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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Tuning - with less noise!


For some time I have been using an LDG Electronics AutoTuner here in the shack. It's been an OK experience and the ability to change bands and then have the tuner sense the RF frequency and auto adjust itself back to the previously stored settings for antenna and band appealed greatly. Set it up once and never touch it again - perfect!

The theory was fine, but it didn't quite work in practise. The device never quite matched the antennas correctly - I always found it necessary to tweak the automatically chosen settings and then store them manually plus on most bands I couldn't quite get a 1:1 match. My biggest concern with the unit was that the SWR reading on the tuner itself didn't ever match the readings at the radio or with the separate meter I have here. The net result was that I was tuning for the best match read by the radio, which was normally quite a miss-match according to the tuner.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I have purchased a MFJ roller coaster based tuner:

Looking at this picture worried me a little. There very much looks like there is a dent in the top of the unit! However it's completely invisible unless taken by a camera with a flash but I should probably consider reporting this back to the supplier.

Anyhow, using the device as a tuner seems extremely easy. MFJ tend to have a bad reputation and are often called "Mighty Fine Junk"; however, my experience is all good. This tuner does exactly what is says on the tin. I've completed some tuning charts which I will try and print out and place somewhere near the unit itself in the shack.

The cat has taken on a whole new degree of madness; he has now taken to sleeping in the cover of my 'scope on a high up shelf in the shack:

I'll keep you posted on the tuner, looks OK though, egh?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

It must be Christmas

Well, not much going on here; just been playing Radio and generally taking things easy.

I made a visit to the post Christmas sales and came home with a laptop which is now interfaced to the FT857 via the homebrew device I was making earlier:

That is enabling me to leave the laptop running WSPR whilst all the other electronics are shut down - except the FT857, of course.

Very neat laptop, got one of these new fangled Intel i5 processors and is running 64bit Windows 7 - all reasonably well priced and more importantly low power consumption.

I used to leave both PCs running in the shack, but more recently have taken to shutting them down - primarily to conserve power. But now I genuinely find that the shack is rather cold in a morning so I'm turning the heat on - not much of an energy saving!

The shack is looking quite tidy right now, I've even added yet more shelves to create more space in this tardis I spend my time inside:

I need to get outside and look at the Windom antenna again:

because the SWR on the antenna is bouncing in windy conditions (again). I suspect it might just be too close to the other metal objects and when it moves around it's either touching the mast thats holding the 6m beam in the air or actually touching the antenna itself. Only time will tell.

The Geddy cat has many places he could chose to sleep; he has two proper cat beds, theres also four people beds in the house, plus a choice of sofas, chairs et cetera. He does, however, prefer to sleep on the clean washing as it waits for the ironing fairy to pop round:

Damn crazy cat!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Three Soundcards - No Problem!


following the last escapade with exploding USB soundcard devices, I purchased an alternative from a local store. This time is was a staggering £10.

I hooked it all up and everything seemed to be working fine; I made a few minor adjustments to the audio attenuation levels going into the soundcard mic input, but nothing unusual.

So now we have the shack looking like this:

And the FT-857 is happily WSPering away:

Given that its quite early on a dull winters day here in Belper, this is with the output power set at 10W:

And here, as a change from the mandatory cat picture, is my Bird of Paradise, grown by me from seed and in flower:

Fantastic, hugh?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Three Soundcards - No, you must be kidding?

Well, today has been a rather perplexing day.

I've been making a digital mode interface for my FT-857; I want to let it sit here in the shack WSPR'ing away. For WSPR see:

So the construction of the interface was very simple, I used some of the building blocks here, this is a great site run by Ernie, WM2U:

And the interface looks like this:

So, the Windows 7 PC I have here (It Runs Win 7 Ultimate), has on-board sound which is interfaced to my digital modes box which switches between my FT-847, FT-950 and FT-2000:

Then there is a high spec PC soundcard which is used for the SDR receiver:

And now (as you will see from the photo above) I am planning to use a USB soundcard for interfacing to the FT-857 I have here.

All was going great, the soundard installed fine, I was receiving WSPR on 20M, I tried the PTT circuit which was also working great. Then I put the software into TX and everything stopped after about a ms of audio out. I then spotted that the USB soundcard was red hot.... I happened to have two of these USB devices, so I tried the other one. That one got even hotter.....

I guess this is what you can expect from an ebay purchase that cost me something like £1.20 including delivery.

You live and learn... I need an alternative third soundcard.

I'll keep you posted.

Fun, egh?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

It's Just Been Far Tooooo Long...


The job has been getting quite seriously in the way of my play time recently. As inconvenient as it is, I guess there wouldn't be much playtime without the job!

First thing to report is that myself and my mate Vince, G0ORC, took the trek down to ML&S in Surrey for their open day, there site is here:

Vince bought all sorts of stuff including a tube linear; the net result is that I have bought his old solid state Almeritron linear from him as his purchase was a replacement:

It looks like this:

And there's a very heavy matching 50V PSU to go with it:

So the acquisition of this linear has triggered yet another "I haven't got enough space" session in the shack. I've ended up bodging a new shelf to put this on:

So it's all kind of fitted OK.

The second thing to report is that when I was at the ML&S open day, I purchased a replacement for my wire Windom antenna. I picked up a Radio Works Carolina Windom 80 Compact:

What I failed to spot was that the "droop" on the folded element is 15 feet! It's not drawn to scale at all and I ended up in a total pickle.

To start with the existing Windom had got a bit wet in the coax connections; the entire length of coax was shot - how it was working in beyond me - this picture is of the shack end of the line, some 15-20m from where the water is getting in:

So, duff coax plus I managed to destroy the existing antennas line isolator (that's the bit at the bottom of the vertical resonating part) when I unscrewed the connector. 
I now had the existing antenna broken, the new antenna knotted in the trees and clearly never going to fit (with the droops) into my back garden and generally in a total muddle.

I ended up ordering a Windom 80 Special from Walters & Stanton plc:

And finally, after much cursing in the dark after work on a few evenings this week, it's finally up. Just to add to my pain I added a pulley to the pole so (I thought) I wouldn't have to take the whole thing down just to get at the wire antenna. Hah! The pulley and pole acted like a great lever and turned the vertical pole into a banana! Down in all had to come again:

You can just see the matching transformer on the Windom in the picture above. This was after I had adjusted the pulley arm to be more central to the whole thing.

The house is kind of looking like this now, how I don't get complaints I am not too sure:

So all in all, a rather expensive exercise. New antennas (2) and new coax was about £400 all told! I suppose the old antenna had been with me since the mid 90s so it didn't really owe me anything.

Here's the mandatory cat picture:

All looking good, though, egh?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

So, How can it possibly go wrong?

Over the weekend I got some bits together to try and lower the main HF antenna; I am going to try this rather than climb on to the roof. My problem is that the rotator has stopped rotating and the antenna is, rather inconveniently, pointing permanently North/South.

The basic idea is to extend the pole down to ground level and install a tilt mechanism with a suitable line and pulley so I can remove the pole from the T&K brackets and gently tilt it over into the back garden. Here you can see the T&K brackets and the newly installed pulley (instead of pulley, bailing twine and knot read weak point):

This is the bottom of the now extended pole which has the tilt mechanism on it:

This shows the cord that I'm hoping will hold it all when I remove the brackets (yes, it's bailing twine):

The top of the rope is attached to the mast using a clamp and one of these knots:

So, the plan is to remove the U bolts holding the pole to the T&K brackets and then slowley tilt it over until it's accessible from the back garden.

Damn cats asleep on my favourite jumper:

How can anything possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

At Last, things are looking up.....

Finally, I have some progress to report.

Yesterday, in my almost never ending attempt to create extra space in my shack, more in a kind of tardis sort of way, I decided to get angry with the area that holds all my test equipment.

Most of my home-made kit was stacked in a rather wobbly pile, and the two 'scopes that I have plus some other rubbish were in this kind of wooden shelving unit I made that all physically sat on top of my spectrum analyser.

Anyhow, I've ripped it all to bits and installed some proper shelving:

I'm rather pleased with this as it "seems" there is a load more space for me to fill with junk.The main piece of progress to report is that I have (with the help of Vince G0ORC) taken down the antennas I put up here:

And firstly we found the reason for the 6m beam no longer working; in a rather over enthusiastic waterproofing exercise, we had managed to tape the gamma match to the boom resulting in a dead short! The 2m antenna has had an adjustment to the gamma match which has resulted in a 1.3 (ish) to one SWR across the entire band. The 70cm portion was fine as-is so I just left that alone.

I still have a non rotating rotator on the HF beam from here:

but I have decided that I need to create some kind of tilt mechanism to safely bring that antenna and rotator back down to earth. I've ordered some bits from Barenco today:

so when they arrive and I have a free day I'll be inventing something insane to tile the mast down to ground.

The shack is looking quite tidy today so I've taken some snaps, firstly here's the radio area:

and the main desk:

and this is looking back twords the door and my modest set of components:

All good fun though, egh?

Friday, 28 October 2011

How come it's such a damn mess - again?


I have a new toy; it's a Yaesu FT-2000 and it arrived yesterday. My mate Vince, G0ORC, has been round already to help me set it up and flash the firmware to the latest versions. So far this new addition feels very much like a "proper" radio.

After having a rather serious shuffle of the kit in the shack, here's how I've managed to fit this new baby in:

So, to accommodate the new rig and interface it to the PC's and digital modes I've just been modifying the digital mode interface I made only a few weeks ago. The main mod is to change a two way switch to a three and include the switching for a third radio. My other criticism of my project was the case - I bought the case from Maplin, but because it was so totally pants, every time I connected anything to the back of the box the rear panel collapsed into the case - useless! After all the time I spent drilling and making holes for all the sockets this was, at best, disappointing. So here's the basic same project but re-boxed and with a third radio interface:

But as with me under these kind of circumstances, it's only taken about an hour to drill the new case and move the contents accross, but I've done all the drilling inside the shack and somehow the place is now a total disaster area:

What happened I hear you cry - it's tidy up time now...

A few things to do this weekend, firstly it's the CQWW HF contest which means that the non WARC HF bands are going to be rammed; most excellent for playing with a new radio! But on Sunday the plan is to try and take down the V/UHF antennas from here:

And also the HF rotary antenna that I have, which I installed here:

Has stopped rotating! This is probably due to the fact that it's a super cheap antenna rotator. But whatever the cause it is going to involved working at some great hight that I'm not going to like one little bit.

Here's the obligatory cat photo:

Good, egh?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Eventually, we have some progress

A while ago I had my first attempt at getting a VHF/UHF beam antenna into the air:

It's taken several more attempts, and lots of general indecision on my part but my VHF/UHF beam antenna is finally in the air and pointing skywards at 27 degrees. This is because the main purpose of this antenna is going to be the ham satellites or "birds" as they are known.

I've also moved the 6m beam to the same support to take advantage of the rotator capability being installed for the new beam.

It kind of looks OK; however I have some problems with the SWR on the 6m beam and the 2m part of the new antenna.

We had the pole propped up on the ground and the SWR adjusted on all antennas quite close; now they are up in the air the only one that is OK is the 70cm part of the dual band beam. This is a little frustrating and means that the whole damn lot has to come down again.

So the house looks even more "ridiculous" (according to my better half), the antenna doesn't work on 2m, the observant amongst you may notice that while all this was going on the pole that holds the centre of the HF wires has mysteriously grown by about 6ft... odd that.

The 6m antenna I did have working fine is now in a different location and no longer working, and the whole damn lot needs to come down again.

This means more recruitment of time from my chum Vince, G0ORC, but hey, ho... what goes around comes around. I have a project in concept for him, we are going to make a high power ATU including a digital reading SWR meter function... watch this space. Damn crazy cat didn't help much either:

Fun though, egh?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

It's done, no really, it's done


My first adventure into Software Defined Radio (SDR) is under-way, my kit is built and officially up and running. It came from here:

Following some help from the Hunter SDR Yahoo! group, which actually came from the kit designer, Steve, I found that I had two of the surface mount resistors orientated incorrectly. Once I corrected that the software installation went exactly as described on the kit page at the Radio Kits web site.

The HDSDR software looks like this:

So what we have in this tiny box, once combined with the PC and software, is a really nifty HF receiver:

The sound card is clearly important, and I am still very much learning to drive the receiver/software combination.

I thought I would just let you know that it's all working well.

I'll keep you posted.

What do you reckon, good egh?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

It's done, well the "extreme soldering" is anyhow

I've completed the assembly of my Hunter SDR kit from Radio Kits:

The board is now officially complete:

I included the £1 coin so you can see how insanely small these components are, here is the other side of the board:
The next job was to sort out the case:

and drill the front:
and rear panels:
one together it's all looking quite neat.

I've passed all the on-board test point voltage checks and the power light comes on when the usb cable is attached and also the tx indicator comes on when you press the PTT switch.

So far, so good. I'm waiting for membership of the Yahoo! group associated with this kit, as I am not too sure how to go about the necessary software installation. Additionally I need to figure out how to get the Radio PC to work with two soundcards, as I have just installed a higher spec card for use with this kit. I don't want to change any of the existing setup for my digital mode operation.

Watch this space...

There's Good News and There's Bad News

Well, Yesterday didn't go according to plan in the slightest....

I started the task of erecting in UHF/VHF beam - the antenna has 3 elements on 2m and 5 elements on 70cm:

I'm trying to mount the antenna so it's pointing upwards at an elevation of about 27 degrees. To facilitate this my mate crazy Paul has made me a plate - exactly to my specifications:

Well, as you can see, this plate is nothing like thick enough so I am having to have another made in with a more substantial base material.

I also discovered yesterday that the brackets I had bought to mount the pole on the house, which were called 9" stand off brackets, only stand the pole off the wall by about 6". This isn't enough to clear the eaves so I am having crazy Paul do some welding for me to correct that little issue also.

Now, the good news is that my surface mount project is moving along slowly:
If you expand the image you can see how good or otherwise I am at "extreme soldering". Trying to neatly solder these tiny components is simply nuts - I don't recommend it.
The kit came from:

and is supplied as an extremely nifty package; all the components are split into bags containing a number of identical parts. So, for example, you may install 3 identical transistors, 10 same value capacitors and 6 same value resistors. This means that mixing up the bits and installing the wrong part in the wrong place should be close to impossible. This is a good thing as trying to read these tiny bits is rather tricky - I have to use a magnifying glass and then it's still close to impossible.

The downside of this method of construction is that you can't build a bit, test a bit. This is always my preferred construction method. Debugging this board once complete is going to be tough. The instructions are really clear, however, and so far it's all going together well. Time will tell....
Anyhow, I'm planning to press on with this project today, and here is the obligatory cat photo:
Crazy, Hugh?