Monday, 20 July 2020

Some IC-7300 pics ...

I bought Harbor Freight "pelican" style case for my Icom IC-7300. The radio can now get dragged around in the back of the car and taken camping etc without fear of damage.

FT-817 Go Box

I've had this kicking around for a while. Before I put it up for sale I thought I'd show you all my FT-817 Go Box.

It's built around a Harbor Freight "pelican" style case and contains everything needed to operate the radio in any mode. Just add a battery. The photos are pretty self explanatory.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Ham Radio Clock for Raspberry Pi

In a previous post I discussed building a clock to display the grey line and times zones on a large screen. Thanks to this project I've been able to improve the display as well as reducing the cost by a further $65.

The finished clock running on a 5 Inch LCD screen on the Raspberry Pi3
This clock originally appeared in a QST article in October 2017 but it took me a while to get around to it.  Whilst trying to get some "shacksessories" organised for my wife, KM4WSK's new radio shack I remembered it. I also happened to have a RPi3 connected to the Official Raspberry Pi 7" LCD and associated enclosure so I installed the software onto that.

The clock application installed into Official Raspberry Pi 7" LCD
As you can see, the clock displays not only the greyline but also solar weather data, sunspots, local weather data, UTC time and the current state of the HF Beacon transmissions. It's also able to display the path of a few satellites too.

Whilst I had all the parts for my wife's clock I was lacking an enclosure for my 5" LCD screen. A quick search on revealed a case that I could print on my 3D printer and then mount onto the wall. 

First boot of the clock. Note the lightning bolt
At first boot of the 5" display I was confronted with the dreaded lightning bolt. This is an indication that there is insufficient current available to properly drive the RPi and associated hardware. It's a simple fix requiring a bigger PSU. KM4WSK was able to supply a larger one from her seemingly bottomless "junque" box.

I've decided to revisit my large clock on the LCD TV (the one from the previous article). To this end I've temporarily mounted my 5" version on the wall. With a few crontab entries I can turn the display on and off so as to save energy overnight.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Fiberglass pole/mast repair

Many hams buy sets of these military surplus 4' fiberglass poles for use as portable radio masts. They are lightweight, easy to deploy and store well in the back of the car. But there's a reason that they are surplussed out from the military; they are mostly split at the bottom.

Typical split in a fiberglass pole
Over time these splits will get larger and larger. Eventually the pole will fail under stress and the mast will collapse. This will most likely happen right when you are passing that vital piece of information to the Net Control station after that tornado tore through your neighborhood and you are the only station left on the air.

My set of poles suffers from this problem. So I have made some minor repairs to mitigate the inevitable loss. I have a bracket that holds the bottom of the mast. It's about 8 inches tall and so can well support the worst damaged pole. I always use the worst damaged one at the bottom.

The worst pole gets put at the bottom where there is most support
Then using a hose clamp I secure the other poles such that they can no longer splay out. Do not tighten the clamp too tight as you'll misshape the pole. You simply want to add to the structural integrity. If the cracks are too bad you can drill a hole right at the top of the crack to prevent it from moving further up the pole. I stole this trick from the Liberty Bell 😁

Add a hose clamp to the damaged pole
Finally, assemble the poles in the usual manner. 

2 "repaired" poles seated together
In addition to the repairs I added an eye bolt to the very top pole so that I can attach an antenna wire to it.

Eye bolt installed for wire antenna. HSMM-Mesh adapter also installed.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

500kbps packet radio

Packet radio is pretty much all but dead here in the US but it seems not to be that way in France.

I recently saw a message on the AMPR mailing list about a 500kbps modem that someone in France had designed. The design files and software were put up on the Hackaday website. The design uses a handful of development boards cobbled together and has an Ethernet interface for the client computers to connect to. 

So I decided to have a go at this project. I ordered some PCB's from JCPL and searched the usual online suppliers for all the other parts. It took about 6 weeks to get everything together but for about $65 per modem I was able to build 2 and test them across my workbench.

One of the modems under test

I've been playing with them for a few weeks and am very impressed with them. I can sustain my MMDVM hotspot across them as well as attach a WiFi access point and make a WiFi Calling cellphone call through it too.

The downside for us here in the US is the bandwidth and speed. The FCC says that we can only use a symbol rate of 56kbaud and a maximum bandwidth of 100KHz for data modes on the UHF 70 centimeter ham band (where these modems operate). Currently the modem software will only allow links of 200kbps in 270KHz and so do not conform to the rules. 

Interestingly, this is not the only data mode to be found on the 70CMs band. Digital ATV has been around using the DVB-S standard for quite some time here. The ATV crowd erroneously reclassify their data (up to 2mbps!) as pictures/video rather than the data that it actually is. In this way they fool the FCC into allowing the mode without a rule change. So maybe that's how we do it for Packet Radio? Reclassify our data transfers as "image". After all, web pages have pictures in them. :)

Thanks to F4HDK for his design.

The network that supports the modems under test

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Cheap "Geochron" clock

I've lusted after one of these clocks for quite some time now. But at almost $2000 I really cannot justify the cost. But it seems that the manufacturer has been listening to their customers and has produced a digital version for around $400 that you plug into a 4K TV which you also have to buy. Hmmm, I'm sure if I look hard enough I can do better than $400 and a TV set?

One can buy cheap 4K TV's these days for change of $200. The one above is a Hisense 43" with built in Roku that I got from Walmart in the January sale for $179. Below it is one of my work 37" wide screen monitors.

So basically the Geochron 4K clock is a bit of software running on an embedded device of some sort. I've not seen one up close but it looks like it might be some sort of AndroidTV Set Top Box? It's able to display the greyline, track satellites and do other things in that vein.

Looking around the Internet I found this piece of software by Simon Brown (of Ham Radio Deluxe fame). It displays a greyline graphic in real time onto your PC screen. It can also show you a handful of other details such as the Solar Indices and multiple clocks. The picture can also be changed for one of your choice.

In the junk pile I have an Intel Compute Stick. It's a 1.4GHz quad core PC that one shoves into the HDMI port of your monitor. It runs Windows 10 and has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. It's also 4K capable.
Within minutes I had it up and running and displaying the greyline clock. I have configured the Compute Stick to automatically run the software upon power-up and so if I want to watch the clock I simply turn on the TV.

The total cost for this project (assuming everything was bought new) is as follows:

43" 4K TV = $180
Intel Compute Stick = $120
Software = FREE!!!
TOTAL = $300

Monday, 3 December 2018

$30 Low Power Echolink Node for the Shack

Over the years I've tried many different EchoLink setups. I have been dissatisfied with all of them. There were always too many wires or they consumed too much electricity or they were just too damned difficult to deploy.

For a while now I've been thinking about what I really want. What I really, really want. I came to the conclusion that I only need something that can be used in the shack to augment other activities there.  It has to be small, self contained, as few wires as possible and also portable.

I think I've achieved it! It's a complete EchoLink node (compute, RF, interface etc) in only 2 1/4 inches square (6cms). What's more it's entirely powered by a single USB connection.

I cannot claim that it's my design. I found it entirely by accident on Oshpark one day. Take a look at this web page by UR5TLZ. In turn he is using a software distribution called "Spotnik" which is based on SM0SVX's repeater software, SVXlink. I've used that software before.

The design is based on an Orange Pi Zero. With the addition of an RF addon board and some signalling transistors etc the OPi-zero can become a complete node. Unlike RPi-Zero the OPi-Zero has a built in bi-directional sound card that is presented to one of the many pins on the GPIO headers.

The addon board uses one of the Dorji DRA818 radio modules. This is a complete FM radio with built in CTCSS/PL facilites as well as audio in and out. It can operate at up to 1W but I have it set to 0.5W as otherwise the 5V supply fails. 0.5W is probably way too much for around the shack anyway. The rest of the components are SMD type soldered to the bottom of the addon board.

For my MMDVM project this summer I bought a load of surplus 433MHz spring style antennas. These would have gone into things like radio pagers, handheld radio's etc. I got 50 of them for $1.  So rather than add an SMA antenna connector and then install an external antenna I soldered one of the spring antennas in place of the SMA. The result is that I can now install the whole thing into the case without any extra holes being drilled.

I found that I needed to do a few mods to the design. Firstly, there is no RF decoupling capacitor in the PTT line. I found that the PTT would remain on when the software had something to say. Touching the antenna would make the PTT drop. The addition of a 100nF capacitor from the PTT to ground solved this issue.

The board set would not fit into the enclosure either. Upon further investigation I discovered that the issue was that the addon board aligned with the screw towers in the case thus preventing the set to slide in further. To overcome this issue I filed the corners from the addon board. Where they were square with a round hole in them as in the above picture, they are now a diagonal. The board set now fits into the case properly.

The sum total for this project was less than $50.

Orange Pi Zero  = $17
Dorji DRA818U = $8
Spring type antenna = $0.02
R's, C's, Q's etc = junkbox
PCB from Oshpark = $6 (you buy 3 units for $17 - use the spares to make one for your car?)
TOTAL = $31.02