The u.rat world tour: First stop – EBARC

On Friday, August 11, I will kick off the first stop on the 2017 u.RAT World Tour at the East Bay Amateur Radio Club (EBARC):

The second stop on this World Tour will be Pacificon – Saturday morning (I’m waiting on the time slot at this point):

You will notice that the Pacificon web site still points to last years event, so I’m looking forward to this years roster and program.

I am also presenting “Low Band DX Antennas” during Fridays Antenna Forum and it will be heavily based on the Mod Bob plus the u.RAT. 

I also have just joined several Meetups in SF and the East Bay, so I am sure the u.RAT will get a workout very soon.

This weekends big deal project is the final packaging of the u.RAT to make it look nice for the upcoming World Tour!

Fun times . . .

Social Coding, Open Source and the Maker Community


Now that I am in the final phase of packaging the u.RAT, there is one thing that stands out regarding the “social” aspect of the project. I received very encouraging and warm support from Elecraft, a fellow in Honolulu, another in the UK, Adafruit and another fellow in the US.

Then I looked at the latest “DX News” and it was actually depressing. There was one story about a supposed DXCC List change and one article about one DX-er trashing another DX-er. Some cancelled DX-peditions – which seems to be a trend. Yaaaaaaaaawn.

What a stark difference. I’m not one to wallow in the mire and most people know I generally stay positive, but I have to say that us working stiffs only have so much time to spend on our hobbies (and DX-ing and Making are only hobbies and nothing more), so I will always choose the positive and active pursuit. I have the most fun when my hobby expands my mind and where I re-create. It gives me a real energy boost, a kick . . .

The Maker Community likes to “show and tell” and its de rigueur to use clear polycarbonite cases to show off the electronics in your projects. (I do know that the QRP Community have been Makers long before they coined the modern version of the term Maker . . . )

Just sitting on my butt waiting for the next ATNO on a slow news day really makes me even more happy that I have found this wonderful sharing Maker community. And it is intertwined with the Open Source Community and Github – where all of the code repositories that people post and support gives you a global sense of community like nothing I have ever experienced before (except working with our global VK0EK team – but that’s the last DXpedition I will work on – one biggie is enough for me). I literally have 15 more DX QSO’s before I am done DXing, so its the end of the DX road for me in all respects.

DXCC and DX-ing will be relegated to a very part time activity from now on, and I swear, I feel almost silly for putting so much importance in DXCC and DX-ing as I have – because I’m not kidding, I have learned so much more with just my first Ham – Maker project – than 16 years of DXCC “list chasing”, and in the process, experienced that “Community” that seemed to be missing in the DX world. But I did support DXpeditions and donated $100 per ATNO and $20 to others. I also spent 4 years if my life on VK0EK and was one of three who raised $500K. And yes, I was rewarded for that. It’s bittersweet, but did you ever wake up one day and realized you need a very serious change? That’s what I’m talking about. 16 years was  a very good run – I’ve only been cycling longer when it comes to “passtimes”.

I’m also moving my hobby “mad money” from DXpeditions and DX related clubs and subscriptions to buying parts for making. For me personally, the return on investment is just many times better moving forward.

Luckily, there is a growing ham maker movement, so there will be even more opportunities in this space, and maybe I can convince makers to become hams and vice versa.

Hey – maybe there should be an international net for Makers? That would be a new / old twist! Compare notes and experiences – especially the one’s where you describe why you approached a problem a certain way. I could explain why I chose the Raspberry Pi over the Arduino for the u.RAT. That would save someone else time.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the U.RAT . . .

OK, so that’s a bit dramatic – but I’ll be busy first wrapping up the final “packaging” of the u.RAT Demonstration Board, and then writing articles and presentations. I will submit the article to QST with the main theme one that I will repeat at EBARC and Pacificon – which is that the “Maker – Ham” connection is a real force to be reckoned with, and if you are bored waiting for that next DX-pedition, or Public Service Event, maybe its time to get the toolbox out.

The best thing is that the motivation for this project was my own “Mod Bob” remote antenna tuner, but along the way, I have learned so much and had more fun in ham radio than I can ever remember. The richness of the project and all of the areas that it cuts across:

  1. Antennas
  2. Antenna impedance matching and solid state “full gallon” amplifiers
  3. Giving new life to old manual / analog antenna tuners using Stepper Motors
  4. The “maker – ham” connection from a social point of view
  5. Low Band DX-ing in conjunction with the Mod Bob
  6. How a balanced antenna tuner works and when to use one
  7. Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi – when to use one or the other – Raspberry Pi Zero W especially
  8. Deep dive into the Raspberry Pi, Steppers and Stepper drivers
  9. The C and Python languages on the Raspberry Pi and perhaps Open Sourcing a project
  10. The Raspberry Pi GPIO, emulating Arduino on the Pi and the USB and OLED C libraries

There is no doubt more, but these are 10 very solid aspects or facets to this project. In fact, as I mentioned before, I am much more interested in sharing and possibly Open Sourcing the u.RAT than adding the u.RAT to my remote antenna tuner. Its like this project tok off and has a life of its own – but its opened up far more interesting avenues than what I had originally intended. This is the mark of dreaming, discovery and a fun journey. I feel like I went on a DX-pedition but never left my house or yard. A journey of the mind indeed!

It reminds me of the title of an R.E.M. album, “Life’s Rich Pageant” . . . .

Presenting at Pacificon 2017

I’ll be presenting at the Pacificon 2017 Antenna Forum on Friday and then again on Saturday. Friday’s presentation will be “Low Band DX Antennas” and will feature the Mod Bob and touch on the BT1500A with uRAT, and then on Saturday it will be all about the U.RAT from more of a ham – maker perspective.

I’m quite excited about Pacificon this year, especially since I have expanded my horizons beyond just DXCC List Chasing, the Maker aspect really has me amped up.

In September I will be presenting the URAT at the East Bay Amateur Radio Club meeting – and several “Diablo DX-ers” are regulars there – so it will be especially fun. That will be a good “dress rehearsal for Pacificon. I already gave the Low Band DX Antenna presentation at EBARC last February and it went over very well.

U.RAT Roller Inductor Stop Warning

A micro switch turns on when you are tuning at the end of the roller inductor. Very easy to implement, and it did not require any code changes – just old school wire tie, two part epoxy and a LED.

I will put the Raspberry Pi W and voltage control on this polycarbonite project case.

OK – now I really am done with all of the hardware and software parts of this project. Now I just have to package it all up and write the article and create a slide deck with embedded videos for my presentation(s).

U.RAT Demo Board

The u.RAT with stepper motors bolted in and coupled to the variable capacitor and roller inductor

The two drivers and Raspberry Pi Zero W will be placed in between the capacitor and inductor. I have an Astron switching supply and a 12v to 5 volt step down component to supply the stepper motors and the Raspberry Pi Zero W.

The NEMA-23 steppers only draw .5 amp at peak load (tuning fast), and its lower than when I used a regular Raspberry Pi 3 b. I don’t know why, but I like it. I am pretty sure a set of NEMA-17 steppers and lighter duty drivers would do – what I have is way overkill, but I like that, actually.

The shaft couplers are really superb and are actually flexible aluminum, beautifully machined. Because they allow for a slight angle, the “purchase” seems better than straight through and with stainless steel couplers.

I expect that the wood does absorb some vibration that all steppers give off. So the problem of the set screws loosening is solved.

I have a pair of these and will probably mount them at each end of the roller inductor. They are perfect and I did find an easy to mount place. All they would do is turn on a red led that tells you that you are at the end of the roller inductor. They have exactly the right “play” before they switch on.

U.RAT is Ready for Open Sourcing!

The u.RAT is now ready for Open Sourcing, but I need to talk to the fine people at Elecraft about this, since the project is driven by the KPOD and is “KPOD Centric”. I guess someone could replace the KPOD with their own rotary encoder and switch instead of the KPOD, but I very specifically wanted to drive the project from the KPOD.

The best part about this project is that I went from dream to a finished “product” (or is it just a “hack”?) by playing, learning and collaborating with others. Its amazing how powerful the Open Source Community, the Maker Community and the Amateur Radio Communities are. I believe Hams and Makers are one in the same – just a different genre. All three of these are very much intertwined.

I haven’t had this much fun in years as far as Ham Radio is concerned.

I will next put the Raspberry Pi Zero W in a cool see through Plexiglas case that I have, and then wire it up permanently. This will be my “show and tell” rig for presentations. I have another Raspberry Pi Zero W for the Mod Bob and the BT1500A, but at this point I’m going to spend my time writing an article and putting together a presentation for clubs and Pacificon.