Saturday, 29 January 2011

m0xpd Observatory

After many years avoiding the issue, today I finally dipped my toes into the world of amateur astronomy...

I guess it really started a few weeks ago when I got a Planisphere (after seeing it on the one of the BBC Stargazing Live programmes). I was blown away by the beautiful simplicity of the Planisphere, to the extent that it re-awakened my interested in the movement of celestial objects and started an (expensive) avalanche.

What I hope will be the most expensive part of that avalanche hit this morning at Stockport Binocular and Telescope Centre (usual disclaimer).

I went with certain purchases in mind - but ended up buying a rather more "up-market" instrument - an 8 inch Newtonian on a motorized Dobsonian mount. Here she is after the simple assembly process for the "flat-pack" mount that was a credit to the manufacturing quality and the instructions supplied...

I had been advised throughout the "getting ready to buy" phase by my cousin, Alan, who himself is a dealer in telescopes.

This time there's no disclaimer - this is blatant advertising for a family member!

Actually, Alan has quite a lot to answer for...

As well as being part of the temptation into the world of astronomy, Alan was the guy who got me into radio all those years ago (ultimately leading to this Blog). He showed me how to make my first crystal set, he gave me the components I needed and he showed me where to buy more - either at full price from the dark and intimidating shop "Hobbs" on King Street, Luton or from the surplus bins at Surplectronics on Leagrave Road...

Lest anybody think that Alan is associated with only the finer points of my development, he was also at hand for some of the darker moments - he was Best Man at my wedding HI HI.

Thanks Alan!

"First Light" reports and impressions of the Sky-Watcher Skyliner-200P FlexTubeTM AUTO will follow - clouds permitting.

...-.- de m0xpd


Well, we caught 15 minutes-worth of photons...

As the sun set this afternoon, Jupiter was the first object visible through the twilight. We could see Jupiter's weather bands and three of her moons quite distinctly, before any stars were visible to the naked eye. We just learned to drive the motor controls - to the point of turning the tracking "on" - when the clouds came and drew the curtains.

Hopefully that won't be the end for this evening.

Monday, 17 January 2011

40m Reception

This weekend's mods to the multi-mode beacon (Blogs passim) which allowed operation on 40m have borne fruit...

I was able to see my signal on the grabber aggregators - including the excellent site maintained by Claudio, i2ndt.

Here's a reasonably clear picture of my signals at Johan, on5ex's grabber (I added a partial reflection to make my upside-down signal slightly easier to see)...

Jan, pa9qv's "Double Dutch" Grabber displays a much longer time history - so the temporal resolution isn't as fine. I've highlighted my signals (DFCW and Hell) with a red box...

Colin, g6avk, reported seeing my signals on the KnightsQRSS list - Colin said "I managed to read the inverted FSKCW here ..... It had me guessing for a while though Hi!"

Finally, Joachim, pa1gsj was kind enough to comment on the blog that he had seen my signals "the better part of the day over here in JO22da".

Joachim also made the eminently sensible suggestion that I might run the Si570 DDS oscillator at a harmonic of the desired frequency and divide down to get the three-and-a-bit Meg signal I need. That might well be the answer - I need to make a new version of the controller board (to get control lines for the band-pass filter and the yet to be constructed low-pass), so adding a divider stage after the DDS plug-in will be easy.

Thanks to Joachim for the good idea and to all reporters,

...-.- de m0xpd


Bill w4hbk has stitched together a night's worth of screens from Johan, on5ex's grabber - you can see how my signals start breaking into Belgium after breakfast at a civilised hour. Fellow WARC member Mike, g4vss, ten miles down the road, obviously has his three Weetabix a little earlier!

Sunday, 16 January 2011


Being accustomed to making a journey to Radio Rallies (be it a day at the seaside, risking exposure and hypothermia on the moors or just a gentle drive around the M60) it is something of a surprise when the Rally comes to me!

Today, the West Manchester club held their annual "Red Rose" Rally at a new location - the George H Carnall Sports Centre, only 3.2 miles from my back yard - how could I stay away?

The event was full of the usual suspects (including rather too many offering computers and software) and I was just beginning to regret parting with my £3 for the entry fee when I chanced upon what must be the best value "Grab Bag" of mixed components of my career - a fiver from g4vap's stand.

I had been tempted by some new DIN plugs and sockets visible on the outside of the bundle but, on getting the bag back home and sorting through the contents, I found all sorts of treasures, several of which would have been worth £5 of my money alone!

There were all sorts of goodies from passives (including dozens of electrolytics and ceramics) through multi-turn presets, switches, logic devices, RF cascode amps, relays, LEDs, sounders and earpieces, ferrites, RF chokes, 20 DIN plugs and 10 PCB DIN sockets - all of them brand spanking - an amazing haul!

The crowning glory must be the shiny new microphone holder, just visible in the centre of the picture above - whatever would I want one of those for?

Sorry - I just suffered a sudden and totally uncharacteristic bout of cynicism. I meant to say "perfect for hanging up the lollipop after a session chatting with all my good buddies, 10-4".

...-.- de m0xpd

Saturday, 15 January 2011

MultiBand Beacon Progress

After leaving undone those things which I ought to have done (beacon-wise) for too long, I finally sat down and did some PIC programming today...

I am now the proud father of another option on my menu system, which allows me to change band!

Not only does the new code allow me to display things like the image above - it actually changes the DDS oscillator too - but that's where things started to go bad...

My beacon signal generator uses a VXO system in which a 3.579MHz color burst crystal is pulled to generate the required frequency shifts. To run on 30m, my local oscillator signal from the DDS system is six-and-a-bit MegaHertz - no problem. However, to run down on 40m I would need a signal at 3.4...MHz - WHICH IS OUTSIDE THE RANGE which can be generated by the Si570.

I needed to take an alternative approach...

Fortunately the 7MHz signals can be generated by mixing my 3.5MHz signal with either another three-and-a-bit Meg signal OR a ten-and-a-bit Meg signal - so that's what I did!

Obviously, this results in an unfortunate "inversion" of the signal, such that my DFCW and Hellschreiber signals are seen "upside down" in ordinary QRSS grabbers. Here's a local Argo capture with a reflection to make matters (hopefully) clearer...

In essence, I'm now generating a lower sideband signal, rather than the original USB - I guess the answer is to flip my frequency modulations in the VXO upside down to right the wrong - that will have to wait for a while longer!

Also, I've not had a chance to get the WSPR emissions sorted on 40m as yet (they also are "upside down" and out of band). For the moment, signal reports for DFCW and S/MT Hell on 40m gratefully received!

...-.- de m0xpd

Saturday, 1 January 2011

In with the new...

Well, despite the fun of playing with new pieces of kit, I'm afraid last year's (i.e. 2010's) Winter Sports was something of a damp squib for me...

I decided to work only with my Funster Plus rig - which constrained me to 40 metres. The nearly-new FT 817 and the HW-7 offer opportunities to work different bands, but I stuck obstinately with my homebrew-only rule. If I'm honest, I see the whole QRP philosophy as only being truly fulfilled in an h/b context. I realize that is a luxury which is only open to those who brew their own - and I don't demean those whose enjoyment is served up by commercial rigs - but that's the way I like it!

I ought to confess that other distractions, including the entirely welcome distractions of celebration with friends and family and playing with the nice effects processor which Santa (aka the XYL) gave me to run with my Fender Rhodes Piano (shown here to break the visual monotony of an otherwise text-only blog),

kept me out of the shack over much of the last week, so I didn't put in the hours required to deserve a better outcome.

I had very few genuine two-way QRP QSOs, spending most of my time in very pleasant conversations with German operators with 50+ Watts. My best true "Winter Sports" hook-up was with Guenter, dl2ny, but even that was plagued by the qsb and qrm that marred most of the rest of last year's (sounds so long ago, but it was only yesterday's) experience of our qrp mini-festival on 7 MHz for me.

Perhaps this year I'll be bold enough to venture out onto some other bands for Winter Sports - that might mean modifying the Funster Plus, accepting the rock-bound constraints of the Paraset or, perhaps, building a new rig.

Hmmmm... building a new rig... could that be the basis of a New Year's Resolution?

Health and Happiness to all readers for 2011,

...-.- de m0xpd