Sunday, January 25, 2015

Raising antennas with a drone

Stephen, VK2BLQ, has suggested we try holding an HF vertical up with a drone but here's another idea for antenna installation in tall trees.

I'll have to improve my skills a bit but it's a great way to combine two hobbies.

Good value laptop for ham radio use - Lenovo X201

Recently there have been a constant stream of second hand Lenovo X201 laptops on ebay here. David Rowe mentioned when he visited that the X200 series is the last "good" Lenovo laptops from a technical Linux using perspective. Here's the one I picked up for $240 but they range from $200-$300.

I like these for the following reasons:

  • Solid build
  • Easy access to the hard drive - one screw and it pops out of the side.
  • Old style boot, not UEFI, so you can install old Windows
  • Fairly compact
  • Tolerant of high RF (My old MSI netbook goes a bit crazy when transmitting)
  • Decent CPU - i5 with quad core can keep up with DSP tasks
Mine came with a pretty dead battery so I paid another $40 to get a new 9 cell replacement. I had a 240GB SSD handy so I used a USB key with a gparted live linux system on it to dd copy the internal disk over to an external drive case and then swapped the drive. (These little bootable USB utilities are a very useful tool in the kit).

As you can see above, I'm dual booting Ubuntu for WSPR but also keeping Windows 7 around for the Windows only software I sometimes need to run.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Skypi 40m transmitter controlled by Raspberry Pi

Just saw this interesting gadget called a Skypi from RadWAV.

It appears to be a 1W carrier transmitter for 40m that plugs in to the GPIO socket on a Raspberry Pi. The board requires 12V and it produces 5V to power the Raspberry Pi board via the connector.

They've modified existing software to control the frequency and carrier so that it can transmit WSPR, RTTY and CW. For CW they can read a key plugged in to the board.

Note that this is not a transceiver, which is a pity. They offer an optional output socket for a receiver and the board switches the antenna to that port between transmissions - there's demonstration audio of how it sounds.

It's great that RadWAV has created this product but I'd really like to see at least a block diagram of it. The documentation is sent to you by email after ordering.

Personally, I'm hanging out for the OpenRadio SDR which is being launched at Linux Conf AU which starts on Monday 12th Jan.

The SkyPi kit is US$85 or US$185 assembled including the receiver output port.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Copper pipe loop for 40m

Inspired by the work of Peter, VK3YE, I visited the local hardware store to get bits for a 40m loop antenna. Purchased a 3m length of copper pipe, some hose clamps, some copper saddles, a piece of dowel, and a plank of wood. Here's the result:

The variable capacitor is clearly not going to be able to stand much power but at 20W it doesn't appear to be arcing. This capacitor has a reduction drive and I'm using a switch to add a bank so that I can tune both 40m and 20m. Joining the tuning shaft to a dowel rod with a piece of plastic pipe and cable ties worked out quite well although there's a little slippage.

Matching stub:

Tuning is incredibly sharp but a very low SWR is achievable.

The offset of the tuning stub was a guess but seems to be reasonably close to 50 ohms. I had a pre-arranged contact with Stephen, VK2BLQ who could hear me reasonably well.

Reception seems excellent and of course the very narrow bandwidth leads to nice low noise.


Had a visit from Bob Bray who liked both the shed and the loop antenna, although I suspect he wasn't impressed with my impression of a circle.

Robert John Bray is a prominent astronomer who has been honoured by having a main belt asteroid named after him.

Update - motor drive tuning

I've changed capacitors and added a 36RPM motor drive and a box to switch direction. The drive is still way to fast and now I'm looking for a reduction gear or multi-turn capacitor of some sort.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Built an Ultimate3 Beacon

This week an Ultimate3 QRSS/WSPR kit beacon kit I ordered arrived and this morning it was easily built.

The display is super crisp.

I ordered mine with the 30m low pass filter.

The whole thing runs on 5V so I chopped an old USB cable and have been running it from a USB charger or battery.

It's a great kit, with very clear instructions and it came together very smoothly. Mine was missing one small capacitor but it was no trouble finding one in the shack.

The software is very well done and everything is set up using two push buttons placed in just the right spot for your fingers while holding the board with the display facing you.

Amazingly this does WSPR as well as lots of modes:

- QRSS mode (plain on/off keyed slow CW)
- FSK/CW mode (frequency shift keyed slow CW)
- DFCW mode (dual frequency CW)
- WSPR mode (Weak Signal Propagation Reporter)
- WSPR-15 experimental WSPR mode with 15-minute frames
- Opera modes (8 speeds)
- PI4 beacon mode
- Slow-Hellschreiber (frequency shifted slow-Hell)
- Full-speed Hellshreiber
- Half-speed ("DX") Hellshreiber
- CW (plain CW)
- FSK (0-999Hz shift, fast-speed FSK CW)
- Customisable FSK patterns
- manually-keyed CW/FSK transmitter

I ran Hellshreiber for a while but it didn't look too good on fldigi in the house, now I'm running 20WPM morse but that's not decoding perfectly either - my guess is that the signal is so strong that AGC is messing with it but I'm still trying to figure this out.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Useful M8 transistor tester

I purchased a transistor tester kit from AliExpress a few weeks ago and it's a useful gadget for the workbench.

Often when home brew circuits haven't worked it has turned out to be because I didn't get the pinouts on transistors right and this device figures out the EBC pinouts of a given transistor. It also analyses other components although not small values.

Cost about $25 landed.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Digital voice ove HF radio talk

This week the ARNSW Home Brew Group was honoured with a visit from David Rowe, VK2DGR, who spoke about codec2, FreeDV, and the upcoming hardware implementation called the SM1000.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Install freedv on Ubuntu 14.10

Just a note for others who might run in to the same issue. Freedv depends on libtiff4 which is not available for Ubuntu 14.10. Here's how to install freedv and avoid that bump in the road.

# grab the library from an old version of ubuntu
sudo dpkg -i libtiff4_3.9.7-2ubuntu1_amd64.deb

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list
# add these lines to /etc/apt/sources.list
deb stable main
deb-src stable main

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install freedv

Now you'll find the app if you search from the dock.