Automatic Position Reporting Over HF Radio

While most of us carry cell phones that have GPS and other location services, they require a significant amount of infrastructure to be useful. Drive from Washington to Alaska like [Lonney] did a while back, where that infrastructure is essentially nonexistent, and you’ll need to come up with some other solutions to let friends and family know where you are.

A tool called the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is fairly robust in the very high frequency (VHF) part of the amateur radio spectrum, but this solution still relies on a not-insignificant amount of infrastructure for the limited distances involved with VHF. [Lonney] adapted a few other tools to get APRS up and running in the HF range, letting his friends keep tabs on him even from the most remote locations.

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Open HT Surgery Gives Cheap Transceiver All-Band Capabilities

Watch out, Baofeng; there’s a new kid on the cheap handy talkie market, and judging by this hardware and firmware upgrade to the Quansheng UV-K5, the radio’s hackability is going to keep amateur radio operators busy for quite a while.

Like the ubiquitous Baofeng line of cheap transceivers, the Quansheng UV-K5 is designed to be a dual-band portable for hams to use on the 2-meter VHF and 70-centimeter UHF bands. While certainly a useful capability, these bands are usually quite range-limited, and generally require fixed repeaters to cover a decent geographic area. For long-range comms you want to be on the high-frequency (HF) bands, and you want modulations other than the FM-only offered by most of the cheap HT radios.

Luckily, there’s a fix for both problems, as [Paul (OM0ET)] outlines in the video below. It’s a two-step process that starts with installing a hardware kit to replace the radio’s stock receiver chip with the much more capable Si4732. The kit includes the chip mounted on a small PCB, a new RF choke, and a bunch of nearly invisible capacitors. The mods are straightforward but would certainly benefit from the help of a microscope, and perhaps a little hot air rework. Once the hardware is installed and the new firmware flashed, you have an HT that can receive signals down to the 20-meter band, with AM and SSB modulations, and a completely redesigned display with all kinds of goodies.

It’s important to note that this is a receive-only modification — you won’t be transmitting on the HF bands with this thing. However, it appears that the firmware allows you to switch back and forth between HF receive and VHF/UHF transceive, so the radio’s stock functionality is still there if you need it. But at $30 for the radio and $12 for the kit, who cares? Having a portable HF receiver could be pretty handy in some situations. This looks like yet another fun hack for this radio; we’ve seen a few recently, including a firmware-only band expansion and even a Trojan that adds a waterfall display and a game of Pong. Continue reading “Open HT Surgery Gives Cheap Transceiver All-Band Capabilities”

Silicon Photolithography The PCB Way

[ProjectsInFlight] has been doing some fantastic work documenting his DIY semiconductor fab lately. Next up: exploring down-and-dirty photolithography methods.

If you’ve been following along with this series — and why wouldn’t you? — you’ll recall [ProjectsInFlight]’s earlier experiments, like creating oxide layers on silicon chips with a homebrew tube furnace and exploring etchants that can selectively remove them. But just blasting away the oxide layer indiscriminately isn’t really something you need to do when etching the fine features needed to fabricate a working circuit. The trouble is, most of the common photoresist solutions used by commercial fabs are unobtainium for hobbyists, leading to a search for a suitable substitute.

Surprisingly, PCB photoresist film seemed to work quite well, but not without a lot of optimization by [ProjectsInFlight] to stick it to the silicon using a regular laminator. Also in need of a lot of tweaking was the use of a laser printer to create masks for the photolithography process on ordinary transparency film, including the surprisingly effective method of improving the opacity of prints with acetone vapor. There were also extensive experiments to determine the best exposure conditions, a workable development process, and the right etchants to use. Watch the video below for a deep dive into all those topics as well as the results, which are pretty good.

There’s a lot to be said for the methodical approach that [ProjectsInFlight] is taking here. Every process is explored exhaustively, with a variety of conditions tested before settling on what works best. It’s also nice to see that pretty much all of this has been accomplished with the most basic of materials, all of which are easily sourced and pretty cheap to boot. We’re looking forward to more of the same here, as well as to see what others do with this valuable groundwork.

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Testing Oxide Etchants For The Home Semiconductor Fab

Building circuits on a silicon chip is a bit like a game of Tetris — you have to lay down layer after layer of different materials while lining up holes in the existing layers with blocks of the correct shape on new layers. Of course, Tetris generally doesn’t require you to use insanely high temperatures and spectacularly toxic chemicals to play. Or maybe it does; we haven’t played the game in a while, so they might have nerfed things.

Luckily, [ProjectsInFlight] doesn’t treat his efforts to build semiconductors at home like a game — in fact, the first half of his video on etching oxide layers on silicon chips is devoted to the dangers of hydrofluoric acid. As it turns out, despite the fact that HF can dissolve your skin, sear your lungs, and stop your heart, as long as you use a dilute solution of the stuff and take proper precautions, you should be pretty safe around it. This makes sense, since HF is present in small amounts in all manner of consumer products, many of which are methodically tested in search of a practical way to remove oxides from silicon, which [ProjectsInFlight] has spent so much effort recently to learn how to deposit. But such is the ironic lot of a chip maker.

Three products were tested — rust remover, glass etching cream, and a dental porcelain etching gel — against a 300 nm silicon dioxide layer. Etch speed varied widely, from rust remover’s 10 nm/min to glass etching cream’s blazing 240 nm/min — we wonder if that could be moderated by thinning the cream out with a bit of water. Each solution had pros and cons; the liquid rust remover was cheap easy to handle and clean up, while the dental etching gel was extremely easy to deposit but pretty expensive.

The good news was that everything worked, and each performed differently enough that [ProjectsInFlight] now has a range of tools to choose from. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s next — looks like it’ll be masking techniques.

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Antenna Hidden In Holiday Lights Skirts HOA Rules

For all their supposed benefits, homeowner’s associations (HOAs) have a reputation of quickly turning otherwise quaint neighborhoods into a sort of Stanford prison experiment, as those who get even the slightest amount of power often abuse it. Arbitrary rules and enforcement abound about house color, landscaping, parking, and if you’ve ever operated a radio, antennas. While the FCC (at least as far as the US is concerned) does say that HOAs aren’t permitted to restrict the use of antennas, if you don’t want to get on anyone’s bad side you’ll want to put up an antenna like this one which is disguised as a set of HOA-friendly holiday lights.

For this build, a long wire is hidden along with a strand of otherwise plain-looking lights. While this might seem straightforward at first, there are a few things that need to be changed on the lighting string in order to make both the antenna and the disguise work. First, the leads on each bulb were removed to to prevent any coupling from the antenna into the lighting string. Clipping the leads turns what is essentially a long wire that might resonate with the antenna’s frequency into many short sections of wire which won’t have this problem. This also solves the problem of accidentally illuminating any bulbs when transmitting, as the RF energy from the antenna could otherwise transfer into the lighting string and draw attention from the aforementioned HOA.

Tests of this antenna seemed to show surprising promise while it was on the ground, but when the string and antenna was attached to the roof fascia the performance dropped slightly, presumably because of either the metal drip edge or the gutters. Still, the antenna’s creator [Bob] aka [HOA Ham] had excellent success with this, making clear contacts with other ham radio operators hundreds of miles away. We’ve shared another of [Bob]’s HOA-friendly builds below as well which hides the HF antenna in the roof’s ridge vent, and if you’re looking for other interesting antenna builds take a look at this one which uses a unique transformer to get wide-band performance out of an otherwise short HF antenna.

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Owning A ShortWave Radio Is Once Again A Subversive Activity

An abiding memory for a teen fascinated by electronics and radio in the 1970s and 1980s is the proliferation of propaganda stations that covered the shortwave spectrum. Some of them were slightly surreal such as Albania’s Radio Tirana which would proudly inform 1980s Western Europe that every village in the country now possessed a telephone, but most stations were the more mainstream ideological gladiating of Voice of America and Radio Moscow.

It’s a long-gone era as the Cold War is a distant memory and citizens East and West get their info from the Internet, but perhaps there’s an echo of those times following the invasion of the Ukraine. With most external news agencies thrown out of Russia and their websites blocked, international broadcasters are launching new shortwave services to get the news through. Owning a shortwave radio in Russia may once again be a subversive activity. Let’s build one!

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A 3-6-9 Antenna Pulls In The Signals

Every time we see a dispatch from [Mr. Carlson], we imagine it is being beamed from his orbital station packed full of vintage radio gear. We are certain the reality is more terrestrial, but if we were going to build an orbiting lab, it might look like [Carlson’s] shack. In his latest communique, he shares his progress working on a high-performance 3-6-9 receiving antenna design and you can see it in the video below.

Although the antenna isn’t done, it is already working and looks impressive. There’s a lot of wire, so this probably isn’t a condo-friendly solution. The name of the antenna derives from the three wires, one tuned for 3 MHz, one for 6 MHz, and the other for 9 MHz.

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