Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tiny thermal printer for EmCom

The problem: During an ARES activation, passing Winlink messages for a local hospital, we have no way to print the relies for the hospital staff. We were not allowed to log on to the local LAN and use the hospital printers. We thought about bringing our own printer, but some of our stations were running on battery power or were mobile. Additionally, ink notoriously dries up in a few weeks without use which meant buying new ink (up to $30) for each drill. 

The Solution: I bought a tiny portable thermal receipt printer on Amazon for around $40. It operated on 9 volts and includes a 1.5Ah Li-ion battery. It's supports Bluetooth, but so far I've only gotten it to work via the USB cable on Windows. It uses thermal printer rolls which are 58mm wide. It's certainly not large, but very readable. Best of ink or ribbon. The only consumable is the paper and it has a long shelf-life as long as you keep it away from high heat or direct sunshine. 

I charged the batter by connecting the power cable and installed the printer driver (POS 58) which came with the printer. I connected the USB and it found the printer. One issue was finding a paper definition in the printer setting that worked. I finally found "ZPrinter Paper (58mmx3276mm)" which worked well. I believe I had to install the printer driver for the ZPrinter to get this option.

I then exported my Winlink message to a text file and opened it in Notepad. I set the left and right margins to the minimum, the top to 1.0 and the bottom 0.0. Then I set the font to 9pt. Arial which seemed to be a good compromise between readability and size. The best thing is these settings carry over even after closing notepad. Then I simply printed the message and tore off the receipt. See the video for a look at the process. 

UPDATE: With inflation, the price of most of these types of printers has gone up. I've foundone that is still around $45 (see affiliate link below). 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

QCX-Mini and a Keyer

So after a club member teased us with a great demonstration on QRP CW, I ordered a QCX-Mini from QRP Labs. It took awhile to arrive (was out of stock and had to wait for the new batch to be manufactured) but once it got here, I was pumped! Spent about three nights putting it together, taking my time to make sure everything was correct. And it tuned up wonderfully!

Next, it was time to find a key. I prefer iambic keyers but the only one I own is chrome Bencher set of paddles. It's just too heavy for a backpack radio like the QCX-Mini. So, I cruised the web and found a nice design on Thingverse. I fired up my 3D printer and went to work. I used the "mini" version which is very small. After a couple of days of fiddling with the fine-tuning, the keyer seemed to work well. I used magnets instead of a metal spring and it has a fairly nice feel. I built a 40m End-Fed Half-Wave antenna and picked up a neat 3Ah 12V Lithium-Ion battery pack recommended by a guy on Reddit. 

This past weekend, I took it along with the QCX-mini out on the trail during a trip to Arkansas. We got caught in the rain, so I didn't have a lot of time to use it, but I did send CQ for a little while and was very pleased. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A new addition to the bench!

When I was five years old, I used to play with my father's oscilloscope. It was a massive hunk of gray metal with a round screen that I thought looked like a port window on a ship. With the flip of a switch, the screen would glow green with faint yellow lines running up and down and left and right. I used to press my face to the screen and pretend I was looking out of a submarine, hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, peering into the murky green waters. Unfortunately, I never saw a fish. 

Later I would twist and turn the knobs (I had no idea what I was doing) until I would see a dot zip across the screen. I discovered if I put my fingers near the little plugs on the front of the device, the dot would jump and move in strange directions. 

Now, 45 years later, I have finally purchased my own scope. It's a far cry from that old behemoth but it's still just as exciting. I've found a nice little spot on my bench (it's a WHOLE lot smaller!) and have begun to work through the setup. Unfortunately, I still don't know what I'm doing, but thanks to YouTube and my my son the engineer, I'm learning!

Friday, January 1, 2021

Testing out my new IC-7100

So I recently bought myself an IC-7100 for Christmas. The model has been around for awhile and has a fairly good reputation. It's identical to the IC-7100 the Rusk County ARC has at the OEM office, it will give me a chance to stay "in-practice" to be able to use that one.

I bought a large "gun bag" at Walmart that the fits the radio quite nicely. I took it all out to Lake Forrest Park with my BuddiPole and operated an hour or so. Made a couple of solid contacts on 20m to Minnesota and got a good report. This is my first Icom radio so it's a little new to this Yaesu user, but I'm getting the hang of it. I have not been able to use the D-Star function yet since I'm too far from a repeater. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

New Shack Setup

I recently purchased the house next door to our and moved my mother in there. The bonus is there was a small 12'x16' shed in the backward which has been claimed as my shack. It was already insulated and had a small window unit to keep it comfortable.

I painted a couple of the walls and put carpet in the lower half as well. Eventually I was able to move in my late grandfather's desk (which is nearly 100 years old) and am using it as my radio desk. Still working on getting everything set up, but it is slowly coming together.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Camp Pirtle and my BuddiPole

Got a chance to take my BuddiePole out for a run last weekend at Camp Pirtle. The Cub Scout packs were having an adventure weekend and invited hams to setup and demonstrate ham radio.

Had several boys come by although it wasn't too busy there was also an On-The-Air Jamboree going on, so that helped a little. Had a good time and got to exercise my equipment some as well!

Friday, February 1, 2019

GPS Tracker with Pi and UV-5R

I wanted to build a cheap, easy APRS tracker with a Raspberry Pi and a Baofeng radio. Fortunately someone already did and left a trail behind! (Thanks to "Midnight Cheese" blog for the bulk of the details. The blog appears dead, so I copied much of the info here to maintain it.)

Setting up GPS

A simple USB GPS receiver will do just fine for this project. I'm using an old Microsoft USB GPS. In order for the Pi to read the GPS data we'll install gpsd.

sudo apt-get install gpsd gpsd-clients

Setting up the local web server

The main PHP script will read the gpsd information through a JSON file. We'll need to install apache and PHP to serve the JSON file locally.
sudo apt-get install apache2 -y
sudo apt-get install php5 libapache2-mod-php5 -y
Drop this file from the gpsd project into the web server directory, /var/www/ and name it gpsd.php

Execute gpsd.php from the command line to build a needed configuration file.
cd /var/www
sudo php gpsd.php
If you open a web browser on your Pi and navigate to http://localhost/gpsd.php?