Dental school is taking a lot of time away from me. I try my best to compartmentalize dental school into a chunk of my schedule (a massive chunk), trying to use the rest of the time to spend with my family (wife) and when she’s at work work on electronics (which seems to be radio these days). A few weeks ago I took the final amateur radio license exam and received my Amateur Extra license. It’s a bunch of technical questions about radio circuitry, antenna theory, and other random stuff. You can see what I mean by taking an online practice test! I applied for a new call sign (extra class operators can get shorter call signs). It seems the FCC gave me a VD. AJ4VD that is! Yes, my old call sign KJ4LDF has gone out the window as I am now AJ4VD! In Morse code, that’s [.- .— ….- …- -..].

I made my first Morse code contact from my apartment! This is the radio I’m using. It’s a Ten-Tec Century 21 HF CW transceiver which puts out ~30W. I’m using a super-cheap but surprisingly functional homebrew base-loaded vertical antenna. The main vertical element is quarter-inch copper pipe from Home Depot (a couple bucks) cut with 1” to spare from my 10ft ceiling. Therefore, it’s a less-than quarter-wave vertical element, requiring a tuning coil (variable inductor at the base)…

Here you can start to see the tuning coils. Briefly, I scraped a deep gash in the copper pipe such that a big glob of solder would adhere to it, and stuck a wire (yellow, coated) into that solder so it’s a good connection to the pipe. I then started wrapping the wire around a few toilet paper rolls [it’s all I could find at the time!] adding tap points (regions of exposed wire) every other turn. This functioned somewhat, but didn’t allow for fine-tuning (pun intended). I therefore scrapped the bottom half of the cardboard cylinder/coil and constructed a slightly more elegant solution…

That’s an Olvaltine container. Yeah, I know, “More chocolaty Olvaltine please!” I used a rotary tool to scrape some measured/templated gashes on each side to give the wire (picture frame hanging wire from Target, 50′ for $1.99) something to rest in. It turned out not to be enough, so I hot-glued the wire into the holes. This gives me a lot of exposed wire space to allow me to “tap” the coil wherever I want. By modifying where I clip onto the coil, I modify the length of wire in the coil that’s used, therefore modifying the inductance of the coil, allowing for some tuning capabilities. Although it has a narrow tuning range, using the current setup I’m able to get my SWR down to 1:1 on 40m (nice!).

I made a couple of contacts since I got the rig last night. First was K4KOR in central TN, who was calling CQ. I replied (slowly), and he came back to me (blazing fast Morse code). I was unable to copy ANYTHING he said (I’m not that good of an auditory decoder yet!) I’m sure he’s incredibly nice and it wasn’t intentional, but I had to give up the QSO. I know he copied my call, and I copied his, but I didn’t copy ANYTHING else he said. Does that count as my first contact? This morning I fired up the rig at 9:15 and heard W4HAY calling CQ from Northeast TN. I replied, stating that I’m new to CW so go slowly, and he was AMAZINGLY nice at sending me code at a snails pace. I was able to copy 90% of what he said, and will consider him my first solid contact!





qrss_kj4ldf

QRSS uses extremely simple radio transmitters at extremely low power to send an extremely slow Morse code message over an extremely large distance to extremely sensitive receivers which are extremely dependent on computers to decode. While you might be able to send a voice message across the ocean with ~100 watts of power, there are people sending messages with milliwatts! The main idea is that if you send the signals slow enough, and average the audio data (fast Fourier transformation) over a long enough time, weak signals below the noise threshold will stand out enough to be copied visually.

Without going into more detail than that, this is the kind of stuff I’ve been copying the last couple days. The image is a slow time-averaged waterfall-type FFT display of 10.140 MHz copied from a Mosley-pro 67 yagi mounted ~180 ft in the air connected to a Kenwood TS-940S transceiver. Red ticks represent 10 seconds. Therefore the frame above is ~10 minutes of audio. The trace on the image is from two different transmitters. The upper trace is from VA3STL‘s QRSS quarter-watt transmitter from Canada described here and pictured below. The lower trace is from WA5DJJ‘s QRSS quarter-watt transmitter in New Hampshire, described and pictured here.

qrss_transmitter
This is a photograph of the actual transmitter in Canada producing the signal I see here in Florida!

I don’t know why I’m drawn to QRSS so much. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s a hobby which only a handful of people have ever participated in. It uses computers and software, but unlike software-defined radio they don’t require complicated equipment, and a QRSS transmitter or receiver can be built from simple and cheap components.

10_01_01_00009

Argo: There’s a popular QRSS “grabber” software for Windows called Argo. It dumps out screenshots of itself every few minutes which is nice, but it doesn’t assemble them together (which is annoying). I wrote a script to assemble Argo screen captures together as a single image. It’s a script for ImageJ.

long
makeRectangle(13, 94, 560, 320);
run("Crop");
rename("source");
frames = nSlices();
newImage("long", "RGB White", (frames-1)*560, 320, 1);
for (i=0; i<frames; i++) {
	selectWindow("source");
	setSlice(i+1);
	run("Select All");
	run("Cut");
	selectWindow("long");
	run("Paste");
	makeRectangle(i*560, 0, 560, 320);
}
selectWindow("source");
close();

As far as life goes, I’m discovering that it’s not the attainment of a goal that gives me pleasure; it’s the pursuit of the goal. Perhaps that’s why I peruse hobbies which are difficult, and further challenge myself by doing things in weird, quirky ways. I’d love to experiment more with radio, but I don’t have much money to spend. Yeah, an all-band 100-watt HF/VHF/UHF rig would be nice, but I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on that kind of equipment… Maybe when I have a “real” job and stop being a student I’ll be in a better place to buy stuff like that. I built a cheap but surprisingly functional base-loaded vertical HF antenna for my apartment balcony (don’t worry neighbors, it’s taken inside after every use). It’s mainly for receive, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be used for QRP transmitting.

ant_1

Yes, that’s an antenna made from copper pipe, wire, and toilet paper rolls. I wound the wire around the base and created various tap points so it serves as a variable inductor depending on where I gator-clip the radio. Not pictured are 33′ radials running inside my apartment serving as grounding. The antenna feeds into a Pixie II direct conversion receiver / QRP transmitter which dumps its output to a laptop computer. I copied some PSK-31 transmissions from Canada with this setup. It works way better than a long / random wire antenna because it dramatically boosts signal-to-noise when tuned to the proper frequency.

ant_2

UPDATE: VA3STL mentioned me on his site