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!

 

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.

 

 

SBCARA Ham Cram September 22 @ 8 AM

SBCARA will be sponsoring a Ham Cram event on September 22 @ 8AM at the Morgan Hill Police Department training room (right side dbl doors when facing the front of the building).

Study sessions begins at 8AM and runs through 1 PM. Exams are from 1 PM – 4 PM.

Fee: Class and Test: $25. Test only: $14.

Registration required:  testing@scbcares.org

Bring a photo ID, SSN, or FRN, and cash for fees. If you are testing for an upgrade, please bring a copy of your current license grant.  I would recommend registering for your FCC FRN and bringing that. Just follow the instructions on the link provided.

This session is sponsored by Morgan Hill EOS, San Benito County Amateur Radio Association, and W5YI-VEC.

  • So, what is a ham cram? – A ham cram is where you go and study the test material for either the Technician or General Amateur Radio exam and then immediately take the exam following the study period. It is a fairly effective way for you to get your tech or general license in one day. Youth down to about 12 years old have also been very successful using this method.
  • But I don’t learn anything this way. I just learn to take the test! – That is true to an extent. I have always said the test is not really the test. Getting on the air is the test. Many people find the equipment intimidating or overwhelming. Some people take their test, pass, and yet never get on the air! We have great local clubs and groups that can help you with radio selection, programming, and getting you on the air. Just ask!

Custom Plates

Get your own custom call sign plate in California? Really? No way. It has to be a total nightmare, right? You probably have to stand in endless lines at the DMV, only to be told you have the wrong form. And it probably costs way to much anyway.

Nope. Wrong on all accounts.

It is really quite easy, in spite of the horrific manner in which the DMV provides the information on their web site, all you really need to do is:

  • Check out the fees here ($20 for amateur radio plates).
  • Fill out online, or download and complete the form here.
  • Be sure to check “ORIGINAL” at the top of the form. Complete section 1. In section 2 you only check the box for Amateur Radio License, fill in your call sign, skip all the signature sections in section 2, and jump to section 5. Sign, date, and add your phone number and you are good to go.
  • Mail the form, a copy of your amateur license, and a check for the $20 to:  DMV, SPU – MS D238, P.O. Box 932345, Sacramento, CA 94232-3450.
  • Wait about 4-5 weeks for your plates to arrive.

It is really that easy. And the plates do not have annual renewal fees like other custom plates. If you have questions you can call the DMV at 916-657-8035

 

2018 Field Day

It is that time of year again! Operators from MHARS, GVARC, and SBCARA will once again invade Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, CA and operate (probably) 4A on the weekend of June 23-24. Stop by and check out what a larger amateur radio operation looks like. We will have multiple towers, dipoles, hexbeams, and yagi antennas as we operate 15, 20, and 40 meters on SSB, CW, and digital modes.

ARRL Petitions for Additional Band Privileges for Technician

February 28, 2018 ARRL filed a petition with the FCC to expand Technician class band privileges significantly into the HF band for both phone and digital access. The proposal would open 3.900 to 4.000, 7.225 to 7.300, and 21.350 to 21.450. In addition there would be RTTY and digital privileges on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters. Maximum power would remain 200 watts PEP.

See all the deets here: http://www.arrl.org/news/view/arrl-requests-expanded-hf-privileges-for-technician-licensees

 

Bouvet Island DXpedition

Take a boat full of hams, gear, helicopters, fuel, and moxie, then push them out of a port in Chile and point them at the most remote island in the Pacific Ocean. That is the 3Y0Z Bouvet Island DXpedition 2018. They have already endured huge storms and a 6.6 earthquake on their journey. They have just arrived at the island and are making preparations for the landing and establishing camp. They should be on the air shortly. You can also check out their Facebook page here.

New ARRL Contest NASA On The Air Begins December 11

Set your calendars for December 11, 2017 as that is the kick off for the next <something> On The Air contest! Following the huge success of the National Parks on The Air contest from this past year, this new contest will include clubs from around the US which will operate from 16 NASA centers around the US. You can check out their web site for operational details. This looks like a really fun event. Check it out!