Wind-Up Tape Measure Transformed Into Portable Ham Antenna

If there’s one thing that amateur radio operators are good at, it’s turning just about anything into an antenna. And hams have a long history of portable operations, too, where they drag a (sometimes) minimalist setup of gear into the woods and set up shop to bag some contacts. Getting the two together, as with this field-portable antenna made from a tape measure, is a double win in any ham’s book.

For [Paul (OM0ET)], this build seems motivated mainly by the portability aspect, and less by the “will it antenna?” challenge. In keeping with that, he chose a 50-meter steel tape measure as the basis of the build. This isn’t one of those retractable tape measures, mind you — just a long strip of flexible metal on a wind-up spool in a plastic case. His idea was to use the tape as the radiator for an end-fed halfwave, or EFHW, antenna, a multiband design that’s a popular option for hams operating from the 80-m band down to the 10-m band. EFHW antennas require an impedance-matching transformer, a miniature version of which [Paul] built and tucked within the tape measure case, along with a BNC connector to connect to the radio and a flying lead to connect to the tape.

Since a half-wave antenna is half the length of the target wavelength, [Paul] cut off the last ten meters of the tape to save a little weight. He also scratched off the coating on the tape at about the 40-meter mark, to make good contact with the alligator clip on the flying lead. The first video below details the build, while the second video shows the antenna under test in the field, where it met all of the initial criteria of portability and ease of deployment.

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Peltier Cloud Chamber Produces Some Lovely Trails

[Advanced Tinkering] over on YouTube has some pretty unique content, on subjects of chemistry and physics that are a little more, interesting let’s say — anyone fancy distilling cesium? The subject of this build is the visualization of ionizing radiation tracks, with one of our old favorite physics demonstrators, the venerable cloud chamber. The build video (embedded below,) shows the basic construction and performance of a Peltier effect cooler setup. The system is used to create a layer of supersaturated (and cold) alcohol vapor in which the radiation source or other experiment can be immersed.

Peltier modules are a great solution for moving heat from one surface to another, but they are not terribly efficient at it, especially if you don’t keep the hot side temperature in check. Effectively they are a short-distance heat pump, so you need to dump the hot-side heat elsewhere. The method [Advanced Tinkering] chose here was to use a pair of off-the-shelf water cooling blocks, mounted into a 3D printed plate. The hot side dumps into a pair of fan-cooled radiators. Four double-layer Peltier modules are wired in parallel to a 60A power supply, which seems like a lot, but Peltier modules are hungry little things. A reasonable amount of power is needed to drive the cooling fans and water pump. The vapor source is a simple pad of liquid alcohol at the top of the stack, just above a metal screen which is held at a high voltage. The vertical electric field allows visualization of the charge of emitted particles, which will curve up or down depending on their polarity.

As can be seen from the second video linked below, some really nice cloud trails are produced, so it looks like they got the setup just right!

Do you need all this complexity to visualize simple radiation paths? No, you don’t, but just temper your expectations. Peltier-based builds are not uncommon, here’s another one, but some builders say they’re not very robust, so this build uses phase-change technology instead for some serious runtimes.

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Arduino Reduces Heating Costs

While almost everyone has a heater of some sort in their home, it’s fairly unlikely that the heat provided by a central heating system such as a furnace is distributed in an efficient way. There’s little reason to heat bedrooms during the day, or a kitchen during the night, but heating systems tend to heat whole living space regardless of the time of day or the amount of use. You can solve this problem, like most problems, with an Arduino.

[Karl]’s build uses a series of radiator valves to control when each room gets heat from a boiler. The valves, with a temperature monitor at each valve, are tied into a central Arduino Mega using alarm wiring. By knowing the time of day and the desired temperature in each room, the Arduino can control when heat is applied to each room and when it is shut off, presumably making the entire system much more efficient. It also has control over the circulating pump and some of the other boiler equipment.

Presumably this type of system could be adapted to a system which uses a furnace and an air handler as well, although it is not quite as straightforward to close vents off using a central unit like this as it is to work with a boiler like [Karl] has. With careful design, though, it could be done. Besides replacing thermostats, we can’t say we’ve ever seen this done before.

Thanks to [SMS] for the tip!

Energy-Saving Fireplace Thermostat

[Andrian] has a boiler stove that heats water and sends it to a radiator. As the fireplace heats the water in a boiler a temperature sensor opens the a valve to send the warm water to the radiator. The radiator sends its cool water back to the boiler to be reheated. The valve is slow, so before the boiler can send all the water to the radiator, it’s getting cool water back causing the valve to close while the heat is built back up. To prevent the valve from working so hard and wasting energy, [Andrian] designed a better thermostat to control the valve operation.

The thermostat uses one LM85 temperature sensor to check the water in the boiler and another one for the ambient temperature. Once the boiler water reaches the desired temperature, the valve is opened via relay. The system waits for half an hour and then checks the boiler temperature again. The brains of this operation is an ATMega168 with a 32.768kHz crystal as the RTC. Code and PCB files are available in his repo.

We love to see these types of hacks that challenge the status quo and increase the efficiency of appliances. We applaud you, [Andrian], for turning your dissatisfaction into a positive plan of action and for sharing your experience with the rest of us!

If you want to up the eco-friendliness of heating water a bit, you could heat the water with a compost heap.

Peltier Campfire Generator Put Out 14W (kind Of)


This is the control and monitoring hardware which [Jack] built for his campfire electricity generator. He’s done an amazing job to get this far. You can see he’s pulling 1 Amp at 14.2 Volts off of the system. But there one gotcha that’s still plaguing him.

The rig uses a big metal plate as a heat sink over the campfire (which is simulated by a cooking stove for testing). On the back of that plate is an array of Peltier coolers which generate electricity based on the temperature difference from one side to the other — it’s the same theory behind candle generators. The cold side has a heat sink with water running through it. What you see above are three relays which switch between using the Peltiers in series or in parallel based on their voltage output. You can’t really make it out there but there’s a radiator and recirculating pump to the right which are used to cool the water. The gotcha we mentioned is that the radiator can’t quite keep up with the heat of the fire. To get the results seen above [Jack] is running cold water from the tap through the radiator. But maybe if this were used in the winter the water could be circulated through a big box full of snow. Just keep shoveling it in to keep up the electrical potential!

After the break we’ve embedded part four of the project video as it shows off the array of peltier coolers quite well. You will also see part five (radiator and recirculating pump testing) from which this image was taken.

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