Monthly Electronics Flea Market @ Fry’s

Some of you I’m sure know about the Bay Area Electronics Flea Market. It used to be every month, starting in the spring, through the end of summer, in the De Anza College parking lot.

In 2018 the market moved to the Fry’s in Sunnyvale. A wide assortment of all matter of electronic doo-dads, thingamabobs, and widgets of all shape and size are often present. If you ever want to see a walking history of electronics in Silicon Valley, that alone is worth the visit.

Check it out some time. For times and dates check out their website!

YT-450 Upgrade? Yup!

My first HF radio was a Yaesu FT-450D. Like many radios with an internal tuner, it was limited to 3:1 SWR matching. Since I was using a G5RV Jr for an antenna at the time, this was not quite enough to properly tune across 40 meters. 80 meters was out of the question. A local ham had some gear from an SK that was needing a new home and one of the items was an LDG YT-450 external tuner, made to be paired with the 450D. It was also made to be used with the FT-950 which is how it was being used. It was the right time at the right price, so I purchased it. It worked great with the 450D. But, about a year later I sold the FT-450D and upgraded to the newer FT-991. The YT-450 did work with the 991! For a while…

A Yaesu firmware upgrade put an end to that, and it stopped working. And that is where I was stuck for a while. I had changed to a fan dipole, and later to an OCF dipole. So 3:1 matching was again within my reach, although on 40 or 80 meters I would get weird SWR sometimes.

I was getting ready to move some things around in my go-box and was staring a the YT-450 thinking of just removing it, selling it, and purchasing a YT-1200 which is compatible with the FT-991. It is nice to have the wider range tuner because we sometimes want to use an end-fed, or random wire, and so a good external tuner can really come in handy. So I hit the Interwebs to find a deal and ‘lo and behold…

I came across a chip upgrade on CheapHams.com that replaces the ROM with a new ROM that makes the YT-450 essentially a YT-1200, which restores compatibility with the FT-991! For $20, they send you chip and a sheet of instructions for installing the chip, and the parameters to set on the FT-991. 4 small screws and 10 minutes later and… Done! I have a working tuner again… for $20!

Signal Stick – Get One.

I came across the Signal Stuff, Super-elastic Signal Stick in a recent on-line article. As you can see in the image, it is tied in a knot. And that is exactly how it was shipped to me in a padded envelope. The envelope was about 5″ square. I was surprised when they arrived and immediately was concerned I would have this warped antenna dropping off the top of my HT. Nope. Once the envelope was opened, and the Nitonol, nickel-titanium alloy antenna was “untied”, it returned to its previous, perfectly straight alignment. That alone was impressive. So why these? Well, let’s go down the list…

  1. They are made by hams
  2. Your purchase supports www.hamstudy.org
  3. $20
  4. So far appears to be fairly indestructible.
  5. It actually does what it says it does.

The antenna is 18.25″, is available in a variety of connector types, and comes in basic black. The cowling is 3D printed and set with epoxy. It is crazy strong. There is a growing list of reviews available online and on YouTube with nearly unanimous positive results and glowing recommendations.

My review of the Signal Stick has also been very positive with improved signal quality in my anecdotal testing across radios and local repeaters. I have most of the same antennas the reviews call out in their comparisons, and I would say my testing pretty much aligns with everyone else’s. Did I mention they are only $20?

VHF/UHF Weekend Radio Kit

One of the great things about our hobby is access to all manner of great kits that allow us to learn more about the hobby and explore new ways to get on the air. Once again, the interwebs have revealed this set of kits for building your VHF/UHF transceiver. The transceiver has .5 or 1 watt output, which with a proper antenna should be more than adequate for local repeaters. One component missing from the kit, or even having much mention anywhere in the documentation is a microphone. That and the fact there is also one SMD component which must be soldered, probably places this kit out of “beginner” status for most. But for $72 you do get the custom board, components, and nice case. For $5 more they will even engrave your call sign onto the face of the case. Check out the link and let us know if you order a kit…

Want To Learn Morse?

Want to learn CW? I came across this in my travels through the interwebs. It is called the Morserino. I am guessing it is a mashup between of the words “morse” and “arduino”. It had in initial, successful (over 300% of goal!) Kickstarter campaign.

They come as a kit but all the SMD parts come pre-populated on the board. They come from Austria, and kits can take up to a month to arrive. According to the FAQ, it takes about an hour to assemble. The cost is 80€ or about $90 at the current conversion rate.

You can also get a discount on orders of multiple kits and save on shipping. They have quite a few modes, have built in capacitive touch paddles, will work as a key, decoder, works with your own key, and of course is a trainer, plus all manner of additional features.

I have ordered 1 kit as I have been looking for a CW trainer, and since I have to use a soldering iron, of course I am all in! I will post again once it is received. Check out www.morserino.info for more details!

From the Ground Up

Good stuff about grounding that Jim Aspinwall N01PC posted to the SBC ARA Facebook site… Ham Radio Now Episode 401 – Elmercast 1: From the Ground Up! YouTube: https://youtu.be/wykEaPa8jUM (about an hour an a half)

Especially if you liked the Ham Fun night on Grounding – great discussion about grounding.

Image result for ward silver grounding

Side Projects – Air Quality Sensor

As we have all been acutely aware the past few weeks, the air quality in the Bay Area has been abysmal at times due to the various wildfires. The smoke blanketing the area was the product of 10,000 buildings, and the nearly 100 people that perished. This was not just ordinary wood fire smoke. It was full of all kinds of nasty particulates, carcinogens, and burned over areas that previously contained radioactive waste. Not good. You could go to sites like airnow.gov to see what is going on regionally. But what about in your area specifically? Or even in your home? There are actually very few sensors in South County. One solution is purpleair.com which is a network of personally or corporate sponsored sensors. But they are again, expensive, around $250 or more with shipping.

There are certain benefits to these more expensive sensors. They typically have additional data like temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity. They also use dual sensors in a parity configuration to help ensure accuracy. But what if you don’t really need all that?

So why not build your own? For about $70 and a couple hours of your time, you can assemble the components and get a fairly good quality particulate sensor up and running for your home or office. You can get output that looks similar to this:

Current N6DZK air quality: PM1.0: 3ug/m3, PM2.5: 6ug/m3, PM10: 9ug/m3, PM2.5 AQI index 25 (good)

Electric Imp is a company that enables IOT (Internet of Things). They are based here in the Bay Area, and naturally were also impacted by the air quality crisis at the time. I have built projects with their products before. They have proven to be extremely reliable, with one project having been online for several years now. Over on their blog, their CEO and co-founder, Hugo Fiennes, published a post on how to build your own AQI sensor using their card, and a little development breakout board, and a sensor from Amazon.  So, why not? I ordered up the parts, and 3 days later assembled them together, ran the provided code, and had a working sensor telling me how dirty my home office air really is (turns out it was actually not that bad).

Follow the directions on the blog post. It is not much to look at, but it does get the job done for a fraction of the cost of commercial versions. And you can then alter the web page to look like anything you wish. It is cloud hosted, no local server to run or deal with. And Electric Imp has proven to be a robust, reliable, long term solution.

There are some intermediary steps that someone new to Electric Imp will have to complete prior to getting your sensor online. You will need to create an account, download the app to your phone that programs the Imp device to get on your home WiFi, and a few other minor steps. But Imp devices are remarkably easy to get up and running.

Enjoy!

 

Category: DIY

Ham Radio Deluxe & WSJT-X for FT-8

As we talked about earlier this year about operating FT-8 using Ham Radio Deluxe, WSJT-X and JT-Alert. I mentioned keeping all those in sync has been a pain and there have been a bunch of changes with JT-Alert and the FT-8 standards. Well, here is a way to only use two of them…

 

Haven’t tried this yet, but anxious to do so….   Will post my results here.

 

From the Ham Radio Deluxe e-mail…..

Video Demo of WSJT-X Connected Directly to Logbook

Greetings folks!

As mentioned in the 6.4.0.886 release notice sent recently, we have improved the ability to integrate WSJT-X with Ham Radio Deluxe Logbook.

 

Prior to this release, the use of JTAlert was required. Many customers enjoyed this method and tens of thousands of (FT8, JT65, JT9, etc) QSOs have been made with this method. We will still continue to support this method and the efforts of the JTAlert developer to continue and improve JTAlert.

 

With this release, Ham Radio Deluxe users can connect WSJT-X directly to Logbook and QSOs made in WSJT-X are automatically added into Logbook. This feature is called “QSO Forwarding” in Logbook. WSJT-X refers to it as “Reporting”.

 

We had many requests from our clients to provide this feature and I’m very pleased with how it works.

 

I have created a 7 minute video that demonstrations how to configure WSJT-X and Ham Radio Deluxe 6.4.0.886 to do this. The first two minutes of the video demonstrates the setup. In the remaining five minutes, I make a few FT8 QSOs and you can see them going immediately into Logbook.

 

The video is on our YouTube channel here

Attack of the $100 DMR Hotspots!

The Chinese have now successfully copied the DV Mega digital radio board (also called the MMDVM) that had been the key to many of the $200-300 hotspots many hams have been using to get on DMR. I put mine together last year by buying a DV Mega 70cm board and mating it with a Raspberry Pi 3. It’s worked like a champ, but I spent about $200 for the two boards, then added a $100 case and power supply that has allowed it to run on the cylindrical 18650 Lithium cells. All together, I spent about $330.

Now you can buy a tiny hotspot that does everything mine does (except the batteries), and now including a neat little color display, for $105 on Amazon or eBay. I decided to buy the one on Amazon and check it out. Here is a link to the one I now have:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07BTS738L/

It comes with a 3 foot USB to USB mini cable that is used to power it up.  The only thing you have to do to get it started is to copy a small file that has your Wi-Fi network name and password to the micro SD memory card that comes with the hotspot.  This allows you to reboot it and then edit the details in a web page that hooks it up to the right BrandMeister server and has you name, DMR ID, and a few other things.  You should order a micro SD-to-USB adapter if your laptop doesn’t already have an SD slot.  That’s only another $8 or so.

The software that runs on this hotspot is called Pi-Star, and is a collaborative effort between a guy in Shenzhen, China, and a U.S. ham, so you likely won’t encounter much of that inscrutable Chinglish verbiage that often plagues Chinese radio buyers.

I’m very impressed with both the Pi-Star software/firmware, and the tiny size of this neat little unit.  Running on the standard USB 5 volts, you can grab it and plug it into your computer, your phone charger, or maybe even a USB port in your late-model car.  It takes about 2 minutes to boot up (watch the display for a clue), then you’re good to go…maybe.  Did I forget to mention that you must carry around a Wi-Fi to cellular phone modem?  You can enter the names of several Wi-Fi networks, and the Pi-Star software will switch to whatever it finds.  Many people don’t realize that they have free or low-cost ($25/mo) Wi-Fi cellular modems in their smartphones.  This little guy will work with any of them, as long as it’s using the 2.4 GHz band.  Sorry no 5 Gig.

Anyway, you can’t beat the price, and I can tell you that mine works as well as my $300+ unit.