Summer is the season for family road trips here in the US, and my family took to the open road in a big way this year. We pulled off a cross-country relocation, from Connecticut to Idaho. Five days on the road means a lot of pit stops, and we got to see a lot of truck stops and consequently, a lot of long-haul truckers. I got to thinking about their unique lifestyle and tried to imagine myself doing that job. I wondered what I’d do hour after long hour, alone in the cab of my truck. I figured that I’d probably just end up listening to a lot of audio books, but then I realized that there’s a perfect hobby for the road — ham radio. So I decided to see how ham radio is used by truckers, and mull over how a truck driver version of me might practice The World’s Best Hobby.
Amateur radio has a couple of sweet allocations in the VHF bands, but because the signals don’t reflect off the ionosphere like shortwave signals, the use is limited basically to line-of-sight. One workaround is to use a repeater with a tall antenna, but that requires a lot of infrastructure or a mountainside lair.
What if you could just fly your antenna up in a drone? Well, for starters, you’d run out of batteries pretty quickly unless you could power it remotely. And if you try to tether it, the supply wires end up being too heavy to lift. Or do they?!?!
There was a time when you could do what you wanted in your yard and hams could build giant antenna farms. These days, there are usually laws or deed restrictions that stop that from happening. Even if you can build an antenna, you might want to quickly put up something temporary in an emergency.
[Eric’s] solution? Suspend a wire from a weather balloon filled with helium from the local WalMart. The 8 foot balloon took two containers (18 cubic feet) of gas before it would rise sufficiently. Once you have a floating balloon, the rest of the concept is simple: connect a wire (100 feet of 26 gauge), use a tuner to match the load to the transmitter, and you have instant antenna.
Many Ham Radio operators in the United States participate in Field Day. This is an annual exercise where radio operators are encouraged to set up stations in conditions that might occur after a natural disaster. Usually, this means taking over some park or camp site, bringing generators, portable equipment, and making it all work for the weekend before you tear it back down.
It isn’t much of a Field Day without electricity. That’s why most stations use a generator, solar cells, or even batteries. Today, though, you probably need an Internet-connected computer to do logging and other features. [HamRadioConcepts] has a video (see below) that shows how they grabbed Internet from a distance for their Field Day site.
Computer graphics have come a long way. Some video games today exceed what would have passed for stunning cinema animation only a few years ago. However, it hasn’t always been like this. One of the earliest forms of computer-generated graphics used text characters to draw on printers.
Early computer rooms were likely to have a Snoopy character on green and white fan-fold paper. Calendars with some artwork were also popular (see left, and find out about the FORTRAN that created it, if you like). Ham radio operators who use teletypes (RTTY, in ham parlance) often had vast collections of punched tape that held artwork. Given that most hams in the 1950s and 1960s were men and the times were different, a lot of them were more or less “R” rated.
Not all of them were, though. For example, Richard Nixon was decidedly “G” rated (see right). Simple pictures would use single characters, but sophisticated ones would use the backspace character to overprint multiple characters.
Ham Radio Art
You often hear this described as ASCII art, today, although hams usually use 5-bit BAUDOT code, so that’s a misnomer for those images, at least. Of course, today, people aren’t keen on storing roll after roll of paper tape (or even owning a tape reader) so there have been several projects to capture this art in a more modern format.
Although there is still some RTTY art activity, picture sending has been mostly replaced by slow scan TV (SSTV) which sends actual still images or other modes like FAX. Some of the newer digital modes even have the ability to send pictures. You can be discussing your radio for example, and then show the other ham a photo of the radio.
[Rob Bailey] likes to build things and he likes ham radio. We are guessing he likes mints too since he’s been known to jam things into Altoids tins. He had been thinking about building a code practice oscillator in a Altoids Smalls tin, but wasn’t sure he could squeeze an Arduino Pro Mini in there too. Then he found the TinyLily Mini. The rest is history, as they say, and 1CPO was born.
The TinyLily Mini is a circular-shaped Arduino (see right) about the size of a US dime. most of the pads are arranged around the circle and there is a small header that takes a USB programmer. A small rechargeable battery can run the device for a long time.
If you have ever browsed an amateur radio magazine you could be forgiven for receiving the impression that it is a pursuit exclusively for the wealthy. Wall-to-wall adverts for very large and shiny transceivers with hefty price tags abound, and every photograph of someone’s shack seems to sport a stack of them.
Of course, this is only part of the story. Amateur radio is and always has been an astonishingly diverse interest, and away from the world of shiny adverts you’ll find a lot of much more interesting devices. A lot of radio amateurs still design and build their own equipment, and the world of homebrew radio is forever producing new ideas.
One such project came to our attention recently, the Minima, an all-band HF SSB transceiver. It’s an interesting device for several reasons, it uses readily available components, it’s an impressively simple design, and it should cost under $100 to build. This might sound a little far-fetched, were it not from the bench of [Ashhar Farhan, VU2ESE], whose similarly minimalist BITX single band SSB transceiver set a new standard for accessible SSB construction a few years ago.
The circuit shares some similarities with the tried-and-tested BITX, using bi-directional amplifier building blocks. The mixers are now FETs rather than diodes, the intermediate frequency has moved from 9MHz to 20MHz, and the local oscillator is now an Arduino-controlled clock generator. The whole thing is designed to be built dead-bug-style if necessary, and two prototypes have been built. We’d expect this design to follow a similar evolution to the BITX, with the global community of radio amateurs contributing performance modifications, and no doubt with some kit suppliers producing PCBs and kits. We think this can only be a good thing, and look forward to covering some of the results.
We’ve featured [Ashhar]’s work here at Hackaday before, when we covered a BITX build. if you’re left wondering what this amateur radio business is all about, we suggest you have a read of [Bill Meara]’s guest post on the subject.
Thanks [Seebach] for the tip.