Moving time

After a couple of months running with MovableType 5 at, I've decided that it's time to close up shop here and start off fresh and clean.

This will be the last entry here at, but the site and archives will remain. The blog here has been active for nearly 10 years and has been through numerous MovableType upgrades starting somewhere around 2.1. The database has seen beta versions, upgrades, downgrades, switched back and forth between MT and OpenMelody at least a couple of times and seems to be showing its age these days.

Time to start fresh. New posts will show up at, a shiny new installation of MovableType 5.2.3 with a brand new database.

Next on the air

Now that the HF radio is on the air, the next things I need to get set up are the VHF radio, the OpenBeacon and the Softrock receiver.

I'll need to get/make suitable antennas and get coax for each of them.

The OpenBeacon needs to be reprogrammed, but it works. I can plug in a USB cable and watch it blink out slow Morse code (which is still almost too fast for me to copy). I can also hear it on the HF radio at 10.130 MHz. I'll need to make up a suitable antenna for it.

The VHF radio should be all set to go once I get an antenna set up and hooked up to it.

Just need to get around to putting the last transformer on the Softrock receiver and make up the external connections to get it on the air.

I'll need to make up a shopping list for the hamfest next week.

First contest

Operated for the last few hours of the North American QSO party last night. First contest I've participated in under my own call sign. There was a pretty good amount of activity on 40m when I was on and I added 17 more contacts to my log. I even managed to make one contact at 5W because I forgot to turn the power up on the radio after tuning it.

Didn't hear much activity on any of the other bands, although I wasn't listening too hard.

Had fun tuning around the bands making contacts. It was interesting seeing where my signal was reaching out to.

Almost invisible

From the street, the antenna is practically invisible against the trees, aside from the white rope used to secure one of the wires (and sometimes even that's hard to spot).
Invisible antenna

Both ends of the antenna float, with tension provided by a couple of surplus weights


Coax goes up the house to the eaves where it meets up with the ladder feedline of the antenna

From the other side, the antenna and ropes are a little more visible against the sky

A place to stash some code

Long, long ago, I cobbled together a database and a bunch of PHP scripts to help me keep track of x-ray equipment and the dates I tested them. There are a few other things that I track with it, and a bunch more things that I'd like to keep track of.

For most of its existence, I was the only one who used it so features were added on an "as I wanted/needed them" basis. Worked well enough for my purposes. Made attempts to keep track of bugs and features I wanted using Bugzilla, but I never really used it very consistently.

Now my little database has been "discovered" by management at work and others are starting to poke around in it. They're also starting to make requests for additions, so I decided it was time to start up again with some bug/issue/feature tracking. I didn't want to go with something heavy like Bugzilla again. Wanted something relatively lightweight, that I could use to track multiple projects and wouldn't be too difficult to install/configure/maintain. I also wanted to be able to access it online so I'd still be able to reach it if I wasn't at work or home. I started looking at a few, then came across Google's project hosting,

After looking at the docs for a bit, I decided it would probably work. Nothing for me to install, configure or maintain. Works with version control software. Has a wiki for documentation. Fairly flexible looking bug tracker. Pretty much everything I was looking for.

My little equipment database project has a home out in the wild now. With more people using it now, I think there will be a little more motivation to keep up with the bug tracking and continuing development (in what little time I have for it). Maybe it will help making the long wanted re-write a little easier.

Securing the antenna

After a week of being temporarily tied to trees and bushes, I finally got around to anchoring the antenna a little more securely using some eye screws. In the process I was able to raise the center of the antenna up another couple of meters which might help things.

One arm of the antenna is weighted down with a 2lb weight and floats up and down so that it can move with the trees. The center and other leg are tied down with enough slack to handle windy days. I may change them so that they're just weighted down as well rather than tied off.

The coax got routed through the crawl space so I won't have to worry about running over it with the lawn mower. It runs up the side of the house through another eye screw to the antenna feed line. When the radios get moved into their permanent location in the office/shack, I'll look at some floor or wall connections for the coax.

Play testing d20 Yahtzee

Connie and I played a game of d20 Yahtzee to see how it would go. It definitely lasts a lot longer than Yahtzee played with plain old d6s, and getting the special combinations (3/4 of a kind, full house, straights and crits) is a lot harder than it is in regular Yahtzee. Scores are a lot higher too. I got solidly trounced 1264 to 1023.

Connie came up with a few modifications for the special combos, like all primes, powers of 2 and other math-y related things. I think that calls for a new variant of the game.

I think there's something very satisfying about rolling d20s, although that may be a result of many mis-spent hours playing RPGs.

First contacts

I was tuning around the radio last night while waiting for Fedora 18 beta to install on the computer and heard 9A9A from Croatia calling loud and clear. He had quite the pileup going and it was interesting listening to him work everyone. A little while later after the pile up cleared away, I called him and managed to get him on the first attempt. First contact with the new antenna and it was a DX from almost 7900 km away! His signal was easily 59+ like he was next door, and I got a 59 back from him.

About 40 minutes later, I heard UT2IJ in the Ukraine calling and working a pileup too. Rather than wait, I responded and managed to work him on the first try too from 9100 km away! His signal was pretty good, a 58 and I got a 57 back.

Looks like the antenna is working pretty well.

d20 Yahtzee

Connie and I were playing Yahtzee last night and ended up talking about playing with different dice. Of course, the Bag o' Dice came out, and I started thinking about how a game of Yahtzee would go played with d20s.

Well, I wasn't the only one, and a Google search brought me to this page with rules and even a score sheet for d20 Yahtzee, or "Yahtwentee" as he calls it.

I decided to turn his PDF score sheet into a Google spreadsheet (d20 Yahtzee) with one minor fix to the bonus score threshold for 1-6's.

I think I'll have to try play testing it tonight.

Building the Softrock Lite II

Finally got around to starting one of the Softrock radios I got a few months ago. Decided to start with the Softrock Lite II receiver since it was the easiest and didn't have too many SMT components to put on. Most of the components are through-hole, with a few SMT capacitors, ICs and an op amp. Perfect for starting off with SMT work.

It's a pretty easy build, and the build instructions are pretty thorough and informative. The instructions break up the build into the different sections of the radio, explain what it does and provides the schematics, list of parts, where to put them on the board and tests afterwards.

I did run into a couple of problems with getting the SMT capacitors on. One of them was the wrong one (didn't take note that one set was marked and the other wasn't), and two of them I put in the wrong orientation because I wasn't paying attention to the diagram. Other than that the SMT work turned out to be a little easier than I thought it would be.

The build starts with the power supply part of the radio. All through hole stuff, except for one SMT capactior, so pretty easy. Just need to pay attention to the orientation of the diode.

I used a couple of jumper pins and used power from the MiniLab to supply power to the radio for testing. The oscillator part was next. Again, all through hole stuff and one SMT capactior here for this section of the radio.
Oscillator part of the radio

Most of the SMT components are in the divider and op-amp stages of the build. There are 3 SMT ICs and the rest of the SMT capacitors that go on in this part. With a bit of practice from the first two SMT capacitors, getting the rest of the capacitors on wasn't too hard (aside from not paying attention to orientation). The SMT ICs and op amp were a little trickier, but still not as bad as I expected.
Divider stage


Except for the inductor and transformer in the band pass filter stage, all the components are on the radio. Will need to study the section on winding toroids first before I try to make them. Then I'll have to switch out the jumper pins for a more permanent power connection and then make up the computer and antenna connections.
Mostly completed radio