I’ve written a small program called EkBoxTester that you can download to aid in testing your Digital Setting Circles interface board after you’ve constructed it. EkBoxTester requires Microsoft .Net 4.0 to be installed on your computer. EkBoxTester consists of a single executable file (EkBoxTester.exe) that can be run from wherever you want. There is no installer–just download and run it.
The source code for EkBoxTester can be downloaded from here. It was written using Microsoft Visual C# 2010 Express Edition–a free but reasonably complete development environment for writing .Net applications in C#. You can use the source code as an example of how to communicate with an EkBox via the serial port.
The kit is much simpler than the serial version–the pull-up resistors were eliminated, the oscillator replaced by a crystal, and a MAX232 chip is no longer needed. The board and encoders are powered by the USB port, too, so no external power supply is needed. The kit includes all the components, including the programmed PIC chip, but does not include the TTL-232-5V cable. The cable must be purchased separately and is readily available from Mouser and Digikey, for about $20 plus shipping.
This kit should work great if you want to run your digital setting circles straight through the USB port of your laptop. However, if your goal is to use a bluetooth connection between your computer/PDA/smartphone and the board, then the serial version of the kit is the one you want to use. Furthermore, this USB version really isn’t adaptable for use with a smartphone or PDA–the TTL-232 USB cable needs to plug in to a PC in order to work.
My Martin OMC-16E guitar has a big strap button to accommodate the 1/4″ jack for its electronics (a Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend pickup)–too big for the holes in most guitar straps. I’d been wanting to buy myself a nice strap for this guitar but the big strap button was holding me up. My wife and I were planning to visit the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, PA as part of an upcoming vacation. Knowing that they had a gift shop and I might be able to buy a strap there, I decided to hold off until our visit.
One thing that puts people off when they consider building their own digital setting circles is the cost of the two rotary encoders that are needed. Building my DSC circuit is fairly inexpensive (maybe $30 or so), but a pair of high-resolution optical encoders can set you back to the tune of $150 or so. Recently, someone posted information about these capacitive encoders on the Palmastro Yahoo! group. Apparently, they work well in digital setting circles applications, and they appear to be electrically compatible with optical encoders. The spec sheet says they’re accurate to 15 arcmin, which is probably good enough for most users. The best part? You can have a pair for about $50. Digi-Key is supposedly a source of these babies.
I was finally motivated to get my hands on some Bluetooth hardware so I could figure out why my latest ASCOM driver wouldn’t work with Bluetooth. I found mine at U. S. Converters. I needed two–one that would plug into a USB port on my notebook (I bought model BLDONG for $9.99), and one that would plug into the serial connector of my digital setting circles interface (BT232B for $45.00). The BT232B serial Bluetooth adapter also requires a gender changer because it has a female DB9 connector just like my DSC interface, so I bought 10GC-D1 for $7.99, too. I know that AirCable sells this kind of stuff, too, but U. S. Converters seemed a little more economical.
Now it was time to get it all hooked up and functioning.
The hams among you know that ARRL Field Day, held the last full weekend in June, is fast approaching. A few of my ham buddies and I usually try to pack up our QRP gear and head into the forest or to the top of a local peak for a weekend of sleeping on the ground and seeing how many contacts we can scare up with just a few watts of power and a wire thrown into a tree. This year I’m trying to get a head start on preparations. I’m planning to take my four-band ElecraftK1 with internal battery pack and run off lithium AA’s for the entire weekend. My antenna’s going to be an old stand-by, a half-size G5RV hung from the highest tree I can find. My K1 has the internal ATU and it’ll tune up the G5RV with no trouble, so I’ll be able to work 40, 20, and 15 meters. I even decided to dust off my old mouse paddle–a computer mouse modified so that the left and right mouse buttons act as the dit and dah paddles (you laugh, but it works great because it’s easily managed with one hand–no need to hold it with the other hand or anchor it to something).
I love my HTC Incredible Android phone. I’ve had it for several months now and I continue to find new and cool ways to use it. Last fall, for example, I was looking for a way to connect my laptop to the internet while visiting my parents in rural Minnesota (they don’t have wifi in their home). I discovered PdaNet, an Android app that allows you to use your phone to connect your PC to the internet–for free. Of course, this is the same kind of functionality for which Verizon and other carriers want to charge you $20 a month–waaaay more than I’d pay for it, considering I’d only use the functionality once every few months. So PdaNet was a great solution for me.
It’s no secret that I’m not really a big fan of Apple. I do own a 3rd-gen iPod, and that it’s a pretty impressive little device. But by and large, I find Apple products overpriced, and the trend towards being closed systems (you will buy from the App Store, and only the App Store) is disturbing. That being said, I do run iTunes on my PC–thankfully, Apple chose not to release it only for their Mac systems. I find iTunes to be fairly bloated but otherwise usable. I have, over time, ripped almost all of my CDs into iTunes, so it’s my primary repository of music.
Last fall I finally replaced my crappy LG Venus cell phone with a way cool HTC Incredible phone running Android. As you would expect, it’s capable of playing pretty-much any type of music file, either with the included player or one of many third-party apps you can find. What it lacked was a straightforward way of getting music onto the phone. Verizon included a CD with some PC software and a synchronization application, but it was clunky and horrible, and it completely ignored the fact that my entire music collection (like those of millions of other people) was stored in iTunes. I needed a better solution.
I just read this op-ed piece in the Jan 2011 QST Magazine (p. 82). Hilarious–and so true! KL7AJ begins with:
I have, at last, identified the one glaring difference between my generation of Amateur Radio experimenters and the current batch of 2 meter obsessed appliance operators.
In our day, it was our job to create emergencies. The new EmComm oriented hams are intent on “fixing” emergencies.
Although I didn’t become a ham until I was in my late thirties, I was an experimenter by the time I was ten. My parents detected the “mad scientist” gene in me at an early age, and foolishly nurtured my tendencies by giving me a chemistry set. Remember, this was back in the 60’s, when chemistry sets hadn’t yet had all the fun extracted from them by product liability lawyers. Mine had an alcohol lamp, glass test tubes, and plastic bottles of a variety of chemicals whose names I couldn’t even pronounce–the potential for both fun and disaster was thrillingly high.
My guitar teacher, Charlie, was kind enough this week to send out a reminder to his students regarding humidifying our guitars during the winter, and he passed along a great link to videos about humidity on the Taylor Guitars website. In the videos, Bob Taylor uses a humidity chamber to dry out a guitar and show the effects. It’s not pretty. Then he demonstrates how a rehumidification program can actually restore the guitar to an acceptable condition. In the video, Bob uses Dampit instrument humidifiers (I’ve been using an Oasis OH-1 humidifier—Tejon Street Music supplied me with it when I purchased my Martin from them, and it seems to work effectively, too). If these videos don’t motivate you to humidify your guitar, I don’t know what will.
While I was checking out the Taylor website, I found some awesome videos on cleaning and restringing, too. These are great instructional videos that are easily followed and repeated by non-guitar-experts like me. Check out Taylor Guitar’s Video page for a lot of interesting content.