Sunday, January 27, 2019

2019 ~ News from a Knackster

ARRL Announces new Podcast.

[BTW Michelle and Joe, your new found audience may actually want to build some hardware like this totally homebrew FT8 station . But that may put your advertisers in a snit as it means build not buy. Sorry for being so snarky!]

Boom, seems like the ARRL is trying to play catch up... A new Podcast is about to start on March 7, 2019 aimed at the new hams who have questions. It is called "So What Now".

The show premise is Michelle (the newbie) has questions of Joe (the OT) and is sponsored by LDG. Wonder what the ratio of plugging antenna tuners to actual technical content will be.

The show runner states this is the first ever podcast aimed at helping new hams (and ostensibly keeping them in the hobby). N2CQR has been doing this for over 10 years  on his Solder Smoke Podcast and for the past three years I have been riding along with Bill. So maybe ARRL is not the first.

For many segments of Bill's Podcast the subject has been the Michigan Mighty Mite Transmitter ala CBLA (Color Burst Liberation Army) and using this as a jump off point to learn about the hobby. 

So if you are an ARRL Member and SolderSmoke Podcast listener you might want to drop the ARRL a short note and suggest they listen to back segments of Bill's Podcast.

Any effort to keep the ham community strong, vibrant and growing is most welcome and so is this effort by the ARRL. Good Luck Michelle and Joe.

My gripe is that there are many other podcasts (aside from SolderSmoke) that are aimed at helping the new hams get a solid grounding and have been doing so for a long time. It is the arrogance of the ARRL to suggest they are the first that is bothersome.

Pete N6QW  

Knack News!

What happened to FT-8?

I like to use some of the digital modes not for contacts; but for rig testing. For instance if you place a QRP Rig under WSPR control you can have a record of what you are hearing and who is hearing you. It also tells you much about your antenna as to directivity and if what you have actually is more than a "wet noodle".

So it was a natural event to take the rig shown below and to do some testing using WSPR and FT-8. I have the WSJT-X software loaded on a Windows 7 Netbook and  Windows 10 computer that is the size of three stacked CD cases --read small footprint. In doing my tests I started with the Netbook and WSPR did FB and then I decided to test FT-8. Hmmm strange --I could see the signals on the waterfall and I could hear the signal in the external speaker BUT nothing decoded. Back to WSPR and all worked well. So next I went to the Windows 10 machine and the same problem WSPR OK but FT8 --Nothing!

So having been around the pole I thought about a Windows update from Microshaft that might be the culprit; but ruled that out as the WSPR probably would not have worked. So it had to be the WSJT-X. I had downloaded the WSJT-X in the fall of 2018. Well it turns out that in December, 2018 WSJT-X 2.0 was released and so if you want to decode anything you need 2.0. A quick remove software and add WSJT-X 2.0 and we now are decoding the stations. 

The new software looks complex as there are many versions to download -- it seems like they even have a version if you want to sit on the toilet and work DX via FT8 from a iPhone there is a version for that too!

So if your FT8 has stopped working -- check your WSJT-X version number it has to be 2.0 or greater. What a waste of an hour!!!!!!!


Friday, January 18, 2019

2019 ~ Piddling in the Shack

What to do when all is does is rain?

January 20th, 2019. How to sample the S Meter readings.

Below I discussed The use of the LCD display and how by sampling every time through the loop that the serial processing caused the tuning knob to be essentially put on hold. I then theorized that sampling the signal say every thirty cycles through the loop would let you have the S Meter reading while not hanging up the tuning.

Mind you I am not a programmer so my solutions often seem bizarre but they do work,

  • The first thing I did was to identify "p" as an integer in the forward of the sketch. I also identified oldp as a memory of the p count. like int p = 0; and int oldp = 0;
  • In the void loop I added two lines of code The first says p = p + 1; and the second is that oldp = p; The first line simply adds the numeric 1 to the old value of p every time through the loop.
  • Next I have a sub-routine called S Meter (CheckSM();) Thus not only is a 1 added each time but the loop checks the CheckSM(); 
  • In the void CheckSM() is a simple statement that says if p = 30 (or whatever you select) then analogRead(A0) and perform some math functions. But there is more as I added additional screening software to look at the values of the math function and to display info based on the ranges of values produced -- typically it can say S3, S5 or S9+.

Undoubtedly more elegant ways to do it --- but Clunky N6QW has found a way to do it.

Pete N6QW

So OK Enough is Enough .. but more rain is on the way.

I love the Motor Trend Velocity Channel as there is such an abundance of creativity and some super cool ideas by  very clever car builders in  America's heartland. 

With all of the rain I was faced with keeping my head warm but at the same time wearing my wool beret (chick magnet) would surely spell disaster to that really FB hat. Then I thought what would the car guys do … A quick trip to the pantry where I keep the various sizes of trash bags and the smallest one cut to size made a waterproof cover for my beloved beret.

One rather attractive older woman in the supermarket check out line, upon seeing my creation, said it all: I really like men who can think of great solutions. Chick magnet works all of the time!

Trash Bag Beret Cover

The rain also caused me to spend a bit more time noodling some solutions to common problems. One problem I had as a result of the 2018 SSB Transceiver building spree was that I depleted my stock of Color TFT displays. I have some coming on a slow boat from China but what do I do today for a display? 

In looking at my bins I soon discovered I have a batch of 16X2, 16X4 and even a whopping 20X4 LCD's. I sort of gave up hope of using these as I discovered that with IDE 1.8.5 many of my older sketches hiccupped and burped as the LCD Libraries I had didn't like the new IDE. In 2018 I tried looking for some new libraries but nothing seemed to work. The rain gave me some time to once again look for new IDE 1.8.5 compatible LCD_I2C libraries. I was successful.

The next problem was that the older sketches were "clunky" and did not lend themselves to adding new functionalities like two VFO's. My newer Color TFT display sketches on the other hand did provide that capability. So the task was to meld the LCD displays with the newer Color TFT sketches. Yes Virginia not only is there a Santa Claus but I now have this..

The first thing to catch is that it is in keeping with the Juliano Blue and sports a 20X4 face. So Nice and Big! 

  • The default start up is VFO A and that is on the very first line. At the end of the line you see the word "ON" as this lets you know it is the active VFO … it is ON.
  • The second line tells the Mode and in this case a panel switch has selected Upper Sideband. That is followed by my call sign. At my advanced age it is always nice to know what is your call sign. Following N6QW, is the step tuning rate and that is changed from the push in encoder button or another SPST momentary panel switch that is in parallel with the encoder switch. Step rates of 100 (default), 1KHz, 10Khz,  and 100K are the choices
  • The third line shows VFO B and in this case the default (with USB) is on the WSPR frequency. For you FT8 guys you can make that 7.074 Megahertz. The VFO A or VFO B select is a simple grounding of one of the Arduino Pins. Now when VFO B is selected the "ON" disappears from Line #1 and now "ON" appears at the end of Line #3.It is really nice to just flip a switch and you can do FT8 without cranking the VFO tuning knob.
  • The fourth line shows an S Meter -- and this is a placeholder and merely shown as a possibility. Here is an interesting coding problem --remember I am not a coder. I wrote some math functions that sample random noise on Pin A6 and that gets translated to a numeric value. I then set up  "screening" software code that had ranges. If the answer was between such and such value then two bars appeared and if it was in a higher range then four bars appeared, At some point the display simply reads "Over S9" without any bars. That worked pretty slick! BUT! BUT! I noticed that as I tuned quickly there was no change in the frequency reading and then all of a sudden the frequency would jump by several kHz. The light bulb went on .. the Arduino was so busy making bars that it impacted the tuning changes. I nulled out the S Meter math and tuning went as normal -- remove the nulls and you have the problem back. So that is a bit more noodling on how to have your cake and eat it too. Time to think about sampling and not constant updating.
  • One other function not covered but was a clue about the S Meter updating. I also included my TUNE Tone function. Firstly I am using a UNO R3 as a development board; but then loading the code onto a Pro-Mini. Interesting first problem the Tone Library I used works FB with the Uno and Nano but not the Pro-mini. I saw this same problem with a Leonardo Board I have. But how it works with the UNO and Nano is a simple push of a Momentary Push Button which the code recognizes and for about 10 seconds a 988 Hz tone is generated and after suitable filtering (RC Filter to round out the corners of the square wave output) it is fed to the Microphone amplifier. It is a pulsed tone and makes for less strain on the IRF510 like a "Key Down" situation. In one variant I even send in Morse code my call sign. Now the clue --while the Arduino is creating and transmitting a pulsed 988 Hz Tone -- if you turn the VFO dial nothing changes on the display. Thus the clue that the Arduino is a sequential processor, which it is. In the lower right hand corner when you invoke the TUNE button the word TUNE appears on the screen so you know you are in the TUNE mode.

I have a plan for collecting some more parts /assemblies lying around and following in the footsteps of the Velocity Channel guys "fabricate" yet another rig (the 2nd for 2019).

Keep on building.

Pete N6QW

New Technology for 2020 ~ Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

What to do during the Pandemic? This is a chance to get back on the air or to take up an interest in homebrewing your own rig. You can bui...