A Decent Morse Practice Oscillator

About nine months ago, when I was embarking on my “learn Morse” plan I did quite a bit of digging, trying to find a decent quality Morse Practice Oscillator to aid in the learning. Admittedly my Yaesu FT857D has the ability to practice Morse utilising the keyer circuit and is pretty good at what it does. That said I wanted something portable so I could take the learning process wherever I wanted. There are an awful lot of circuits out there which do the job. At the end of the day all you want is something which beeps when you close the Morse key, but I wanted a degree of refinement which was fulfilled in the guise of the Morse Express T-Tone Code Practice Oscillator from Milestone Technologies.

Like most of my projects, we never got to the finish line in that I built the circuit and have been merrily using the naked PCB with a load of wires sprawling everywhere. That’s until FPARC have decided that October’s meeting will be an introduction to Morse, with a concerted effort to support those trying to learn. Better stick this thing in a box and make it road trip proof!

Now, this is hardly blog worthy, but like most achievements, the devil is in the detail. I needed to make a speaker grill so the audio tone could escape the enclosure. Not owning a CNC milling machine, a considerable amount of time was spent with a 2mm drill bit fashioning this by hand.

I’m really happy with the final result, to the point I may well go the extra mile and print some custom case decals as I did with my 1 Watter.

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If nothing else it’s another “almost completed project” ticked off my list!

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Portable Operations #4 – Pre Field Weekend Preparation

OK! Since the last field weekend I’ve managed to achieve the square root of nothing with regards to overcoming the few encountered hiccups and with the Bank Holiday Weekend and next Field Weekend fast approaching, the weather starting to score a cool 100% on the naff weather-o-meter; it was time to do something about it all.

The biggest problem was to be waterproof. As fun as it would be to get a “you can’t bend it 2 man tent” to use as my base of operations, it would be considered far more sociable to join the party in the club marquee so I invested a whole £4-50 in 10 meters of RG58U and set about building myself a feeder extension cable. With that easily squared away the next issue was to make that all so vulnerable metal of the plug to plug mating weatherproof.

Now this little trick, I can claim no credit for whatsoever. That goes to Mike Parkin G0JMI of Alton Antenna Arrays. Costing a whole £2-40 from Screwfix and providing enough hardware to waterproof countless future cables, you’ve got to admire the simplicity of this.

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By creating a rubber bung using self-amalgamating tape above one PL259 plug a 25mm plastic conduit coupler is secured to the antenna feeder. A section of 25mm conduit is then cut and slid over the feeder extension. Plug your two PL259’s together using a back to back connector and slide the conduit into the coupler et voila, one weatherproof union! Just to stop any build up of water that drips down the antenna cable from working its way into the rubber bung I sealed the top end with a coating of epoxy resin. You’ve got to agree, simple is always best!

 

QSB-01 (qrp-tech synchronous buildathon) #6 – And the fat lady sings!

So after several weeks / months of interrupted building we’re there!

Now admittedly it’s not in the enclosure I wanted to build, which was this

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but you can’t have everything! A PCB enclosure requires the ability to cut reasonably straight lines in your medium with repeatable accuracy. To do this I was planning on using a Dremel mounted horizontally in a 3D printed purpose made frame which converts the drill into a bench saw. Unfortunately part way through printing, my good chum Mat’s printer decided it had had enough and requires a bit of rebuild work and maintenance to get it back working. As such I don’t have a completed table/platform for the Dremel holder.

That said, every cloud has a silver lining. A Dremel would have set me back seventy odd quid, plus the additional hardware for the frame. The cheaper solution was an LMB/Heeger CR-442 painted enclosure from Mouser. Even with the duty charges and shipping I was out for less than a third of the cost of the Dremel saw table project and probably got to keep a few more fingertips into the bargain. If I build another 1Watter (and I will) I’ll look to box it in the bespoke built enclosure if the printer is back working.

So (drum roll please), here it is!

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If you want to save yourself several hours with a set of calipers and some graph paper trying to work out what will fit where (and it is tighter than the proverbial in there!), here’s a copy of my drilling template. Print it at full size A4 and you’re good to go.

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OK, the enclosure needs a bit of artwork to liven it up and to make sense of the controls and connections (separate post for that bit) but the soldering iron is officially cold!

Now on first reveal to those at home, I got a “Ah, isn’t it cute!”

Not what I was expecting! I was trying to build the QRP equivalent of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz’s “Inator’s Inator” here (you have to watch Phineas and Ferb to truly get that one I’m afraid) so people cooing over it is not what your kick-ass QRP radio wants to here. That said it’s a nifty little package.

The best part of a day was spent tinkering with the final setup and alignment as per Chuck’s YouTube video #9.

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This one’s a must. I was really surprised to discover how serious the relationship between the adjustment of C24 and C25 was when aligning the transmitter. I was wondering why I was seeing absolutely nothing on my power meter when I was keying until, Boom! The power was rocketing past 1W in a hurry. All good stuff.

As part of the build up to this project I invested in a frequency counter from eBay. The supplied item turns out to be a PLJ-1601-C which comes with absolutely nothing. Google provides you with a manual in one flavour – Chinese. So, with a little bit of effort here’s an English language version I made using Google Translate.

PLJ-1601-C english translation

PLJ_1601A – chinese language

It’s free and comes with no warranty, acceptance of liability etc etc etc. Just be grateful someone made your life easier for you rather than having to attend night school to learn Cantonese!

** Addendum 29/07/16 – Many thanks to Trevor Newstead who has noticed that for some bizarre reason all of the images have disappeared from my english translation version. I will look to redo the document at a later date but in the short term the original Chinese language version has been added for reference. If you look at the two side by side you can see what’s what. Sorry! it’s on the todo list

With the frequency counter attached to the antenna and everything on a dummy load I get a tuning range of 14.055.86 to 14.060.49 MHz.

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Unfortunately I still can’t get the hang of my Homebrew oscilloscope to get anything sensible out of the frequency analyser to check the spectral purity during transmission, so that’s a job for another day. That said I have managed to get my DS203 to do something useful. Here we’ve got a nice sine wave on keyup!

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The final stage is to design some case graphics, check the output for harmonics and sort out a throw up antenna so I can play outdoors in the sunshine. There’s no point in building a portable rig and sitting indoors when the sun is shining outside is there?

Free Technical Books

At the risk of triggering spam filters on a global scale, here’s a resource that may have mileage the world over.
I am still a big believer in tangible reading material rather than ebooks simply because there’s something nice about being able to leaf through paper pages. Why would you want to replace your book shelves or library with a Kindle? That said there are occasions when being to scour a single paragraph or chapter of a technical manual for that golden nugget pays dividends.

I stumbled across this site the other day and it’s a huge repository of scanned and digitised technical books on which the copyright has lapsed.

Admittedly some of these are very old, but like any library of reference material there’ll be something in there for someone somewhere.

http://www.tubebooks.org/technical_books_online.htm

No such thing as a free lunch?

Now over the years I’ve developed my own personal rule book to surviving life and it’s done me pretty well so far.

Fairly close to the top of that list is “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” and “Don’t go rummaging through bin bags on London streets”.

The first is a given but the second may raise an eyebrow. Bitter experience shows that either you’ll find yourself covered in someone’s unwanted takeaway or spend at least a good 24 hours in the company of a couple of Sweeney wannabes trying to explain that the severed head you found in said bin bag really isn’t anything to do with you and they’ve got it all wrong. Good luck on that one!

So throwing caution to the wind as it was Sunday, while strolling down a road in the suburbs of the metropolis of this great country, I came across a “free to a good home” pile. Sat on the roadside was a bag and two boxes of Dexion storage bins plus the required mounting racks, looking very cold and lonely and as the attached sign said “in need of a new home”.

Now bin diving isn’t my norm but this was most definitely a free lunch and it was all swiftly packed into the boot of the car.

A quick head count is 100+ storage bins and all the racking. Only snag is I haven’t got enough walls to use all of them, but a quick application of the drill and a few screws and my work bench is a hell of a lot tidier!

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To Richmond Film Services, thank you very much and I hope your premises relocation to Shepperton Studios goes off without a hitch!

 

Playing with new data modes

This weekend (1 & 2 August) saw FPARC holding a Special Event Station activation weekend, activating GB1PF at Fort Purbrook.

In the true spirit of membership I stuck my nose around the marquee flap on Saturday lunchtime to find the usual suspects enjoying a BBQ and real ale rather than chasing DX!

That said the bands were dead so what else do you do on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon?

A chunk of the afternoon was spent trying to get a very dodgy looking antenna working and getting to see first hand the advantages of being able to afford an MFJ Antenna Analyser. Unfortunately, it didn’t resolve the issue with the antenna but all learning is good learning in my book.

Here’s a rather nifty panoramic shot taken from the the trig point within Fort Purbrook, showing the home of FPARC in all it’s glory, along with some of the antenna arrays being worked this weekend.

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http://trigpointing.uk/trig/3235

On a nice day what a place to be playing radio! I really need to sort a portable rig to catch some of the action sooner rather than later!

Needless to say, the lack of activity on the bands extended into my available time on Saturday which is disappointing. I’ve pulled a couple of late nighters in the past, when things start waking up as the D layer diminishes and the F layer kicks in and have been rewarded by plenty of QSO’s but at the same time been equally frustrated by seeing all sorts of exotic call signs from south of the equator flash by unable to hear my meagre 1W response to their CQ calls.

I’m at that dichotomy point where I can either invest a sizeable chunk of money in a linear amplifier and then wrestle with getting it to work with my SoftRock or put the same wedge towards a rig that will give me the portability I crave along with a greater power output as standard.

For once common sense is prevailing and I’ll stick with what I’ve got and look to the future, so I need a solution to increase my number of contacts that will count towards recognised awards and personal challenges I’ve set with as little financial expenditure as possible!

With my recent mast install I can try playing with the orientation of the antenna to see if that will give me anything I’m not already hearing. There’s always a massive temptation to try building a yagi and mount that but again zero expenditure is the objective here!

I have got a degree of “code envy” as I listen to the number of contacts being hammered out on the bands in CW. My attempts to learn morse would make a snail look like Usain Bolt in comparison, but like learning any new language, these things take time and a lot of dedication. As such I’ve got a limited number of options.

Since getting my rig running exactly how I want it, I have had a good play with the various modes supported by Fldigi with a reasonable degree of success. So I was a little surprised on Sunday morning to find partial decodes of messages which the modem was attempting to translate despite a reasonably clear signal. The message fragment included the characters “new sim”. Odd? Break out Google and guess what, SIM_PSK31/63 was what Fldigi was trying to decode.

After a quick read of the site http://www.on4nb.be/sim31.htm I was installing the software and ready to give it a go.

http://www.on4nb.be/sim_description_en.htm provides a full description of the mode

I’ll come back to configuration details in a minute but on spinning up the application I was gob smacked at the amount of traffic that was buzzing around out there and a lot originating from countries that for some reason are being elusive to other digi-mode contacts!

Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth if another mode bags me a few more QSO’S then all the better.

The setup for the SIM_PSK31 application is relatively straight forward but it’s worth a read of the manual before diving in. The existing setup I was using between HDSDR and Fldigi using the VB audio cable connections was supported directly in the drop down menus and the Rig-Cat works fine if the TS-50s option is selected. With a few sub settings completed, all that was needed was to hit the start button and see what happened.

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I need to sit and have a really good play with the application to fine tune a few bits but it appears to work, so forwards and onwards!

Nothing to Full Licence in just over a year

This time last year I’d never considered the idea of amateur radio, let alone thought I’d be where I am now.

In just over 12 months I’ve managed to complete all my licence exams and today officially marks the inception of my Full Licence call sign M0XXF.

As usual, the call signs I would have liked were already taken so I’ll take what’s next on the list and hopefully do it proud!

I won’t lie it’s been hard work. Foundation was a baptism of fire as I knew absolutely nothing and joined a pre-existing training group halfway through their course. Intermediate was really enjoyable as certain elements had sunk in and the learning was a little easier. The advanced licence really is hard work!

Other people have commented about the level of understanding required and they’re right. There are a lot of useful resources out there on the internet and the Bath Distance Learning Course would be brilliant if you have the home time to allow you to keep pace with their structured learning. I wasn’t that lucky with my available time, but by keeping to the general structure of their programme and using every available minute of down time to read I got there.

I can highly recommend Q-ADV as a source of practice questions, along with Steve Hartley’s site. Ham Tests is another online revision source but the pool of questions seems relatively small at the Advanced Level. The RSGB Amateur Radio Exam Secret’s book is a must, it’s worth the outlay!

Anyway moving on, M0XXF is about to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in the sun with a bottle of San Miguel and one of Cuba’s finest. The Fat Lady can now officially sing!