HAM for the man that doesn’t eat Pork

International_amateur_radio_symbolAnyone who reads my blog, at all, knows I’ve been repairing a lot of gear for the last while. But, I’ve wanted to take it up another notch, and repair some radio equipment… mainly HF/VHF/UHF transceivers. Now, while there’s nothing against doing that and being unlicensed for Amateur Radio, I thought it would be more responsible to actually have a license so I could test said gear rather than just pumping it into a dummy load.

So, I spent a couple weeks studying, and took the Amateur License Exam 2 weeks ago, and passed Technician with no problem at all. Sadly, I was able to take the General exam right after for free, and missed it by one question! So, I have my license, and right now, have a call sign of KG7VJC, which is fine, but I have applied for a Vanity Call Sign. That takes a while, so I’m holding off on saying what that call sign may end up being.

As for a radio, I initially planned on just buying a Baofeng radio, but after never hearing anything overly great about them (other than cheap), I started watching eBay and Craigslist for used Yaesu/Icom/Kenwood HTs (Handheld Transmitters). I quickly found one, in Portland, for a Yaesu VX-8DR, a pretty high end HT that looked awesome. So, I saved up a bit, and just last week bought it while up in PDX for a bit more than I’d have liked, but I’m sure it will serve me well, and radios really seem to hold their value (I can always resell if I need to).

Anyway, I’m now a ham. I’ll post a review of the radio (and probably other radio gear as acquired), as well as be adding some repairs of transceivers once I have some to repair. I’ll also be joining a local club… as that was suggested by the person I bought the radio from (lamenting he hadn’t joined one earlier). Joining the ARRL, though, may not happen anytime soon. It’s kind of spendy.

Spiders, spiders everywhere!

Weather-StationI recently was out in my back yard when it was breezy, and when I glanced up at my weather station, I noticed the anemometer cups weren’t spinning. They’d twitch just a bit, but not spin. I had a feeling I knew what was up (A spider had “tied” them down), but it required a trip to the roof to check.

Once on the roof, I took the station down (my 10ft mast detaches at the half way point so I can work on the station). And indeed, an industrious spider had managed to put a web in each cup, and then linked each cup to the ISS (Integrated Sensor Station). Impressive. I cleaned the station up with some paper towels (including the solar panel), and got the spider down to the ground (attached him to the roof line, and let him lower himself down). Then put the station back up.

Checking my submitted weather data, at first, I thought I had lost a month worth of wind data, but checking again, showed about 12-16 hours of it missing (can’t really tell when the wind was zero MPH vs when the anemometer was stuck). Then the question became, how do I keep this from happening again, and me losing a week+.

First, software. I submitted a request for Weathercat to notify me when wind data remains at zero for a long time. Others on the forum also suggested I sign up for AWEKAS, which apparently WILL notify if sensors stop making sense (no wind for days/weeks). So, here’s my station on AWEKAS.

Second, how do I keep spiders off the station. I’ve thought about putting “Tanglefoot” on the mast, but that seems like a pain. I’ve also heard flea collars will repel them, so I think I’m going to try that up by the station next time I’m on the roof. For now, though, if you own a weather station, you may want to check your station in the summer to make sure a spider hasn’t made a home and wrapped up the whole thing disabling any of the moving parts. =)

CircuitMaker

CircuitMakerNever being terribly happy with Eagle (I didn’t grow up on it, and really only used it because it was free, and ran on the Mac (unlike KiCad), the idea of CircuitMaker seemed great. Those that use Altium seem to love it, but it costs an arm and a leg. CircuitMaker promised to be free, and offer a lot of the features of Altium. Sadly, it seems it misses one mark in that it’s PC only (though it’s easy enough to run in VMWare). There does seem to be a huge interest from the community on a Mac version, however (a fair number of threads, and responses to threads asking for it).

Using the tool seems quite similar to pretty much any EDA software (good), and it imports Eagle files (great). I don’t work on much in the way of confidential stuff, so the fact stuff is open to the public is fine by me. I just imported my two Eagle projects (relating to a GPSDO, and a Rubidium Oscillator), and the GPSDO has been forked so far.

At this point, I can’t say much more about the product other than I like where it’s going. I would like some way to work offline, like on flights, etc. They could probably allow a “checkout” for a project, then limit the amount of time you work on it before checking back in. I guess the biggest issue with that is it would make collaboration very difficult, if that’s the direction they want to really head with it (multiple hobbyists working on the same design).

Anyway, at this point, I’d give it a solid 4/5, with a point knocked off for being Windows only. Once they get a Mac version out the door, I’ll give it that last point. Right now, though, I’m going to try out Upverter, and maybe a more recent build of Kicad (they seem to have official builds for Mac now).

Chris Gammell (“The Amp Hour”, and “Contextual Electronics”) did a review a bit ago comparing Kicad, CircuitMaker, and Upverter. If you are familiar with Chris, you may know the results before reading1. =P

  1. I kid, of course. While he does certainly prefer KiCad, he does seem to give the others a fair shake, and admits most design work is done with a net connection, so offline work isn’t really THAT big a deal []