Archive for the ‘Ham Radio’ Category

OK maybe not quite back yet

20 March 2017

Like it says, maybe I’m not yet back into the writing grind. Still, some life is better than none, eh?

Since that last post, I’ve been mostly working on my ham shack. I now have a laptop set up for use with my radios and the setup works either on the desk in the house or in the vehicle up in the hills. Simple plug and play. Plus I got my radio desk cleaned off, finally!

I designed and built a switchbox that effectively gives me a Tigertronics USB SignaLink with two different radio jumper setups. It’s a simple circuit, just bringing the SignaLink JP1 socket out of the SignaLink enclosure and creating two parallel sockets in the switchbox instead. With a jumper block in each, I can easily switch the SignaLink between the two radios by flipping switches instead of having to open the SignaLink enclosure, swap jumper blocks, reassemble the SignaLink, and switch radio cables. A 15 minute operation is now down to 15 seconds. Nice trade, if I do say so myself.

You can see this switchbox in the picture right under the SignaLink.

The ham shack today. The new switchbox is under the SignaLink between the two radios, above the laptop.

Yup, those of you that are interested, it switches between the Kenwood TS-130V on the right and the Yaesu FT-2500M on the left. Being deaf, my focus is on the digital modes and a friend who is 20 miles away and I plan to play with the digital modes on 2m. So, I expect to be switching back and forth: experimenting, playing, and chatting with my friend on 2m and doing the same on HF with whomever’s out there. The 2m setup will allow us to both get familiar with various digital modes, including CW, and get in some regular practice with them regardless of HF band conditions.

I’ve finally been able to make the test videos for my video project. I have sure learned a lot just making these two 2 and 3 minute videos. Not only post processing, but things that have to be watched out for when filming. Trust me, I’m getting a new respect for directors and filmmakers.

The GoPro has definite fisheye artifacts, as I mentioned previously. I’m still feeling my way in the editing room dealing with this, but I think progress is going well. The Phantom 4 video doesn’t need much editing, as far as colors, etc., but I do need way more practice flying. I discovered that among other things, mimicking a bird taking off isn’t quite as simple as “just push the two control sticks at the same time.” Yeah, there’s that, but you don’t push them the same amount. I also absolutely must fly the planned route ahead of time or I’m going to have very definite un-bird-like behavior.  Even so, everything looks to be saying the video I want to make is doable.

Other than that, I’ve mostly been doing reading, studying Blender, and at least thinking about writing more Pa’adhe stories. Oh, and I have some more mead brewing.

A Return Update

5 March 2015

It has been a weird beginning to the year for me.

I fully meant to return to this blog well before now, but somehow writing for my blog just wasn’t a priority. From time to time, I’d think of something to write about, but I just never sat down and actually did so.

From an amateur radio standpoint, I’ve been working to develop something I refer to as The Thumper. It’s based on something I read about in a blog post where the ham described his fondness for CW (Continuous Wave, aka Morse Code) and an on-the-air experience meeting a group of deaf learning ham radio and cw. The original Thumper was mentioned only in passing, and described as “a device that attaches to their forearm and taps them to indicate the Mose Code being received.” I have various issues with LED displays and my current tactile transducer setup leaves much to be desired. For The Thumper, I’d started by utilizing an Arduino driving a RC servo and while that does work to an extent, it has an inherent speed limitation that I don’t like. Almost anything over 10 wpm keeps the servo at the end of travel, making it impossible to detect the characters. I’m now looking at using a vibrator similar to those in cell phones, compliments of a good friend and fellow ham. Although not what I originally envisaged the vibrator does show better promise and a nice theoretical response to faster CW speeds. Coupled with a LED, it may turn out to be the best solution for me to listen to the radio. I know, but the combination might turn out to be better than the parts. Right now, I’ve only got the Arduino driving the vibrator. Still to be done is receiving and converting over-the-air CW signals provided via the audio jack of my radios.

Plans are under way for more Owyhee explorations, and while doing that I fully intend to try HF radio work from way out in the middle of nowhere. I’m building an end-fed, multi-band wire antenna that should be tuned to each band: 10m, 20m, 40m, and 60m. It’s only mobile in that you can easily carry it coiled up in the vehicle, to use it you have to park and deploy it. We’ll see how that works in practice, but I’ve got good expectations. I’ll be focusing, of course, on CW and PSK but when solo. If I have a friend along, I’ll be trying some phone work as well. More than likely, I’ll be band scanning and if I hear anything, I’ll pause on that and see if I can contact the other person.

Photography-wise, I’m currently teaching a beginning photo class, but with a twist. In all my previous classes I noticed that there was never a deaf or hard-of-hearing person attending. This time, I told the community education group that I would teach a beginning class in sign language. When I shared this idea with the few deaf community members I knew, the enthusiasm was outstanding. In the end, due to various reasons, there were only three in my class. We’re having a blast and there would have been at least two more were it not for an age limitation posted on the community education web page. That limitation didn’t apply to my class, but that exemption information was not passed on to the people that wanted to sign up. Word’s starting to get out there about this class, though, and I’ve mentioned I’ll offer it again, the same way. One of the reasons for doing this is that I just felt like turning the tables on the regular offerings…they’re oriented towards hearing people, the deaf have to get an interpreter. This time, though, it’s the hearing that have to get an interpreter if they try to attend.

I have also been investigating the use of the Shutterbug Remote with my Pentax K3 DSLR. Testing with an iOS device showed that the remote works well with the K3, but I’m getting crashes using the Android version of the app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Testing with a Samsung Galaxy S5 shows it works reasonably well with that phone, so now I’m trying to determine whether or not it’s a setting, a FW, or a HW issue with my Note 4. An email to the developers has not provided any response, so I’m very unimpressed with the customer service aspect of their website. Enough that I’m not providing a link to it. It would be really nice to get this remote working with my phone as it’s a great little device which when used as an intervalometer provides better timing control capabilities than the built-in intervalometer mode of the K3. If I can’t get it working, I’ll definitely have to create an Arduino intervalometer or something.

I’ve built a new woodworking bench (above) in my garage along with a DIY woodworking bench vise (below). These will come in handy when I start building the Vardo.

On the Vardo front, I’ve started gathering materials to modify the trailer for the Vardo. It took me a while to figure out the best way to use my flatbed trailer for the Vardo, and still be able to easily use it as a flatbed trailer. One of the things I had to deal with was me being “greedy.” The flatbed trailer is 12’ by 6’ and I had been doing my designing based on that entire area.

Image of a 6 foot by 12 foot utility trailer with one pair of wheels. Sides are an open framework of angled metal. Tail gate is about 4 feet tall when up and contains a metal mesh. Parked next to a blue-green 1992 Chevy Blazer in front of the garage in the driveway.

This is the new utility trailer that will become the base for the Vardo. I’m especially happy to get the all metal bed.

I was going to have a big Vardo that had luxurious room inside. Kind of a contradiction to my original plans for a simple, cozy Vardo, actually. As a result, one of the things I had to figure out a way around was the six tie-downs on the trailer bed near the sides. I finally realized that they provided a perfect way to fastend the Vardo to the trailer, a la pickup campers: straps built onto the framework of the Vardo that connect to the trailer tie-downs via turnbuckles. To do that meant I had to narrow the width of the Vardo box to fit inside the tie-downs enough that I could hook them into place and tighten. It’s only a 6” loss in width, give or take, but it also freed up the solution to another issue: I wanted to put the same kind of mesh that I had on the tailgate along the sides of the trailer. That way, things put in the trailer wouldn’t roll out under the existing side rails. And I could use that now open area to store poles for awnings, and other such gear.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of fishing lately, for rainbow trout. Normally I would catch and release trout, but my wife and I have found that we like the fish. I’ve learned to fillet them so that we don’t really need to worry overmuch about bones while eating. Only about 15 minutes from my house is a great little pond where, so far, I’ve always managed to catch my limit every day. I didn’t use to fish that much, or to enjoy it, but I’m finding I do. I’ll probably go fishing rather regularly while retired, using that to supplement our diet with fresh fish on a regular basis. It’ll be interesting to see how the fishing goes as the weather warms up.

It’s been a while

22 October 2014

It has been quite a while since my last blog post. There’s been a lot going on in my life and at work so that I’ve not felt any desire to write at all. Now that things are starting to settle down and sort out, I think I owe my few readers an update, if only to let them know I’m not dead and will be posting in the future. The updates in this post will cover Astrophotography, General Photography, and Amateur Radio.



Well…as with writing, I haven’t been doing much of this since Wickahoney. It sucks, too, because the weather has been great for it. It hasn’t been a total loss, though.

I did crawl out of my warm bed to see the Blood Moon of the wee hours of 8 October 2014. I actually went outside in the driveway and watched it for a while before it dawned on me to grab my camera. So, I quickly went back in, grabbed the camera, and got back out. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I started taking pictures handheld. Trying to keep the ISO down in order to eliminate as much noise as possible, I was obviously shooting hand-held exposures that weren’t going to come out nice and sharp. Eventually I actually realized that and started bracing against the porch. That kept slipping, definitely operator error, so I moved to the car. The angle of the windshield was perfect but I was still getting blurry images due to the speed at which the moon moves. As I started dialing in for that by increasing the ISO and getting better and better pictures…my battery went to bed. By that time, the moon was emerging from totality so I just stayed up and watched the show a while longer then headed back in to bed.

Lessons learned: Get the friggin’ tripod, it’s only 30 seconds into the house and back out. Wake up more and think things through. Don’t be stubborn about the ISO, for stuff like this bump up the shutter speed, you’ll get better images that way!

On the plus side, I can now state that I have seen, personally and with my own eyes directly, with binoculars, or with a telescope all but one of the planets. The only one I’m not able to say I’ve seen with 100% confidence now is blue Neptune. Pluto doesn’t count, even though I keep thinking of it as a planet. Plus Pluto is so far away that I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing it in person. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, some asteroids, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus I’ve all seen now. Hold the Uranus jokes, please. Maybe this year or next year I’ll bag Neptune as well.

With Neptune having a magnitude of 7 to 8, I think I now have the necessary tools to locate it. I just have to watch for it to pass near something I can easily identify in the night sky and triangulate off, something that will help me restrict the area I search. The setting circles on my Celestron Classic C8 should really help with this hunt as will the GoTo capability of my Celestron Nexstar 102GT. Provided, of course, that I orient them properly.

Speaking of the Celestron Classic C8, I have the piggyback mount attached to the OTA (Optical Tube Assembly) now. This will let me mount my camera on the C8 and use the telescope to guide the camera. I should be able to get some nice long exposures even with the 400mm now.

General Photography

The only time I did any intential photography in this period was while on vacation in McCall, Idaho. As usual, we went to Charlie’s Gardens to see it and myself with the intent of doing some photography.

This time I got some really nice images of various flowers, and I admit to being pleased with many of them. I was trying to do macro flower photography and I actually took several hundred pictures. Some I took to try and stack for a greater depth of field and some I took to try different perspectives. The best ones, though, were those I simply took to practice macro photography.

Picture of a small blue and yellow flower against a blurred background of green leaves.

A macro of one of the flowers at Charlie’s Gardens, McCall, Idaho.

I also attempted to take the necessary pictures to produce a multiple image of each granddaughter, of my daughter and her daughters, and of her husband. For various reasons that I fully understand in hindsight, the results were dismal: late in the afternoon the light was changing too rapidly, and my depth of field was too shallow. Of the six shots in each sequence, only one is really in focus, the rest are just out of focus. Perhaps not enough to matter to others, but to me that whole project should be tossed. I’ll probably still assemble the images and deliver them to my daughter, but I’m definitely neither happy with nor proud of the result.

Amateur Radio

I’ve done no operating, but I did manage to get a nice, clean installation of my Yaesu FT2500M and FT857D radios in my new to me 1992 Blazer. Power and feedlines are mostly out of sight and are definitely not in the way of passengers or driver like they were in the Geo Tracker.

Image shows two radios mounted in the center area of a 1992 Blazer Silverado.

The FT-2500M is mounted right under the dash while the FT-857D is mounted to a bracket that is in turn mounted to the sloping front of the center console. The Chorus (described in text later) is in the console cupholder.

Antennae for 2m and 70cm are roof-mounted mag mounts: a 5/9 whip for the FT2500M and a combo 2m/70cm for the FT857D. For a clean HF antenna mount, I bolted a front receiver to the frame of the Blazer and was thus able to simply slide in my stinger-mounted 40m Hamstick, using the entire mast assembly intact from the Geo Tracker. I was even able to keep the tow hook that was there. I couldn’t use the rear receiver as the antenna would constantly be in the way of opening the rear and there’s also the need to use the rear receiver for towing the trailer.

This shows the receiver mounted where the tow hook bolts on as well. The L shaped receiver with the condujit pipe mast is the same assembly formerly used in my rear receiver of the Geo Tracker.

This shows the receiver mounted where the tow hook bolts on as well. The L shaped receiver with the conduit pipe mast is the same assembly formerly used in my rear receiver of the Geo Tracker. The mast has no noticeable impact on the headlights lighting up the road.

There’s no APRS install yet as I’ve got to figure out where to put the GPS receiver for best reception. I don’t want it just sitting there on the dash against the windshield. The Geo Tracker’s ragtop was ideal for the APRS setup I had. The Blazer has a metal roof, as you’ve probably deduced from the use of the mag mounts, so mounting it right up there against the roof isn’t an option. I’m thinking of mounting it to the Blazer’s roof rack, but we’ll see.

I also found a small device, the Chorus in the cupholder of the interior image above, that I had forgotten about. That device was originally intended to help me with lipreading but it’s useful for other audio detecting. Supporting a vibrating external transducer and having a mic input, it allows me to connect it to the radio’s audio jack and feel when the squelch breaks without having to look at the radio. I’m hoping it will help me locate and identify CW frequencies in the area. I’m also hoping that with it I’ll be able to eventually learn to “listen” to CW by feel.

Along with that approach, I’ve got a friend attempting to recreate an arm-mounted device I read about that was only referred to as “the Thumper” by some deaf CW operators back in the 1960s. I’ve mentioned the Thumper in an older post.

One of the things I’d been trying to figure out how to do recently was to somehow limit the FT857D scanning to just the 40m CW frequencies. I finally found out it has that capability in the form of Programmable Memory Scanning. Yes, the manual does refer to it as PMS, and so does the radio’s LCD: “press the [C] (PMS) key”. I’ve already made some groaner jokes about that elsewhere and won’t repeat them here. Anyway, it goes to show checking the owner’s manual every so often is worthwhile.

I’m hoping to use this feature to monitor for CW activity without having to scan through all the other frequencies I’ve got programmed into the FT-857D. I’ll be doing this monitoring mostly during my commutes to and from work but hope to also play with it up in the Owyhees. With any luck, eventually I’ll build up a list of reliable CW frequencies for this area and start imporving my CW skills.

I have no intention of transmitting CW while driving. I’ll pull over to operate, but I very much want to get my CW skills up and running so I can have reasonable QSOs and be able to just “listen” to CW exchanges while driving like you listen to the AM/FM radio or your cell phone. I’m not into contesting, but I am interested in chatting and this is a skill that would be very welcome during my Owyhee explorations, which often are in areas with no cell phone service.

That’s it for now. I’ll try and post more frequently again.