🧸 RadioMail 1.3 - The "VARA gets a nanny" Release

I am happy to announce the release of RadioMail 1.3 aka the “VARA gets a nanny” release. Available now in the App Store.

Download on the App Store

Delivering a Streamlined VARA Experience

As many of you know, VARA is a type of radio software modem that is used for transmitting and receiving digital data over amateur radio. RadioMail interfaces via TCP/IP with such software modem to connect to stations using the VARA protocol. The VARA software modem listens on two ports for commands and data payload.

Using a network protocol like TCP/IP enables the software modem to run on a radio-connected computer, while applications such as RadioMail can operate on a separate device, anywhere on the network. However, since VARA wasn't designed to function as a service, this setup comes with certain limitations, particularly when you don’t have mouse, keyboard or display access to the remote computer.

In order to allow for VARA to run on a headless computer, its lifecycle and configuration needs to be manageable entirely remotely. 

Introducing varanny, a command line helper tool that steps in to address these limitations, acting as a 'nanny' for VARA. It offers the following capabilities:

📢 Service Announcement for Zeroconf

varanny uses DNS Service Discovery to broadcast the VARA modem services, making it easier for clients to locate an active VARA instance and automatically fetch its IP and port. This is similar to how your printer gets discovered on a network. Give your specific radio configuration a name and select it from the auto discovered list in RadioMail. No more fumbling with IP or port configuration in RadioMail.


🕹️ Remote Management

varanny allows RadioMail to start and stop the VARA program remotely. This is particularly useful for headless applications when VARA FM and VARA HF share the same sound card or radio interface and should not be both open at the same time. It also solves the issue of VARA failing to rebind its ports after a connection closes when running on a *nix system via Wine.

🔀 Multiple VARA Configurations

Since VARA doesn't provide command line configuration options, varanny steps in to handle multiple configurations. It switches the .ini configuration file that VARA uses, allowing for smooth configuration changes before each session and restoring default settings afterward. Now, switching between different configurations for different radios is a breeze.

🎚️ Audio Level Monitor

varanny enables RadioMail to display an audio meter reflecting the audio level from the input sound card connected to the remote computer. This helps you set the radio volume at the optimal level.


😺 CAT Control Management

varanny can launch an instance of hamlib's rigctld, enabling RadioMail to control PTT and frequency changes via CAT control. This is necessary for VARA HF, where radio control is not directly handled by the VARA modem, or when running VARA under Linux where Windows COM port emulation can be difficult to configure correctly.


Getting Started

After upgrading to RadioMail 1.3, your next stop should be GitHub to install the latest version of varanny. There are executables for Windows, Linux amd64, arm and arm64. You can of also build it from source if you prefer.

Don’t forget to check out the README for details on various configuration options.

And of course, if you're already a VARA pro, you can keep using your manual settings in RadioMail. varanny is here as an option, not a requirement.


Create Your Own VARA HotSpot

Imagine having a compact, portable device that connects directly to your radio, transforming it into a VARA "HotSpot". RadioMail can then connect to this hotspot, creating a seamless, mobile communication setup.

I've recored a couple of videos to give you a taste of this setup in action. Start with the VARA FM video, then move on to the VARA HF. See how this could transform your field operations.

  RadioMail :: Portable VARA FM HotSpot  
  RadioMail :: Portable VARA HF HotSpot  

Still Early Stage

We're just getting started. If you're having trouble with varanny, consider opening an issue on GitHub. Your experience could help others. And if you have ideas for improvements, I'd love to see your pull requests.