Portable Telescope Rolls Anywhere

Since Galileo began observing celestial objects with a telescope, an almost uncountable number of improvements have been made to his designs and methods. Telescopes can now view anything from radio waves to gamma waves, come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and some are also fairly accessible to hobbyists as well. In fact, several homemade telescopes are specifically designed for ease of use, portability, and minimum cost, like this portable ball telescope. (Google Translate from Italian)

The telescope was designed and built by [andrea console] and features a ball-shaped mount for the mirror which was built from a bowl. Ball designs like this are easier to orient than other telescopes since the ball allows for quick repositioning in any direction, but the main focus of this project was to investigate focal length with various accessories while also being as portable as possible. To that end, the mount for the eyepiece is on a lattice that assembles and disassembles quickly, and the ball and other equipment are easily packed. This makes transportation quick and easy and reduces weight compared to a more traditional, or even Dobsonian, telescope.

This build is impressive not just from having an extremely portable telescope, but also from [andrea console]’s documentation of the optics in his build. It includes some adjustable parts which can increase the magnification and has detailed notes on all of the finer points of its operation. The ball telescope is a popular build, and we’ve recently seen others made out of parts from IKEA as well.

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Capstan Winch Central To This All-Band Adjustable Dipole Antenna

The perfect antenna is the holy grail of amateur radio. But antenna tuning is a game of inches, and since the optimum length of an antenna depends on the frequency it’s used on, the mere act of spinning the dial means that every antenna design is a compromise. Or perhaps not, if you build this infinitely adjustable capstan-winch dipole antenna.

Dipoles are generally built to resonate around the center frequency of one band, and with allocations ranging almost from “DC to daylight”, hams often end up with a forest of dipoles. [AD0MZ]’s adjustable dipole solves that problem, making the antenna usable from the 80-meter band down to 10 meters. To accomplish this feat it uses something familiar to any sailor: a capstan winch.

The feedpoint of the antenna contains a pair of 3D-printed drums, each wound with a loop of tinned 18-gauge antenna wire attached to some Dacron cord. These make up the adjustable-length elements of the antenna, which are strung through pulleys suspended in trees about 40 meters apart. Inside the feedpoint enclosure are brushes from an electric drill to connect the elements to a 1:1 balun and a stepper motor to run the winch. As the wire pays out of one spool, the Dacron cord is taken up by the other; the same thing happens on the other side of the antenna, resulting in a balanced configuration.

We think this is a really clever design that should make many a ham happy across the bands. We even see how this could be adapted to other antenna configurations, like the end-fed halfwave we recently featured in our “$50 Ham” series.

Printed It: Collet Drill Stop

You’d think that being quarantined in your home would be perfect for hackers and makers like us, as we all have a project or two that’s been sitting on the back burner because we didn’t have the time to tackle it. Unfortunately, some are finding that the problem now is actually getting the parts and tools needed to do the job. When there’s a bouncer and a line outside the Home Depot like it’s a nightclub on Saturday night, even the simplest of things can be difficult to source when making in the time of COVID.

Which is exactly the situation I found myself in recently when I needed to drill a bunch of holes to the same depth. The piece was too big to put in the drill press, and while I contemplated just wrapping the bit in some tape to serve as a makeshift stop, I wasn’t convinced it would be accurate or repeatable enough. It occurred to me that a set of drill stop collars would be easy enough to design and 3D print, but before I fired up OpenSCAD, I decided to see what was already available online.

Which is how I found the “Collet Drill Stop” from Adam Harrison. Rather than the traditional ring and setscrew arrangement, his design uses a printable collet that will clamp down on the bit at an arbitrary position without tools. So not only could I avoid a trip to the store by printing this design out, it looked like it would potentially be an upgrade over what I would have bought.

Of course, it’s wise not to take anything for granted when dealing with 3D printing. The only way I could be sure that Adam’s design would work for me was to commit it to plastic and try it out.

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Custom Drill Press Table Eliminates Hassles

Getting a perfect workshop together, with all the right tools, is a dream for many. A lot of us cobble together what we can with a dremel tool, a soldering iron, and whatever work surface happens to be available in the kitchen or spare bedroom. But even when we finally get a permanent garage or shop to work in, there are still some challenges to overcome with our workspaces. [Workshop From Scratch] was having issues with his drill press, and solved them with this custom build.

Rather than modify an existing press, he first welded a table together from scratch using square tube. From there he set about solving those issues. The first was having to make a large number of adjustments up and down when working on larger pieces. For that he added an electrically adjustable worktop which keeps him from having to make constant adjustments of the press itself. The second improvement over the standard press workspace was adding a cooling system for the cutting tools, saving himself money in bits and allowing quicker drilling.

The finished product looks professional thanks to a quality paint job and, of course, having all the right tools in the workshop in the first place to put something like this together. We all have an idea in our heads about the perfect workshop for our own needs, but don’t forget to think outside the box when it comes to building one yourself.

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Switching Over To SMPS For Efficiency

[Hesam Moshiri] has built a variable switch-mode power supply over on hackaday.io. When prototyping a new circuit, often the goal is to get a proof-of-concept working as soon as possible to iron out all of the bugs it might have. The power supply can easily be an afterthought, and for smaller projects we might just reach for an adjustable LM317 voltage regulator to dial in the correct voltage and then move on with the meat of the project. These linear regulators are incredibly inefficient though, so if you find yourself prototyping with one of these often enough, it might be worthwhile to switch to something better.

While it’s easy to simply buy a switch-mode power supply (SMPS) that has everything you need, and rated for 90% or higher efficiency at the same time, getting one with an adjustable output isn’t as easy. This one is based on the relatively popular LM2576-Adj chip which handles the switching frequency part of the circuit automatically. You will also need some large capacitors, an inductor (one of the disadvantages of an SMPS circuit) and a small potentiometer to use as the feedback control for the LM2576. This special pin allows the output voltage of the SMPS to be precisely controlled.

Granted, this project might not be breaking any new grounds, but if you’ve never given serious thought to your small breadboard circuit power supplies, it’s definitely worth looking into. An improvement from a linear regulator’s 30% efficiency to 90% efficiency from an SMPS will not only save you a ton of energy but also solve a lot of heat dissipation problems. If you don’t want to build a switch-mode supply 100% from scratch, though, it might also be possible to modify an existing one to suit your needs as well.

These Capacitors Are A Cheap Gimmick

If you search through an electrical engineering textbook, you probably aren’t going to find the phrase “gimmick capacitor” but every old ham radio operator knows about them. They come in handy when you need a very small capacitor of unknown value. For example, if you are trying to balance the stray capacitance in a circuit, you might not know exactly what value you need, but you know it won’t be very much. That’s when you want a gimmick capacitor.

A gimmick capacitor is made by taking two strands of insulated wire and twisting them together; the length and the tightness of the twist determine the capacitance. Tightening or loosening the twist, or trimming some of the wire off, makes it tunable.

These are most commonly found in RF equipment or high-speed logic because of the small capacitance involved — usually about 1 to 2 pF per inch of twist or so. The thicker the insulation, the less capacitance you’ll get, so it is common to use magnet wire or something else with a thin insulating layer. You can take this one step further and decrease the spacing by stripping down one wire as long as it isn’t going to touch anything else.

Obviously, the insulation needs to be good enough for the voltage on them, an important consideration in tube circuits, for instance. But other than that, a gimmick capacitor is a straightforward tool to have in your box of design tricks. Can we take this further? Continue reading “These Capacitors Are A Cheap Gimmick”

Spoiler Alert! Repairing A Race Car Can Get Complicated, Fast.

[Big Fish Motorsports] has a vehicle with an adjustable rear spoiler system that broke in the lead up to a big race. The original builder had since gone AWOL so the considerable talents of [Quinn Dunki] were brought to bear in getting it working again.

Cracking open the black control box of mystery revealed an Arduino, a ProtoShield and the first major road block: the Arduino remained stubbornly incommunicado despite several different methods of trying to read the source code. Turns out the Arduino’s ATMega324 was configured to be unreadable or simply fried, but an ATMega128 [Quinn] had proved to be a capable replacement. However, without knowing how the ten relays for this spoiler system were configured — and the race day deadline looming ever larger — [Quinn] opted to scrap the original and hack together something of her own design with what she had on hand.

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