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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?

Monday, 17 October 2011

How long has it been?


My job has been getting very badly in the way of my play time recently; I can't really explain why, but I've been away loads. One trip was to Cairo and that was followed by a full week on the toilet! Nasty!

Anyhow, there have been a few changes here in the shack; mainly in the computing department. I have converted my main PC to be exclusively Linux (I run SuSe), and the "Shack" PC that I use for radio related stuff has benefited from a major upgrade and the purchase of a much bigger monitor:

You'll also see that the Old Icom IC756ProII has gone and is replaced by a Yaesu FT-847. I am planning to have a go at working through some of the Amateur Satellites or "Birds" as they are known. So This will give me a true duplex (transmit on one band whilst simultaneously receiving on another) capability. This is an ebay purchase that I am very pleased with indeed.

Now, the plan for later today is that my mate Vince G0ORC and I will be putting up a combined 2m & 70cm beam; my poor tolerant wife is close to despair! Another pole - this time slap bang in the centre of the front of the house. Oh well...

I also sold the FT-8900 that I had and replaced that at the Newark HamFest with another radio; this time its a mini shack in a box from Yaesu - the FT-857. I'm still very much playing with that and discovering it's capabilities (or otherwise).

The bench is still a total mess, and I've just started yet another project:

This is the start of a Radio-Kits "Hunter" which is a Software Defined Radio Receiver and Panadapter. You can find info here:

It's all surface mount technology so soldering and photographing are close to impossible:

I had a great opportunity to take an obligatory cat photo yesterday; our Choppsy cat was asleep on top of the newal post at the bottom of the stairs - I didnt have a camera though.

Fun egh?