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May, 2011:

Using Power Point for Project Decaling

So I build loads of project which in the end require labelling, but how to do it so it seems professional?  In the past I used to just make lines of text which was more or less the project name and my callsign, printed it and stuck it to the box, not very professional!

Well while looking at some projects on the net over the weekend I found a Cumbria Designs Minicounter frequency counter built by Matti Niskanen, OH2CF which looked like a real professional product, the decaling was superb.  Reading details of the project Matti explained he uses Microsoft Power Point to make the panel designs, it suddenly hit me that it was such a simple way to do it. I guess Visio would also do but MS Power Point comes with Office 2007 which I have installed and creating shapes, text, lines, you name it and then positioning them would be simple.

I thought I would give it a go on my External Voice Keyer which I’ve just connected up and started to use.  At the start the front panel is all based on handwriting, which works but it just doesn’t look professional.

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I then thought instead of measuring where all the holes, LEDs and switches where I would take a photo of it, load it into Power Point and then use it as a template, here is a moc up of what that looked like, this is the finished and tweaked overlay put back onto the photo for this article but it does show the picture (perspective) wasn’t quite right but it did save loads of time measuring.

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You can see the design on the screen with the photo removed, then printed and then with the holes where the LEDs, switches and variable pot go.

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After the design was prepared with the various holes cut out, it was glued using pva glue to the metal front panel. The finished design makes the Voice Keyer look much better than it did before. 

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This is rev 1, you can see the one fitted to the Voice Keyer has my callsign and project name in handwriting on it whereas the designs above have it added within Power Point. I’m going to add a few additional switches to the Voice Keyer in the week as it supports 4 voice memories which will be handy to switch between so I will add a ‘next memory’ button and an erase button so the design will change to accommodate them.

Update 020611:

I’ve now added the extra switches and re-arranged the front panel including a new colourful decal…

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And updated my SO3R shack controller to look very similar…

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Now onto other projects…

Shack Panorama

So after sending a quick picture to Twitter showing my clean shack I got quite a few replies.  I thought therefore it would be good to show the shack in its entirety.

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I first Googled to see if Picasa could do it and got a result back for Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (could this be a #fail for Google?).  Anyhow after a straigh forward email, had to install Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package and Microsoft .NET Framework 4 Client Profile, which the installer gave links for as you went I loaded Image Composite Editor, dragged my images in I had taken of the shack and it just did it, amazing!  I was able to crop out the edges and save the panorama in about 1 minute…

Lick on the image below to open it in Flickr and get more size options…

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So I got the bug, got up this morning and strapped my Casio Exilim EX-G1 camera to the 6m beam, set it to interval shoot (take a photo every 10 seconds) pumped the mast up and rotated the mast slowly to get a panorama of my takeoff

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6m DX Window

So I can’t get it out of my head all the grief I got after operating within the top 3 KHz of the DX window on the 6m band…  The conditions were such that there was a chance of some North African stations being on the band so I thought I’d position myself at the top end, not the middle of the DX band incase, also I should point out in region 1 the band plans are only guidance.  People trying to tell me I can’t work EU stations are just unreal, when questioned about it NONE of them could answer my question of what needs to happen before, in their minds, operating in the DX part of the band is allowed.  Is it when they want to do it?  Do I need to keep an eye on page 5 of the Guardian newspaper? Wait till the current RSGB president announces it on a specific DX cluster?  I mean what a load of crap. 

I then asked those making the comments if they had worked any DX on the band which I was causing interference to.  If I was then what?  QSY out the DX band to give them the frequency?  Rubbish! If DX is being heard then I would also be DX to the other location thus justifying being in the DX portion of the band to begin with! I have 400w and a 5 element on 6m so I would easily be heard before most…

Lots of their argument stem from me working stations in EU so in their mind I should become ignorant and ignore any EU stations calling me, they didn’t even suggest I should call “CQ outside Europe” or similar which makes it even more obvious to me they don’t have a clue and are just moaning to satisfy themselves – they can’t even advise people like me on how to ‘appropriately behave’ in the DX band when complaining and this really annoys me, if you are going to complain about something at least be ready to suggest the reasons behind your complaint and suggest an alternative/solution.

So in summary calling in the DX window might yield the first DX of the day, if there is DX, as advised in page 5 of the Guardian newspaper, then I can safely operate in the DX window but what needs to come first, the CQ or DX?  Also once DX was announced wouldn’t everyone else cram themselves into the 30KHz DX windows of 6m instead of the other 70KHz, and after what time should everyone QSY out of the DX window? 1 hour after the RSGB president goes to bed on the day when there was DX stations on the band? Do we wait to work DX outside the DX window before these people say we can use the DX window? If DX is being worked outside the DX windows then what is the point of the DX window in the first place??? Please someone tell me!!!

DX’Peditions and shack improvements!

It has been a busy month.  First I was on holiday for 2 weeks, one week at my parents in Scotland and the 2nd I was on the Isle of Arran for the Camb-Hams 2011 DX’Pedition.  The DX’Pedition was sponsorship by Kenwood UK, Icom UK and Linear Amp UK.  The latter provided us with an HF amp (Challenger) and a 6m/4m (Discovery 64) amp.

On the DX’Pedition we planned to make about 4000 QSOs in the week, this is about what we have managed to do in previous weeks on our DX’Peditions.  So when we managed 4000 after 4 days we thought maybe we will manage 6000, in the end we managed 9100 QSOs!!!  At times we were on 6 bands running simultaneously and most of the time no less than 3.  We also managed to get out on the 2m RSGB UKAC where we managed 49 QSOs and 16 squares.  The only thing which broke was the motor driving the elevation rotator as the controller has a mind of it’s own, somehow faulty, and now and then enables (and sticks on) one direction, in this case UP and we only noticed after 15 minutes of the motor trying to drive the rotator after it had hit the mechanical end-stop.  This is now fixed as I had a spare motor at home.

It was the second year we have borrowed the Discovery 64 and since last year I have been thinking about a 6m amp for the shack.  I didn’t want to get an amp which only covered 6m though, mainly for space, and I wasn’t compelled to buy an HF amp either so I didn’t bother buying anything.  This year however with having 3 HF amps on the DX’Pedition I was sold on getting an HF amp, even conservatively running them at 300w, a 4.8dB increase on the 100w the radio produces, yielded a much higher QSO rate and allowed us to keep our frequency on a crowded band.

So now I was sold on the virtues of an amplifier for 6m and HF I needed to find one which done both.  As luck would have it Martin Lynch and Sons, a large UK ham radio supplier, had just added a Yaesu VL-1000 Quadra to their second hand section a few days before I decided I wanted it.

The Quadra is a solid state 1KW on HF and 500w on 6m amp which requires minimal startup time, instant [no tuning required] band changing, 4 antenna connections, 2 radio inputs and a built in ATU.  The only slight issue [for me] is it uses Yaesu’s band data (4 pins) for band selecting and I will use an Icom IC-756pro3 to drive it, which doesn’t have these data pins.  Solution: buy the amp, which I did on the spot, then make a PICAXE interface which translates Icom data to Yaesu data which was done a week later…

I had to do a bit of shelve re-arrangement in the shack to fit the Quadra in so thankfully my shelving is plug and play.  One thing I found out quite quickly, it was something I had read about was the noise floor increases on 6m.  It turn out the display board and the control board, which sits just behind the top right of the display produces lots of RFI on 6m. Some intensive screening using EMC tape fixed the issue!  I’ll write more about this later…

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