Spring Weather Safety Preparedness

tornadoGrowing up in Indiana, spring always brought with it once thing – tornados. Indiana is ranked as the number one state to die from a tornado. Growing up we used to call them trailer magnets, since tornadoes through them around like straw, when they came through.

Since I now live in Texas, it’s clear I haven’t learned. Tornados are scary.

Although most people don’t know it Raytheon does quite a bit with NOAA. Most of the weather information you see every day came through Raytheon, one way or another. One of these efforts is the Weather Ready Nation project where they have safety modules to share what do to for certain kinds of natural disasters. Spring safety is one of the areas of focus in this NOAA post of last year. For some reason, the CDC also has a focus on Spring Weather – that really makes me wonder about the underlying meaning of spring fever though.

In any case, it is a good time to think about what might happen and prepare. Dealing with Indiana weather was one of the things that kept me involved in Amateur Radio growing up.

Morse code activity

Though my skills with Morse code are not as strong as they used to be, it doesn’t stop me from leveraging it with my other hobbies:

Every once in a while, I have the opportunity to play World of Warships — sometimes with my son who lives many states away. Besides being a challenging, multi-player naval simulation, WoW often provides some history on the ships and men it is based on.

Their latest background post had just a bit on the background of Morse code and its use by the various Navys of the world  – Squall line: Morse code.

It can be strange how various parts of your life can intersect.

QSO Morse practice app for Android

Over the Thanksgiving break I sat down an wrote a small application for Android to help individuals brush up on their Morse code. There are many apps already out there to teach Morse code but this one is aimed improving your ability to receive the interactions you’re likely to encounter over the air.

It is called QSOSender3, since it is the third iteration I’ve worked on. It generates QSOs based on the speed you’d like to receive. For 5-10 WPM, the simulated QSOs are fairly short but a realistic representation of what you’d likely see on the air. For 10-15, the QSOs are slightly longer and for 15 WPM and higher (see the picture below) they can become quite involved.

I used a grammar based generator to create the simulated QSO, so they can be very different from one to the next. In fact for the highest speed (longest), it is incredibly unlikely that any to generated QSOs will be the same. Have fun… here is a representative screenshot:

feature-graphic

#amateurradio #hamradio

Finally, portable and digital

This weekend, I tackled the last functionality I normally would use in the field: logging and the use of digital modes.

Out of the box, the 7100 support ASFK keying for RTTY and PSK, but I hadn’t gotten that functionality working yet. So early in the AM in the JARTS RTTY contest I decided that now is the time.

I dusted off an HP Stream 7 tablet running windows that I bought back when I worked for HP and dug out a USB mini cable and plugged it in. The Stream 7 will run 32 bit Windows 10 and has enough horsepower to do the decoding of the digital signals. It is also very small and cheap. I downloaded the drivers from the ICOM site and quickly was able to get the receive and rig controls working (bringing up the radio’s filters and centering signals…) I was using an old copy of MixW, I bought about a decade ago. I fall back on this program since it handles contests great and you can manipulate any of the rig control codes directly in that program, if they are not directly supported.

But when I went to transmit, the rig keyed up but no power output?! It took a bit of digging but I soon realized there was a setting that had to be changed to make the single sideband digital mode (USB-D) pull the transmit sound off the USB cable. They setting can be found at: Set-> Connectors ->Data MOD -> USB. The default is to have the data signal come from the ACC connector in the back of the rig. Once that was done: voila – a portable digital contest station.

Here is a picture of the PC, the radio head and a folding Bluetooth keyboard, operating outside my house. If you look close, you’ll see a RTTY signal on the MixW display.

20161015_101000

#amateurradio #hamradio

The portable ‘shack’ in the field — and the need for a keyer

I took the completed portable shack that I’ve been working on into the field last weekend. It was all setup and working in about 15 minutes. I was on for about 4 hours on 17 meters and talked to about 15 contacts across 3 countries on SSB. I was focused more on playing with the settings and options than actually making contacts so I was pleased with the performance, overall.

I did realize there was one thing I wished I had and that was a disposable iambic keyer. I have a nice keyer at home for sending Morse code, but there was no way I was leaving it in my portable shack box or (more likely) forgetting it at home so it wasn’t there when I need it. Once again, it was time to call on the 3D printer.

keyI came up with a design fairly quickly that used about a dollar’s worth of spare parts I had lying around and half a hacksaw blade. I printed out a couple of samples to refine the model. By the time I had the second one done, I declared victory and now have a small iambic keyer. It is a simple keyer without squeeze functionality, though there are some designs out there that do that. The only real refinement I’d make is to create a tunnel in the base to run the wire through, rather than using a zip tie on the post where I screw down the hacksaw blade. We’ll see if it is ‘good enough’ in the field, next time. I’ll likely screw it into my clipboard.

If you are interested in the iambic keyer design, I uploaded it to: thingiverse

Some people probably find it hard to believe that there are still folks that operate CW, but it has its own challenges and can get the message through when little else can. I used to operate CW a great deal, but am a bit rusty now. We’ll see if having a keyer like this helps.

#amateurradio #hamradio

HF station in a box – bringing it all together

20160926_054601I looked for a number of different cases that I could carry around all my materials to operate portable and after a few trips to the hardware store, I settled on a mobile tool box from Stanley. The 3-in-1 mobile work center was not the sturdiest tool box I could find but it did have wheels. extended handle and a separate compartment for the battery.

I was able to configure the 3-in-1 to contain just about everything I would need to operate for a weekend.

20160926_054422When I started working with the tool box, my first concern was a safe place to put the battery where it could be secure and not move around. Since it is the heaviest component of the setup, it had to be on the bottom.

I choose to create a set of X-spacers (out of wood) that would both keep the battery stable as well as ensure that there was sufficient clearance over the battery to protect the cables. It did waste some space, but since I’ll still have access to the compartment, I can use the space if I needed.

20160926_054521Though it is a bit hard to see, I also 3D printed a shim that keeps the battery wedged in there tight.

On top of the battery layer, I created a shelf that held the circuit mentioned in last week’s post as well as the radio itself. The shelf was also fashioned out of wood. The most difficult portion of this part of the build was figuring out how to wire that voltage/current meter, since it came with no instructions and the wire colors were a bit non-standard. I figured it out after watching a youtube video and a bit of trial and error. Overall, the installation came out about as well as I could have hoped.

The shelf can be quickly removed, so I have access to the battery, when it needs to be charged – since I was too cheap to address that issue yet.

radio-mountIn order to mount the radio securely, I 3D printed some brackets (shown in the photograph above, as well as the model on the left). Although these were made out of PLA plastic, they seemed to be sufficient for the job. One of the nice things about PLA is that it is relatively easy to warm up the nuts and then sink them into the plastic, so the nuts are held in place when you bolt them down.

20160926_054623The top section of the tool box contains the antenna analyzer, radio head, headphones, computer and all the other materials required to operate. I definitely need to work on getting that equipment organized, since right now I just threw it all in the box.

I should get a chance to operate this weekend and give the setup a real endurance test.

My next post should be about that operating experience and the computer I used (assuming I get a chance to operate digital modes and the conditions are right to compete in a contest).

#amateurradio #hamradio

Circuits – shocking, it’s starting to come together.

Now that I have a battery, I need to wire it all together. I plan on using a circuit like:

high-level-circuit

I’ve had a very busy weekend that kept me away from working on my portable design much. I was able to stop by HRO and Frys and get the rest of the parts I needed.

My next entry will dig into selecting a case to haul this gear around and some quick and dirty mounting of the circuit shown. I’ll likely build something out of wood and 3D printed parts initially and think about a more permanent solution if that attempt doesn’t turn out to be good enough.

Not sure when that will happen, since next weekend will be keep me even busier then the last. Hopefully, I’ll have it all done by the end of the month and I can take it with me to the Belton hamfest.