We will be holding an amateur radio day at MakeIt Labs in Nashua. We are hoping to generate STEM interest among young people by demonstrating all the scientific and engineering principles at work in amateur radio. Participation is welcomed from all club members and folks in the community and we urge you to bring your families, friends, and especially kids showing an interesting in science, engineering, and mathematics. Among our activites, we will:
Set-up a High-frequency (HF) Get-On-The-Air (GOTA) station allowing kids to make contacts (QSO’s) all over the country and potentially the world. We will highlight the interconnectivity among the components to describe how we actually make contacts and showcase the latest and greatest hardware that is on the market. Additionally, we will use VHF/UHF radios to make local contacts which also demonstrates a HAM’s use of amateur radio repeaters to allow extended coverage.
Displays of satellite station set-ups which allow communication with amateur satellites in Low-Earth orbit (allowing beyond-line-of-sight communication), as well as Digital Amateur TV stations which rely on modern maker-based systems such as a Raspberry Pi. Though we will not activate our satellite station (due to weather conditions) we will take interested parties through how the station is constructed, how we find satellites, and what antennas / additional hardware will be needed to make contacts.
Advertise our High-Altitude Balloon Project that can be found on our website. With the information we currently have in tow, we hope to engender a massive amount of interest and excitement among kids and hope that this will serve as an enriching learning experience that they can also bring to their own classrooms. We emphasize modeling, construction, logistics, and post-data analysis in order to lead the kids through what it takes to perform a real-world science experiment!
I recently wrote an article about Nashua ARC’s 2017 Project Night (forgive my shameless self-promotion). In it, I expressed my awe of what our club members can do, and how it has inspired me to attempt my own first build.
The winter really is the best time to do this. And it’s time for me to embark on this journey of fun, learning, and frustration! So I turned to Mike (AB1YK) who knows about such things since he and I are attempting to organize a future summer weekend Tech Build Event for the club. The Pixie and the DSO138 oscilloscope are the warm-ups for this main-event. One suggestion Mike threw out was a Direct-Conversion Receiver (DCR) as advertised in the January 2015 issue of QRP Quarterly which you can actually download here (and as far as the application to the Tech Build goes, perhaps we only build parts of the DCR given time constraints). This article is entitled Let’s Build Something: Part I by Ben Kuo (KK6FUT) and Pete Juliano (N6QW).
In it, they outline the main building blocks of the build. The nice thing about this build is once one is done, it is amenable to some modular alteration to turn it into a fully working QRP SSB transceiver! (Though I do not know how much wattage at this stage) The other nice thing about this build is all the parts are clearly labeled and Pete provides links at the end of the article for YouTube videos about the build. Maybe it’s just my noob eyes, but I find the videos moderately useful for someone starting from scratch, but I can see the utility for a more experienced builder. Additionally, this build utilizes the Manhattan style of building. I find this optimal for someone just starting out because I can easily visualize all the connections between the components and have relatively easy access to make measurements and tests with probes.
Let’s go through parts and I’ll tell you what I know (at a cursory level) and what I don’t
40m bandpass filter: Totally on this one. I’ve never built a filter before but looking forward to doing this. In fact, I need to build one for my ADS-B antenna at 1090 MHz, but it doesn’t seem feasible to do from components at that frequency. Any ideas anyone? I’m kind of stumped.
RF amplifier: REALLY looking forward to tackling this one, but this won’t be the first thing I do. Makes sense to have for weak signals.
Double-balanced mixer: Now I know something has to knock the RF down to an intermediate frequency (IF) and when I see mixer, this is where my brain goes. The double-balanced bit was foreign to me, but as advertised in the article (‘double balanced’ implies that the original signal and local oscillator frequencies are deliberately nulled out as part of the mixing process and do not appear at the output.)
Arduino Based Sample DDS: In order to even produce an IF, we need a local oscillator (LO). This is where the Arduino comes in. The authors argued they looked at a number of options for the LO including a VFO (variable frequency oscillator), a varactor tuned oscillator (should know this from my Extra exam — but full disclosure — I can’t help you now), and a DDS (direct digital synthesizer). They felt the simplest option was the DDS (hence the Arduino).
Audio amplifier: We want to amplify the audio signal so we can hear it through our 8 Ohm speaker!
So now if you put all the components and modules together, you arrive at something which should look like:
I like this project for a few reasons.
It’s a more interesting build and takes longer than 2 hours.
It will have amateur radio applications in my shack. I do hope to work some pretty cool QRP with this rig (when I turn it into a full-on transceiver).
I will learn A LOT about the electronic components integrated into the rig and be able to have an excuse to buy some test equipment.
I get to work on my soldering skills.
The modular design is attractive so that if I wish to make alterations in the future, it seems I will readily be able to do so without having to tear the entire rig apart.
Understanding, at the end, how all of these parts function together to make my transceiver work. I look forward to sharing whatever knowledge I accrue during this build with future amateur radio hobbyists just breaking in.
I will certainly post articles as my progress commences. Currently, I am in the market to buy components and test equipment and will begin to build probably the simplest module first; currently, that seems to be the filter. And I have learned a very valuable lesson from being in the club and participating in its activities that I am applying to this build. Initially do things to set yourself up for the highest probability of success so that you keep your morale, interest, and momentum high. Nothing is worse than diving head-first into the hardest part of a project and losing any and all ambition when things begin to not work (and they will…).
I have been an Amateur Radio Operator for 5 years and my favorite thing to do is chase DX. As a new Ham it was always a thrill to work a new DXCC, but now that I have over 280 DXCCs and over 1000 band points, it is a little more difficult to find a new one. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get a DXCC in 80m and 160m., which are usually open when I am asleep. I created the DX Alarm Clock as a way to get notified that there is something new on the air when I am not down in the shack. This article will talk about how I developed the software for the DX Alarm Clock. Part 2 will talk about the building the Raspberry Pi based Hardware and loading the OS.
DX Alarm Clock Architecture
The DX Alarm Clock is a Python software program running on a Raspberry Pi that gathers data online about my log and what is on the spotting network and uses that data to alert me when there is a “new one” on the air.
The ClubLog website provides a light DX Cluster website called DXLite, which has an XML Interface. The DX Alarm Clock uses this interface to get the current spots. The software uses the Developer API from ClubLog to get a JSON matrix of all DXCC entities by band indicating whether I have worked, confirmed or verified each band-entity. The software loops through all of the spots returned by DXLite and looks each DXCC up in the JSON ClubLog matrix. I also use the QRZ.comXML Interface to get additional information for each callsign that is spotted, like the state.
The DX Alarm Clock uses Tkinter/TTK for the GUI. I used the Notebook widget to create a multi-tab GUI. There is a tab for configuring filters for DX Entity. The user can choose all New DXCCs, as well as specific bands and nodes to provide alerts for.
There is another tab for configuring filters for WAS. ClubLog has no log look up capability based on US State so the WAS filter lets you create a list of States and associated bands to provide alerts for.
The Notification tab allows configuration of what notifications the user would like to receive. The user can specify a separate email address for New DXCCs, New Band Points, and New US States. This allows alerts to be sent to email accounts or as SMS texts. You can also configure the sounds the DX Alarm Clock itself makes to “wake you up” when that ATNO or new Band Point is spotted.
DX Alarm Clock Alerting
The DXAlarm clock wakes up every 5 minutes and gets the latest spots from the DXLite Cluster. It checks each spot against the ClubLog log and if there is a match based on the configure filters, it sounds the alert, and then speaks the alarm, giving you the Callsign, DXCC Entity, Band, and Mode. A simple text to speech package called flite (festival-lite) was used to implement the speech on the Raspberry Pi.
It also puts a message with these details and the Frequency, UTC Date/Time, Spotter and Comment on the display.
Additionally, it sends this information as an email to the configured email address, which results in a text or email.
I can even get the alert on my Apple Watch.
Once all spots are processed, it keeps a running list of all spots that resulted in alerts on the main screen. Spots are aged out if they do not recur over time.
The DX Alarm Clock just alerted me that ZC4SB is on 20m – that’s an ATNO! Got to go down to the shack and work him! Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post on the DXAlarm Clock Raspberry Pi based hardware and on setting up the Raspberry Pi OS.