Channel A
64002 Private Call - Switch to Channel B
64003 Private Call - Switch to Channel C
64004 Private Call - Switch to Channel D
64005 Private Call - Switch to Channel E
64006 Private Call - Switch to Channel F
65000 Private Call - Query Status
68020 Private Call - Connect to XLX Reflector 020

XLX020A is the gateway to the CNJHAM/XRF020A/REF020D network.

XLX020C is the gateway to the Peanut/XRF020C/REF020A network.

See you in 020 land.

73

The “020” Reflectors

D-Star users have long known about REF020. Reflector 20, as many call it, is one of the original D-Plus Reflectors. A number of repeaters in the New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania region link to it, including powerhouse K3PDR in Philadelphia and NJ2DG in Martinsville, NJ. It was recently relocated to the cloud by its operator (Scott KB2EAR) when when the site where the server was housed became unavailable. Historically, the busy channel tends to be REF020A.

During the weeks that Reflector 20 was down, I started exploring D-Star smart groups as a way to get together on the air with some of the folks that I talk to regularly. Smart Group CNJHAM was created on the QuadNet array.

Smart Groups can be a bit confusing on repeaters if you don’t know what group is being used as you come into range. My friend Ray <W2RJR> is playing with a low profile Pi-Star based repeater so we decided that repeater use would be simpler if it could connect to a reflector. Then the only destination route needed is CQCQCQ. So XRF020 was born.

Initially, there were challenges getting XRF020 getting listed in the right directories. You see, there is supposed to be one XRF directory that is authoritative, but not all gateway systems seem to pull data from the same place. Pi-Star uses one list, OpenSpot another, and DV4mini yet another. OpenSpot listed XRF020 right away. DV4mini uses the XLX list and you could have an XRF and XLX using the same number, which is “interesting”. Pi-Star took weeks to list XRF020 until I went to the “top guy”. Then it was handled immediately. Once I learned that XLX reflectors self-register, XLX020 was born.

CNJHAM - Our Central New Jersey smart group conference
REF020 - The original D-Plus Reflector 20 operated by KB2EAR
XRF020 - An XRF Reflector that speaks D-Plus and DCS as well as DExtra
XLX020 - A multiprotocol reflector that bridges digital modes

Here is the lay of our digital land.

Smart Group CNJHAM is where a few of us in the Central NJ area meet up daily. It is more or less our local digital intercom, but you are welcome to stop by and say hello. You can also say hello via XRF020A and XLX020A, as well as REF020D. They are all linked. The NJ2DG-C repeater is linked to REF020D, so you can get in that way too.

         CNJHAM <==> XRF020A <==> XLX020A <==> DMR/YSF
|
REF020D

If you’re an REF020 user, then you’ll want to know that REF020A is linked fulltime to XLX020C. You can connect to the XLX side of things via DMR, D-Star, or YSF. You can also get in via PA7LIM’s Peanut.

             REF020A <==> XLX020C <==> DMR/YSF/Peanut

See you in 020 land.

73

London Travel Tips Part 2

VAT stands for “Value Added Tax”. It is a bit different from the sales tax that Americans are used to. It is a tax that it is added at every step along the supply chain where value is added. In the United Kingdom the VAT rate stands at 20% for most purchases. This makes prices on your London shopping spree seem higher than in New York.

The good news is, if you are not an EU resident (pre-Brexit), you can get a VAT refund on items to be taken from the country under certain circumstances. The VAT refund process in the UK is different from what I’ve seen in other EU countries.

In the Netherlands, for example, if you spend over a certain threshold at a shop and, if the shop owner is aware of the VAT refund paperwork, you’ll get a form that needs to be shown at a customs window at the airport. Sometimes you’ll also be asked to show the merchandise purchased to prove that it is leaving the EU. The customs officer will stamp the form and you mail it to the vendor for the refund. You can do this once when leaving the EU for all items purchased, even if purchased in other EU countries on the same trip.

One year at the Friedrichshafen Ham Radio show I purchased a nice handheld digital transceiver which cost about double in the USA at the time. In this case, the vendor’s bank charged a hefty wire fee for the transfer to my bank. The fee ate up much of the refund. The wire fee is avoided if the vendor participates in a program called Global Blue. In that case, Global Blue will refund the VAT directly to your credit card. This is the ideal situation and you get the full amount of your tax refunded to your credit card in the currency used for your purchase.

The UK, however, does things a bit differently. They have outsourced the VAT process at Heathrow to the money changing behemoth Travelex. Travelex makes its money by charging fees to move money between currencies. In this case, they are taking a percentage of the VAT and then charging you again for a currency exchange because they want to refund your VAT in US dollars rather than credit the full amount back to your credit card as Global Blue does. At least this is how it went down during our recent trip. Expect to get only about 11% back.

The transaction took place so quickly that I did not have time to think about it until afterward. Next time, I will insist that they refund the VAT in the currency of purchase to the credit card used for the purchase. We’ll see how that goes and if it results in a larger return.

Another unusual aspect of the Travelex VAT process is that it takes place outside of the security screened part of the airport. So, they don’t even really know that the merchandise or you are leaving the country that day. Strange indeed.

April 1 DMR Security Update

A new security implementation for DMR repeaters has been announced.

It is called “Color of the Day”. The color code will be randomized and rotated daily to ensure that only those with the correct seed will be able to access repeaters. To get the seed you need to make a Paypal donation to the Amateur Radio Security Cabal Inc. This is a not-for-profit organization of amateurs interested in security and is located in Lichtenstein.

For further information please Google “Aprilscherz”.

Setting up a STARnet Routing Group

Last month I wrote about callsign routing in a D-Star environment. I mentioned that it is possible to create your own Starnet routing group for you and your friends to chat on. If you’re running Pi-Star, here is how to do it.

On the Pi-Star Expert Editors menu, select ircDDBGateway. This component (written by G4KLX) of the Pi-Star distribution contains the Starnet server. Starnet uses callsign routing to set up a group which can be subscribed to by any valid user on the same network. In this case, we’re using the default network run the the QuadNet team (rr.openquad.net).

You’ll have to pick a name for your group. The ideal Starnet group name is not a valid call sign and is 6 characters long. This leaves room for a space and a subscribe/unsubscribe character. So it looks like this:

MYGRUP   -- Group name

MYGRUP A -- Subscribe to MYGRUP

MYGRUP T -- Unsubscribe to MYGRUP

In the ircDDBGateway config, you’ll need to change the following:

starNetBand1       A
starNetCallsign1 MYGRUP A
starNetLogoff1 MYGRUP T
starNetInfo1 What my group is about

You’ll see some other Starnet options but it is ok to keep the defaults for now. Once you know what you’re doing you can tinker further. You can even setup multiple groups. There is also an option to link your Starnet group to a reflector, but please do not do so without the permission of the reflector operator. But if you want to test this, you can try XRF020E, which I have reserved for experimentation.

Note: The address of XRF020 is not yet current in the Pi-Star file listings, so until it is updated you’ll have to manually edit /root/DExtra_Hosts.txt with the following:

XRF020        xrf020.k2dls.net L

Once you see your group listed in the QuadNet directory under Legacy STARNet groups, you can set your D-Star destination call (URCALL) to MYGRUP and chat away. Just remember that MYGRUP is an example only, and you’ll need to pick your own unique name that is not already in use.

You’ll also likely have to forward port 40000 (the ircDDB port) on your router to the internal address of your Pi-Star installation.



It may not be like having your own private repeater, but for many D-Star hams, it is the next best thing.

73