Archive for April, 2011

Marrying the TI-85 and the DJ-580T

April 13th, 2011

The May issue of QST arrived in the mail today and an article about building a “fox” for hidden-transmitter hunting was included.  That brought back memories of a teenage project of mine that I had once thought of writing up for QST, but now just makes a good story for the blog.

The first (and only) handheld radio I’ve owned is an Alinco DJ-580T.  Like most HTs of a certain age, it has provision for an external (“speaker”) microphone.  The microphone input is a sub-miniature (3/32-inch, “2.5 mm”) stereo phone plug.  As a high school student, one of my passions was tinkering with a graphing calculator—the venerable Texas Instruments TI-85—do kids these days even use this stuff or have they gone the way of slide rules and nomograms?  The TI-85 offered the provision to link to a computer or another calculator through a similar sub-miniature stereo phone plug.

Well, one afternoon in probably 1997, I was sitting with the DJ-580T in one hand and the TI-85 in the other…and it hit me…I wonder if I can use the the TI-85 to drive the DJ-580T microphone input?

A few preliminaries are now in order.  Thanks to a helpful (and still operational, albeit now with a CMS and the attendant spam) web site called, a few friends and I had learned to load our TI-85s with third-party binary machine code programs with considerably faster execution times than the built-in scripting language.  This allowed us to play relatively powerful video games surreptitiously on a school-sanctioned platform…a tactic that worked well until the English teacher wisened up to the fact that the five students with their calculators out were not typing essays on them.  Not satisfied to just play games—although I did set a very high score in Tetris during Spanish class—I sought to harness the power of the Z80 microprocessor in the TI-85 for myself.  Recall that this was before widely-available and inexpensive microcontroller development systems like the PIC, Arduino, and AVR.

I gathered the tools and eventually managed to write some fairly sophisticated (given my utter lack of formal training in computing) software in Z80 assembly language, including a crude clone of Space Invaders and a crude adventure game I called “Kashmir.”  Maybe some screenshots or stories about them will come later.

But, for the story at hand, I learned how to manipulate the link port.  Fortunately, the sleeve was ground on both the TI-85 and the DJ-580T.  So, it was just a matter of tip and ring—one was audio and the other was PTT on the radio, and both were settable on the TI-85 for some kind of two-wire communication link.  So, I reasoned that I could write up a bit of assembly code that would key the PTT by pulling it low, then toggle the audio line back and forth at 500 Hz or so to generate a rough audio tone.  It worked!

This was an expensive, although trivially so since I had the hardware, way to build a hidden transmitter.  So, I modified the software to send my callsign in Morse code (using a look-up table) and stuffed the whole thing in a cigar box.  It was good fun for a few of us teenage boys.

And, for the interested, I found the original source code, which is sadly not well commented or dated.  But, it does have my old callsign (AA8UP) listed by the lookup table.

Review: K4ZA Tower Book

April 13th, 2011

As I have commented before, I don’t generally review or endorse products on the blog.  However, I was organizing my aluminum/steel pile in the back yard recently and posed a question to the PVRC reflector about potential improvements to a 402BA-S that I uncovered.  One of the responses came from K4ZA, who is a well-known “tower-guy.”  (His blog is a pretty good read, too!)  I’ve been meaning to buy a copy of his book Antenna Towers for Radio Amateurs and I told him as much when I thanked him for his reply.  He offered a copy at a small discount from the cover price and I bought it.  It’s the second autographed ARRL book I have, the other being the 4th edition of ON4UN’s Low Band DXing, but I digress.

I’ve been at this whole radio thing for a few years now and have picked up a lot of the tricks.  Since most of what I know about towers comes from a high-school summer job in the two-way business, chatting with “The Good Reverend,” and installing HF research radars, Don’s book really filled in the gaps for me.  It is good…I read it cover-to-cover.

Don spent a career in video production before getting into the tower business full-time and it shows.  He knows the importance of telling the story to impart a trade.  He also includes candid stories from tower owners and workers explaining techniques and nearly-averted disasters from their own perspective.  Not only is it informative, the book entertains as well.

Antenna Towers for Radio Amateurs pretty much covers everything you need to know about planning, procuring, constructing, and maintaining your tower and antenna system—everything from how to evaluate the ubiquitous used tower sections to which tools and safety equipment to buy.  After reading it, you should be in a good position to understand how much of the tower-building process you are able to do yourself and how much to rely on local experts and professionals.  It is an excellent book and deserves a spot on the shelf of every ham who owns or dreams of owning a tower—and a few research radar scientists and engineers…