My shack computer was old. It was slow. It took forever to boot up, load web pages, and start programs. It was inconvenient, but it worked so it was hard to justify replacing it. I used it mostly for logging contacts on QRZ.com, and occasionally to run digital modes on Fldigi. I played around with WSPR and WinLink a bit, but the decrepitude of my old netbook often made these exercises in frustration.
Then a thought occurred to me: if I had a monitor for my Raspberry Pi 2 (which I was already using in headless mode to run Xastir, a Linux APRS application), could I use it to replace my shack computer?
I started making a mental list of the things I need a shack computer to do. I settled on this list of minimum requirements:
- Contact logging
- Digital mode operation
- Signing and uploading to LoTW
- Web surfing
I’m not a hard-core contester, but I sometimes play around in the bigger contests, so a contest logging program would be nice to have, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. I already knew WSPR had a Linux version, so I left that off the list.
The most common Linux distribution on the Raspberry Pi is Raspbian, which is a variant of Debian. Much to my delight, I discovered a project in the Debian developer community called Debian Ham Radio Pure Blend. While I didn’t try to install this complete distribution onto my Pi, it did indicate to me that there was a lot of radio-related software available for Debian varieties of Linux. So that’s good.
Scanning the list, I saw:
- CQRLog for contact logging
- Fldigi for digital modes
- TrustedQSL for LoTW uploading
- The Pi has a web browser already
There’s a snag, though. Sometimes programs available for Debian don’t quite run properly on the Pi hardware. When I went looking for these packages on the Raspbian package archives, I found this to be the case. CQRLog wasn’t there at all. Fldigi installed, but I couldn’t get it to connect to my rig. TrustedQSL worked out of the box, and I was able to import my certificate file from my laptop without a problem.
I did some research on the specific packages for the Pi and found some answers. I won’t bore you with the details: you can find them all at AA5KV’s blog. It seems like the component I was missing for Fldigi was the hamlib library. After I downloaded and compiled that, Fldigi works as expected. I did find, though, that having my Signalink USB interface plugged into a powered USB hub caused a lot of signal distortion. I couldn’t decode anything. Once I plugged the interface directly into one of the Pi’s USB ports, the problem disappeared.
As AA5KV notes towards the end of his write up, there’s a newer version of CQRLog for the Pi (version 1.9.0) than the one he references in the main part of his write-up. I still had one pseudo-problem after installing it, though. After installing CQRLog, it would start up and then an error message would pop up saying it couldn’t connect to the database for storing QSO data. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling. I tinkered under the MySQL hood. Nothing seemed to solve the problem. So then, after getting the database error yet again, I went to the CQRLog forum page to ask about this issue. I hadn’t dismissed the error message while I was on the forum site. After leaving the failing program idle for a few moments, the error message disappeared and CQRLog finished starting itself up. It created the necessary database tables, and all the other components of this very well-made and full-featured logging program.
I’ve been running my shack on the Raspberry Pi 2 for several weeks. I have no complaints. I occasionally overload things by having CQRLog, fldigi, web browser, GIMP image editing software, and Xastir all running simultaneously for a long time. This sometimes requires a reboot, but there are two mitigating factors: The Pi reboots in about a minute and a half, and it’s a $35 computer. All things considered, I think it’s pretty impressive. Here are a couple of screenshots:
Have you used a Pi in your shack? Tell me about it in the comment!