Simple solutions!

For a reason known purely to itself, the Great British weather has decided to celebrate the commencement of Daylight Saving aka British Summer Time by dialing down the temperature and slamming it down with rain.

As such, the thought of doing anything in my workshop/garage which would be better suited as a beer fridge seemed daunting, until a quick rummage through the loft yielded the answer to all my problems!

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It’s prehistoric, probably banned under some EU Law, along with The Geneva Convention and by the Electricity Company, but who cares!

It smells a little dusty but raises the temperature and the electric bill in the process making all things man cave bearable!

Just what you need in the summer – an electric heater going full whack!

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A bit more test kit – RF Probe & Red Board CCCC

As with most things in life a change is as good as a rest. As I’ve been reading through the qrp-tech Yahoo group there’s been a host of information and advice regarding building QRP Kit especially the 1Watter and Rockmite ][.

Although I’m the proud owner of my homebrew oscilloscope a lot of the advice is geared towards those who don’t have access to that type of kit and that’s always a good thing. As such if you want to understand the advice, it’s worth having the tools at the lowest common denominator available. Enter the RF probe and the red board CCCC (Cheap Chinese Crystal Calibrator)!

I’ve been toying with the idea of building an RF probe for some time but basically couldn’t be bothered as I had no real need for one, but now I do! Originally I was looking at the plethora of hardcore homebrew ideas on t’internet but once again due to a poorly stocked garage/junk box I would have spent more money buying the bits to bodge in a true homebrew fashion than buying a prebuilt probe. Now that’s just not cricket as making stuff is 90% of the fun!

As a compromise Pacific Antenna’s kit was a reasonable investment and for once entered the country without Border Force inviting it into an interview room and probing it’s orifices and charging it a duty surcharge for the privilege! I’m of the growing opinion that being an amateur radio enthusiast would be better served by emigrating (not wishing to do a disservice to my fellow domestic enthusiasts, kit providers etc etc.) to somewhere warm! Cue Nathan Muir quote from Spy Game! (You can research that one yourself!)

Moving on before I get lynched, the RF Probe is a nifty little kit and if you’re starting out in this game and want a project for your Intermediate ticket, give it a look as it would tick the box for the practical build assessment and give you something in your arsenal if you want to build receivers/transmitters/transceivers at some point.

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Not much for your money, but 15 minutes work gives you this

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which plugs into your digital multimeter and gives you a useful diagnostic tool for future builds.

They even publish a How To Guide to assist you in getting to know your new toy.

The red board CCCC is another creature altogether. Chuck Adams K7QO who is the lead on the QSB-01 project hosts a site which is well worth a read where he uses the kit as an introduction to kit building as his first exercise.

Again, a simple build worthy of an Intermediate Licence project which gives you something worth having on your bench. When faced with a crystal, firstly don’t always believe what’s stamped on the housing of a crystal. Secondly, if it’s unmarked how do you know what it is? Thirdly, as builds progress in complexity you may be faced with the prospect of installing matched crystals in a transceiver to give a better IF (intermediate frequency).

By way of example, with the 1Watter build, at Phase 3 – Audio Detector Mixer (BFO) Installation, there’s advice to install three crystals from the supplied five which are closest in frequency. Now assuming all crystals are not made equally how do you tell who’s who from the innocuous metal cans? Further on there’s an advanced testing stage where the part built kit is tested against a crystal oscillator.

If you’re going to build something that works it’s worth giving yourself a fighting chance and for a whole £5 and a week/two week wait on delivery for a red board CCCC, on the scale of things it isn’t a bad investment.

Once again you get an assorted bag of goodies for your money.

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Which with a little love and attention turns into this –

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Here we are at the smoke test with a 12Mhz crystal under test and the board reporting everything correctly.

There is a need for a minor mod. In its native form this board is no good for crystals smaller than 10Mhz. By replacing a few capacitors with something more appropriate you will have a crystal calibrator more in tune to the frequencies utilised in all things amateur radio.

capacitor replacement CCCC

Morseduino 2.3 aka Failure is NOT an option!

OK, so I needed to have a point of reference for debugging the Arduino Morse Decoder because despite the best efforts of Arduino Projects for Amateur Radio, there were a few things that need answering or obvious points of assistance which are conspicuous by their absence!

Thankfully, when I was researching the long term plans for this project I was aiming for a single board finished product based on Prototino board. When I was Googling around I came across an OSHPark PCB file which the designer Budd Churchward WB7HC had released as an open source project. As an added bonus he had a few left over from a batch he had made and was selling them. A bit of a result on the scale of things. As much as this was a journey of discovery and development, if someones got a thing and it’s vaguely round and turns you buy it, you don’t reverse engineer a Bridgestone just for the fun of it!

That landed a few weeks ago from the good old US of A and had been sat here waiting for me to have a look at it. This was my hour of need and seemed as good as any to see what we could do with it! I’d gone one step further and taken Budd up on his offer of the full kit with precoded Atmega PIC to save more time and hassle.

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The PCB is very nicely finished and after a few hours of gently paced work I had this.

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As a nice touch Budd had personalised the code on the Atmega with my callsign!

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The build isn’t difficult but I needed a working reference point to fault find the prototype board, so I took my time.

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There are a selection of jumpers provided for testing throughout the build which is a nice touch.

The proof was in the smoke test! Video attached

https://www.dropbox.com/s/us4znscpl3odsaq/20160316_121553.mp4?dl=0

This is the Morseduino having a go at a 15 word per minute file from the ARRL Morse Practice Archive for January 6 2016.

The text it’s translating reads –

‰ NOW 15 WPM ‰ TEXT IS FROM JANUARY 2015 QST PAGE 68 ‰

COMPANY. I WALKED MY NEIGHBORHOOD WITH A PORTABLE RADIO TUNED TO THE
BOTTOM END OF THE AM BROADCAST BAND. I FOUND SOME NOISE AT THE POLE THAT
HAS THE UNDERGROUND DROP TO MY HOME AND FIGURED THAT COULD BE THE PROBLEM.
EVENTUALLY THE UTILITY COMPANY CAME TO MY HOUSE TO INVESTIGATE MY NOISE
COMPLAINT. THEY FOUND THAT THE NOISE AT THE POLE WAS FROM THE PHONE
COMPANY DROP AT THE SAME POLE AND THEY COULD FIND NO NOISE FROM THEIR
EQUIPMENT, EVEN AFTER CAREFULLY DRIVING ALL THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD. IN
‰ END OF 15 WPM TEXT ‚

In the words of Adam Savage once again, “In the spirit of science, there really is no such thing as a “failed experiment.” Any test that yields valid data is a valid test.

M2 Walk Around

Arduino Morse Decoder #3 – Decoder Shield Build

So after playing with Asian QRP transceivers for the past few weeks/months it was time to get things back on track and crack on with all things CW & Morse.

After successfully building the LCD Shield portion of this project the next stage was the actual decoder shield.

Here’s the partially completed shield prior to making all of the necessary wiring connections.

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It was at this point I noticed there’s one all mighty faux pas in Arduino Projects for Amateur Radio. There’s no help with wiring up the components on the prototyping shield.

I started working my way through the circuit schematic  after a considerable amount of Google time looking for publishing errata, with zero success. After several hours and a growing spider web of pencil on my circuit layout diagram I decided to wing it and emailed the authors directly, as the publishers’ support page was less than useless.

In less than half an hour the below diagram which is missing from the book was emailed over by Jack (W8TEE) and Dennis (W6DQ). Nice one guys, much apprecaited!

Morse Code Reader w display v4

So after an hours fiddly work soldering up the necessary links it was time to test this thing.

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With a certain degree of regret I had to unplug my LCD shield which was occupying the only free USB port on my computer. It had counted 1837237 seconds since inception, which equates to 21.26 days. Anyway, moving on!

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With all the shields stacked up the prototype was starting to resemble the leaning tower of Pisa and preventing it from toppling was a pain. Application of a few stand off spacers on the Arduino helped with that.

I plumbed up a Y-splitter on the audio out from my PC, hooked it to the decoder and loaded up a test MP3 file from the ARRL Morse Practice Archive and waited to see what happened!

In two words “absolute jack!” A double check of everything revealed nothing obvious.

As Adam Savage of MythBusters would say “Failure is always an option!”

Absolutely pointless blog entry

You can tell when you’re bored when the thought goes through your head “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to put pins in a map to show where all your QRP kit originated from around the globe?”

If you say so!

Screenshot 2016-03-12 08.47.01

https://www.mapcustomizer.com/map/Geography%20of%20Radio%20Equipment?utm_source=share&utm_medium=emai

If anything it shows if you want cheap head east and all the fun is in the west!

QSB-01 (qrp-tech synchronous buildathon) #1

Despite the fact my Rockmite ][ is sat patiently waiting for me to build it, once again I’ve been suckered in by yet another potential awesome build project!

While treading water the other day I notice a post on the QRP-Tech Yahoo Group, where Chuck Adams was promoting a buildathon utilising the kitasandparts.com 1 Watter kit which made interesting reading.

I’d seen one of these before for sale on eBay as a completed build and was gob smacked at the amount of interest it attracted and its final sale price, twice the kit form price and a bit more.

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s-l500 (1)

 Admittedly it was a very professional looking job but was the 15m model and being a US purchase would attract a disproportionate shipping cost coupled with yet another contribution to the coffers of Royal Mail and Border Force in Customs duty and handling charges.

I discounted the idea and it wasn’t until Chuck’s post I started reading and realised that one of these would be an interesting project as there are a smattering of SMD devices and a structured build which uses completed sections of the circuit to “self test the next/previously completed stage.
Going for the 20m model as per Chuck’s group project would give me another transceiver over and above my little family of 40m QRP flavoured devices.

The support from W8DIZ (the supplier) and Chuck’s buildathon, previously published guides and YouTube video tutorial series makes this a perfect guided build for anyone new to construction. It’s almost like a distance learning course which gives you something very worthwhile to use at the end!

The icing on the cake was the prospect of building a PCB enclosure to house the finished item.

I absolutely adore Dave Richards AA7EE’s WBR regen receiver build where he enclosed the receiver in a copper clad PCB enclosure.

original
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original (1)

 The finished item is a work of art and utilises Manhattan style construction using Rex Harper’s (he of Rockmite ][ QRPme fame) MePADs and MeSQUAREs, a technique I don’t really get and would make a complete hash of if attempted.

Fortunately when it comes to giving a 1 Watter a box to be proud of Ken, WA4MNT, hosts a repository of resources at qrpbuilder.com which teach you how to build PCB enclosures convincingly, including a bespoke build for a 1 Watter.

Screenshot 2016-03-09 14.41.46
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Screenshot 2016-03-09 14.41.42

 With this potential support network readily available and the need to have at least a few projects available to see me through 2016, it seemed silly not to “Add to Basket”.

This one will be a slow build and I’m keeping it for the warmer months when I can get some late night work in, in a garage which is erring on the too warm rather than sub zero temperature scale!

Website resources

Building an enclosure from PCB material
http://www.qrpbuilder.com/downloads/pcb_chassis_a.pdf
http://www.qrpbuilder.com/downloads/1_watter_092815.pdf

Kitsandparts.com build guide and order page
http://kitsandparts.com/1watter-V3.php
http://www.kitsandparts.com/store2.php

Chuck Adams (K7QO) QRP-Tech Synchronous Build
http://www.k7qo.net/qsb-01.html
http://www.k7qo.net/qsb-02.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0CH9Rhcm0A

http://www.k7qo.net/onewatter.html

http://www.k7qo.net/1w-108.pdf