Ken Buser, W9IE isn’t a professional software developer, according to him. His extremely handy application for FlexRadio called RXAssistant, suggests differently. Ken has been a builder his entire life. He’s built computers, inventory systems, entire businesses and of course, his fair share of shacks, systems, towers, you name it. Ken knows that today, the “building” in ham radio, is the building of applications. So as a ham radio veteran at 80 years old, he taught himself how to code in C#, and continued to build. His application RXAssistant, for FlexRadio, let’s you switch between Receive antennas without needing the touch screen. That is a long way from the cake pan transmitters he used to build as a kid. Learn more about Ken Buser and how he continues to add to the world. You can go to w9az.com for the link to download RXAssistant and take a gander at the club newsletter while you’re there.
Tell me briefly about yourself and your connection to ham radio.
I’ve been a ham since 1955. 65 years now, and I’ve enjoyed it every day. It’s been a great hobby. I was just a kid when I got into it. Ham radio then, was like the Internet now for the younger generation. We’d borrow a cake pan from our mother’s kitchen, put some holes in it, mount some tubes and a few other parts and you had a transmitter. I built a lot of things over the years. I’ve owned a service bureau business and started a wireless internet service for rural areas. I sold those in 2008 and retired. My background started out in 1963 in the card punch days and eventually advanced to IBM mainframe computers. We were creating business applications for different industries.
What attracted you to FlexRadio?
In 2006, I was introduced to FlexRadio at a convention. My first interaction with FlexRadio, it lit up a light bulb. It was exciting. It didn’t take long to see this was the future. I bought the SDR1000, and then progressed to the FLEX-5000 shortly after that. I purchased one of the first FLEX-6700s when the 6000 series was released. I still have that same radio. Now I also use a Maestro. FlexRadios have always felt comfortable, they allow you to operate how you want. Being able to use software to operate the radio is perfect because I had the software side in my background.
But my favorite part is the performance. With other radios it was kind of like looking down a tunnel. There was a narrow vision, you could only do what the knobs in front of you would allow. Now, with FlexRadio, there are so many other avenues to go down. Opening up so many opportunities. And it’s all fun. It’s brought back so much fun to ham radio. FlexRadio has opened up the doors with the Flex API.
What inspired RXAssistant?
I just wanted to develop a program for myself, so I could change Receive antennas easily. It eliminates some of the menu changes and some of the touch screen fumbling some people have. It provides some of the selections I wanted with a click of the mouse. I can quickly switch between antennas. When I wanted to use my headphones, I wanted the speakers to go off. So I built a toggle so you could select between the sources. I then added RF gain buttons and a few other options. It’s great to be able to operate the way you want to. Which only FlexRadio can offer.
How was FlexRadio’s Application Development Program and API critical to creating RXAssistant?
None of this would be possible without it. When flex introduced the API it was a genius marketing maneuver, it added so much value to their equipment. You can’t do everything with one program. But offering that capability allowed other people with so much knowledge and experience to better the product.
The Flex Learning Center ended up being incredibly helpful too. When you figured out what you needed, it worked nicely. There’s just so much information there, when you’re not an expert you have to figure out what you need in the first place. So it was hard for me, but once I started learning, I appreciated the wealth of knowledge.
Tell me about the RXAssistant application development experience.
While I was building RXAssistant, I got a lot of information from the Flex Community site. I would read what people did and get answers to some of my problems. Eric, KE5DTO, at FlexRadio helped me out a lot. There’s not another company like FlexRadio where you can email a company’s software VP and they’ll respond with suggestions and help. Every time I thought I was overstepping my bounds he would always say, “let me know if you need anything else Ken.”
As far as writing the code goes, I know COBOL. So I had to learn an entirely new language. Writing these programs in C# is much different. At 80 years old you don’t go back to school. So teaching myself that was difficult. I had a lot to learn. I’ve got to give credit to some people that helped me too. I was first introduced to writing code by Mark, WS7N. Mark was very patient. He helped me to first connect to the radio and has been helping ever since.
I got lots of suggestions from users and implemented those. Craig Thompson, K9CT, asked if I could introduce hot keys. So I hunted down some code with Google, dropped it in and low and behold it worked.
What was the most challenging part of the process?
Teaching myself the code was definitely the hardest. But once I learned one thing it opened the door to other things. At 80 years old, I’m still learning but it doesn’t go as fast as it used to.
What was the most enjoyable part of the creation process?
The most enjoyable part is seeing it operate the way you envisioned. And to have other people come back and say they liked what you accomplished and they have a copy of it on their computer. That’s very rewarding. When other people use it, that’s the most rewarding part.
What has been the major feedback you’ve received about the product?
Nothing negative. I’ve had some people ask for some things I probably won’t do. Some of the suggestions weren’t really right for the program. I want to keep it simple.
Where do you see RXAssistant going in the future? What are the possibilities?
I might add a few small things here and there, but no big plans. I’m happy with it. But I’ll always listen to comments and suggestions.
Finally, what other applications are you working on for the future?
None right now. I’m not burnt out, but at 80 years old I’m worn out.
But I will keep enjoying my Flex 6700 and Maestro.f