Setting up a Baofeng UV-5R-2 & CHRIP on my Mac

This past week, I purchased my first ham radio in 20 years. Researching posts on this multireddit I created of various subreddits dedicated to Ham Radio, I learned a lot about the current state of ham radio and some ways to get back into the hobby. I would like to share the results of programming my new Baofeng UV-5R-2 on my Mac running OS X Yosemite 10.10.2.

The UV-5R-2 is a cheap, Chinese made $30 2-meter & 70cm ham radio. It seemed like a low risk way to get back into the hobby. Reviews generally say it is an ok radio, especially for a beginner. While certainly no Yaesu VX-8DR, it does exactly what I need: getting me on the radio. If it turns out to be a junk radio in the long run or if my interest  drops again, I’m only out less than $100.

One of the early tips I read early on is that programming a Baofeng is a frustrating experience. For a geek who takes pride in UX, this concerns me a lot. To counter this, it was suggested that I use a special USB cable to connect the Baofeng to my computer, where the application CHIRP allows for fairly easy programming of the radio.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as buying any Baofeng USB cable. There are apparently many cheap ($8-10) USB cables that use cloned or reverse engineered chipsets. This leads to a lot of driver incompatibility issues, flakey connection issues, etc. I found many blog and forum posts (which I won’t link to) mentioning various drivers to install to work around these problems, but I was not going to settle for that. I don’t have the time and patience to deal with driver issues (that’s why I have a Mac) and I don’t like the thought of downloading drivers from some random web site.

So I researched a bit and came across a genuine FTDI USB cable that can connect to Baofeng radios. Reviews said that no drivers needed to be installed manually for Macs and many versions of Windows, as the OS automatically recognized the cable.

Taking a $20 risk, I bought the cable and was rewarded with a plug and play experience in OS X 10.10.2 Yosemite. My Mac immediately recognized the cable according to the System Report (Apple Menu –> About this Mac –> System Report –> USB) as shown in this screenshot:

Mac System Report showing FTDI USB cable detected
Baofeng FTDI USB cable recognized by OS X Yosemite 10.10.2

 

Now that I had the correct USB cable, I installed the latest daily build of CHIRP, which according to some posts I read was needed depended on the firmware build installed on the Baofeng UV-5R-2. The daily builds also enable new settings you can program, including setting the Squelch.

When I launch CHIRP, I plug the special USB cable into my Baofeng UV-5R-2. I then select the Radio menu and click on “Download From Radio”:

Screenshot of Radio menu in CHIRP
Selecting the download from radio option in CHIRP

You are then asked for the basic settings to interface with the radio. Select the Port, which should be a usbserial option or similar (may be named differently depending on what USB cable you use):

USB Serial port selection
USB Serial port selection

And then select the Vendor and Model of the radio you want to sync. In my case, the UV-5R.

Configuring CHIRP to download from the Baofeng UV-5R
Configuring CHIRP to download from the Baofeng UV-5R

Then your Mac will download the memory of the Baofeng right into CHIRP, using what it calls “cloning”:

CHIRP downloading the  UV-5R-2's configuration
CHIRP downloading the UV-5R-2’s configuration

Since you may be a new ham (or a long absent ham, like me), you probably don’t know what repeaters are in your local area. On that same Radio menu I mentioned above, you can import data from various repeater directories (I use RepeaterBook) right into the Baofeng UV-5R.

Once you are read to upload your configuration changes, it’s a simple click on the Radio menu and selecting “Upload To Radio”. After a moment or two, you’re radio is programmed.

So for ~$50, I have a cheap 2-meter and 70cm radio that so far has been working fairly well even with the stock antenna. After getting used to the clunky menu system, I can hear repeaters as far as ~19 miles away from Manchester, NH, which is rather impressive performance. I’ll probably try to contact someone today and test out the signal strength.

I’ve also already ordered a new antenna for the radio for $15, a Nagoya NA-701 that is supposed to help out a bit more with reception. That is arriving today, so I’ll give it a try and report back on it. A good solid antenna will be needed when I go hiking in the mountains this summer. If this turns out to be a decent handheld rig for $75, that will keep my occupied for awhile!

Return to ham radio?

Ham Radio was my first real hobby and turned me into geek back in 5th grade (1992-1993), introducing me to the power of computers, and even the Internet. My 5th grade teacher showed me how to contact the MIR Space Station and he had me at “space station.” I eventually contacted hams from around the country and world, eventually probably 100 or so QSL cards. I learned how to use packet radio over AX.25, even ran TCP/IP over packet radio, and little did I know, hand editing the JNOS hosts file would be a precursor to me working for a DNS company years later.

Once I was introduced to the Internet back in 1995, my interest faded in ham radio and eventually I left the hobby for many years starting in 1996. I was likely the first kid in my tiny New Hampshire town with Internet access. I made technology my focus in high school, went to college for a degree in Information Technology, and now work at an Internet Performance company. Career wise, focusing on the Internet has made me who I am today and I don’t regret it one bit.

But I never let my ham radio license (originally a Technician Plus) and callsign KB1AZK, lapse. I have renewed it twice, each time wondering why I was, but keeping it for the memory of my first hobby always won.

This past weekend, I stumbled across an article about ham radio, and a thought came to mind. Why can’t I resurrect this hobby? Instead of randomly browsing the net, why not do something fun during my limited free time?

Soon I began devouring everything I could find on the current state of ham radio. Last night I started using the hamstudy.org flash cards to see how much work I need to get back to speed, doing better than I thought I would. I installed EchoLink on my iPhone and this morning, while randomly browsing repeaters in it’s directory, had my first “over the air” conversation in 20 years with KA1RCI. He was so friendly and gave me a glimpse of the hobby I used to love.

My next steps will include:

  • Continue studying as if I was to take the Technician license test again, even though I’m actually licensed. This is to build up my knowledge of ham radio again.
  • Once I’m comfortable with the Technician level questions, begin studying for and eventually taking my General license class test.
  • Experiment with EchoLink while I decide on which radio to buy.
  • Get on the air, for real. And talk to other hams again.
  • Join the ARRL and a local ham club.
  • Profit.

Moment app

I’m giving Moment app a try on my iPhone, to see how much I use my phone over the course of a day. It’ll be interesting to see what data comes out of this and if I change my habits any.

First test of Photos app and iCloud Photo Library

A few days ago I decided to try out the OS X 10.10.3 public beta and the new beta of the Photos app. I have been very excited about the promises Apple has made about the Photos app and how they aim to make managing my photo library easy and seamless.

After sufficiently backing up our old iPhoto Libraries and paying the small monthly fee for 200GB of iCloud Storage, I launched Photos for the first time and had it run through its import of my iPhoto library and sync it to iCloud.

The sync took about 36 hours for ~100GB of photos, which didn’t seem too bad all things considered. I then replicated the same for my wife’s ~60GB photo library on her account, paying for another 200GB of iCloud Storage. For $3.99 apiece per month, it seems like cheap insurance for our priceless photos, although it’s too bad my wife and I can’t share the storage. Plus we were both running up against our free 5GB limits already thanks to iOS backups.

Once both syncs were done, I enabled use of iCloud Photo Library on all of our iOS devices and chose to store the optimized versions of photos, downloading on demand the full resolution copy. On our home Mac, we have the full libraries downloaded so that they always contain a master copy of the photos. This Mac of course is backed up by Time Machine and Backblaze. Technically now we have copies of photos in four locations now, two of them off-site. That seems like solid redundancy.

So far…so good! The photos really seem to sync effortlessly without worrying about it. Edits to photos also sync and are completely reversable. I also like the new Photos app a lot, scrolling is so fast and a million times better than iPhoto.

Today we had our first test of iCloud Photo Library after a minor fender bender in a parking lot (don’t worry, no one was hurt and very little damage to the cars). I took photos of both car’s and their damage. When I arrived home, I opened up the Macbook, launched the new Photos app, and the photos I took were already there thanks to iCloud Photo Library.

30 seconds later and I had them exported and attached in an email to my insurance company for our insurance claim.

Finally. Effortless photo management. Even for a beta, Apple seems to be off to a good start. If this is a sign of Apple renewing their commitment to software quality after some recent concerns, I’m excited for the future.