If you need to visualise molecular structures, RasMol is a venerable program that should run on multiple platforms. I was recently asked to help getting it working on modern Mac OSX. There are instructions on the RasMol website, but not for modern Mac OSX. Hence, these rough notes – offered in the hope they may help others…

RasMol uses the older X11 windowing system that is no longer provided as part of macOS, so we’ll install the open source XQuartz X11 system from XQuartz.org.
Download the .dmg (disk image file), open it, and run the installer. You’ll then need to log out and log in.

Then download RasMol from its SourceForge download area. You’ll need the file:
RasMol_2_7_5_3_i86_64_OSX_High_Sierra_19Dec18.tar.gz.

Once this has downloaded (into your Downloads folder), you’ll need to open a Terminal, and extract its contents, with the following commands. Note that MyMacBook$ is the prompt provided by the Terminal/OS:


MyMacBook$ cd Downloads
MyMacBook$ tar xzvf RasMol_2_7_5_3_i86_64_OSX_High_Sierra_19Dec18.tar.gz
(Many lines will scroll by)

We’ll put this extracted software somewhere a bit easier to get to:

MyMacBook$ mv RasMol_2_7_5_3_i86_64_OSX_High_Sierra_19Dec18 ~/Applications/RasMol_2_7_5_3

(Now it’s in your personal Applications folder).

We need a launch script, since the one that comes with the software doesn’t seem to work, since it can’t find XQuartz’s libraries. So from the terminal:

MyMacBook$ cd ~/Applciations/RasMol_2_7_5_3
MyMacBook$ nano run-rasmol.sh

This puts you into the ‘nano’ text editor, then you must copy and paste:


#/bin/bash
export DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH=$DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH:/opt/X11/lib
./rasmol_XFORMS_32BIT

Then press Control-X, and press Y then return to save the file. Then:


MyMacBook$ chmod 755 run-rasmol.sh

OK, nearly there.

Only kidding 🙂

Let’s create an alias to let you run RasMol…


MyMacBook$ cd (then press return)
MyMacBook$ nano .bashrc

Again, you’re in the nano editor, so copy and paste this:


#!/bin/bash
alias rasmol='cd ~/Applications/RasMol_2_7_5_3; ./run-rasmol.sh'

Then Control-X, and Y then return to save the file.

Righty, let’s run XQuartz (via spotlight [Command-Space]). After a few seconds, you’ll see an X11 terminal window (xterm) appear. This is different from the usual Mac Terminal. You won’t be able to run RasMol from the Mac Terminal: you must use XQuartz and in the xterm, type:


bash-3.2$ rasmol (then press return)

Then you’ll see the beautiful RasMol window. It’s very different from what you’re used to on macOS, but this is how we used to use graphical programs back in the 80s.

The main RasMol window has its own menu – it’s not in the top menu bar like ‘normal’ Mac programs.

When you close XQuartz, you close ALL the X11 programs you’re running – xterm, rasmol, etc.

To open a file in RasMol, use the File menu, then Open…, then use the old-style file dialog to navigate using the ‘..’ (Parent Folder) directories to find where you’ve stored your RasMol files.

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Back in July 2017 I wrote a post on here in which I gave a rough sketch of a combination transceiver/computer that would allow me to take a single unit, antenna kit and power, and work digital modes portably, with a minimum amount of baggage. Like one might do with the Mountain Topper range of CW transceivers, but capable of operating with digital modes.

When I wrote the article, I was into JT65 and JT9. Now of course, FT8 is the mode du jour.

The DDS of choice was the ‘el cheapo’ AD9850/AD9851 boards that are available on eBay: now I’d go for the Si5351 DDS boards, with a module available from Adafruit, and also available in an ‘el cheapo’ variant! This DDS creates fewer harmonics.

I’m still very much a beginner at RF design: that is still the major risk to the project, as is the absence of copious amounts of spare time in which to work on it!

However, one risk I’d identified – making an Arduino present itself as a sound card + multiple serial devices – seems to be reducible. LUFA (Lightweight USB Framework for AVRs is a “an open-source complete USB stack for the USB-enabled Atmel AVR8 and (some of the) AVR32 microcontroller series, released under the permissive MIT License”. It has examples of Audio In/Out and Serial devices. I’m hoping it can also provide a composite device that allows the single audio I/O channel, and two serial ports (diagnostic and CAT control).

So the next action on this project is to make an Arduino Micro look like a sound card with two serial ports. It’ll be a loopback device, so whatever sound you play at it (i.e. when transmitting) will be played back to you when receiving; whatever you send on serial port A will be echoed back to you with a ‘DIAG’ prepended to it; similarly with port B as the ‘CAT’ port.

Still unknown: SSB transceiver design that’s buildable by a beginner, and that can be connected into a ADC / DAC pair. How many bits of audio do I need to sample, at what rate?

This may well require a microcontroller that’s a bit more powerful than my usual Arduino Micro – possibly one from the Teensy range.

… to be continued…

Since Feb/Mar 2018, I’ve been working on a new phase of one of my old projects: Parachute, a modern toolchain for programming the Transputer, and a Transputer Emulator – cross-platform for Mac OSX, Windows 10 and Linux.

The Transputer architecture is interesting since it was one of the first microprocessors to support multitasking in silicon without needing an operating system to handle task switching. Its high level language, occam, was designed to facilitate safe concurrent programming. Conventional languages do not easily represent highly concurrent programs as their design assumes sequential execution. Java has a memory model and some facilities (monitors, locks, etc.) to make parallel programming possible, but is not inherently concurrent, and reasoning about concurrent code in Java is hard. occam was the first language to be designed to explicitly support concurrent (in addition to sequential) execution, automatically providing communication and synchronisation between concurrent processes. If you’ve used go, you’ll find occam familiar: it’s based on the same foundation.

My first goal is to get a version of eForth running on my emulator (as I’ve long wanted to understand Forth’s internals). The eForth that exists is a) untested by its author and b) only buildable on MASM 6, which is hard to obtain (legally). I’m trying to make this project as open and cross-platform as possible, so first I had to write a MASM-like macro assembler for the Transputer instruction set This is mostly done now, written in Scala, and just requires a little packaging work to run it on Mac OS X, Linux and Windows.

I’ve written up the history of this project at Parachute History, so won’t repeat myself here..

I’m not yet ready to release this, since it doesn’t build on Windows or Linux yet, and there are a few major elements missing. Getting it running on Windows will require a bit of porting; Linux should be a cinch.

Once I have a cross-platform build of the emulator, I intend to rewrite my host interface to be compatible with the standard iServer (what I have now is a homebrew experimental ‘getting started’ server).

There are quite a few instructions missing from my emulator – mostly the floating point subset, which will be a major undertaking.

The emulator handles all the instructions needed by eForth. eForth itself will need its I/O code modifying to work with an iServer.

Once eForth is running, I have plans for higher-level languages targetting the Transputer…

… but what I have now is:

… to be continued!

This is part 3 of my series on building a cheap loop antenna. If you haven’t read part two, it’s here.

It has been a while since I did anything on this project, but I intend to finish it this year, so here goes! One of my other goals this year is to publish at least one article per month – so this is a short update.

The topic of loops and their capacitors came up at a recent meeting of the West Kent Amateur Radio Society, with some very constructive feedback on my capacitor build, which I’ll relate here. Thanks to Chris G6HTH, Robert, Richard, Barclay, Bob, and Alex.

The main problem Chris pointed out is that I’ll have an unacceptably high resistance by connecting the loop (RG213 braid, copper) to the stainless steel/aluminium vanes of the capacitor. Soldering such dissimilar metals will be ineffective (or impossible). Brazing is advised (I know nothing about this, so research required).

Also, why not construct the capacitor vanes/rods from copper? I had not considered this – all the designs I’d seen on t’Internet were aluminium, so naturally I chose that. Looking closely at proper transmitting variables, the vanes are brazed to their supports, not bolted, and both are the same material.

I was also considering – based on the project I was following: A Simple RG213 Loop by Mario G8ODE – on using RG213 (the outer braid) connected to the box housing the capacitor via PL259/SO239 connectors. Inside the box, these SO239 connectors would connect to the vanes of the capacitor with very thick wire, soldered to ring terminals bolted under the nuts.

The advantage of this scheme would be that I could switch the 1m loop for a longer version as needed. The disadvantage is that it introduces much resistive loss, and for loops, minimising this is critical to increase efficiency.

A loop of RG213 is also attractive since I also have some, and can work with it. Using a solid copper pipe loop would be better, but I don’t know how to bend copper effectively. I have seen schemes for bending it using rollers fixed to a Black & Decker Workbench. I could also fill pipe with sand, or get a spring and try bending a length… but the problem was solved very nicely when Chris gave me a 1m diameter loop of pipe, pre-bent at the next WKARS meeting. Thank you, Chris!

After some discussion, a method of attaching this to the capacitor has been suggested: two strips of copper plate, of similar thickness to the vanes (~1mm), bolted across the two terminals of each side of the capacitor. Bend the plate along its length into a right angle with the horizontal half bolted to the capacitor, and the vertical half connected to the loop. To connect the vertical half to the loop, drill a hole in the vertical half through which the loop end can pass, and braze the loop to the right angle.

So I’ll need a small sheet of copper with which to make the two loop-capacitor right-angle sections.

Item Cost each Total cost
Copper Sheet Plate 0.7mm Thick – Various Sizes, Copper, 100mm x 100mm £4.00 £4.00
£4.00

 
We also discussed how I’d mount the capacitor and loop – I was thinking of putting the capacitor in a large plastic box, but the loop isn’t going outside in wet weather, only in the loft, or outside on pleasant warm days operating /portable. If I did encase the capacitor, I’d have to get the loop ends out of the box, through holes. Chris raised a valid point on this – if the loop touches the side of the insulating box, any moisture on the surface of the box between the ends would short the loop out. So, no need for the box – I’ll attach the capacitor to a board that’s fixed to the frame. I will place a “Danger! High Voltage!” sticker near the capacitor though!

The overall frame will be made of thin wood, in the shape of a cross. The loop will be attached to the top, left and right extremities of the cross by plastic clips – usually used for fixing radiator heating pipes to walls.

The coupling loop will be fixed to the upper section of the cross; the capacitor to the lower, mounted on a board, where I’ll possibly place a reduction drive and stepper motor.

I read the Feb 2019 issue of Practical Wireless with interest: there’s an article by Hamish Storie, MM0GW0, relating his experience building a variable capacitor – he built his with thin brass plates and fixings. It’s not a butterfly capacitor like mine, but he does point out some aspects of engineering that I’ve learned the hard way: use a metal nibbler to cut the vanes out, rather than shears, as shears will deform the metal.

I’ll continue next month, hopefully, with pictures!

Ah, the optimism of the 1st January!

As I reflected on 2018, it became apparent that ‘starting, not finishing’ is a big problem, chez M0CUV. My muse bestows plenty of interesting ideas, but some of them are a bit ambitious. I start, then things grind to a halt. This, coupled with chronic procrastination means a lot of churn, and a feeling of dissatisfaction, angst, and despair at not being able to find the time to do all this – or to prioritise better. A look back through the log shows a big gap of radio silence from June to October, a page of digital mode contacts, and not a single CW QSO throughout the whole year. On the software side, I hung up my own P2P stack after a baffling test failure wore me down. I do want to return to that.. However, I spent most of my hobby development time working on the Parachute project, which despite being really tricky, is going well. I never thought writing an assembler would be this hard. The devil is in the details.

So, after giving myself a good slap for a lacklustre radio year, 2019’s going to be goal-driven. Hopefully these goals are SMART (Specific/Stretching, Measurable/Meaningful, Agreed-upon/Achievable, Realistic/Rewarding and Time-based/Trackable). There are quite a few, and only the tech/radio-related ones are blogged about here. I’ve been using the Getting Things Done method for a while, and it stresses the importance of defining the Next Action on your activities..

So…

  • 1 blog post/month, at least. Progress updates on projects, etc.
  • 1 CW QSO/month, or 12 in the whole year. This’ll probably be really tough.
  • 1 QSLable QSO/month, or 12 in the whole year, any mode/band. FT8 makes this much easier!
  • Try to contact each month’s special callsign for the Bulgarian Saints award from Bulgarian Club Blagovestnik. I’ve already bagged January’s, LZ1354PM via SSB on 1st Jan 🙂
  • Take the next step on the magnetic loop project: build the frame, house the capacitor. I bought some wood and a food container for this yesterday.
  • Box up the 30m QCX transceiver properly – then use it.
  • Keep up with magazines as they arrive rather than building a pile of them.
  • Fix the current bizzare bug in the Transputer assembler – then ship the first release on Windows, macos and Ubuntu/Raspbian
  • Convert the Parachute Node server to use the IServer protocol – then write the IO code for eForth.
  • Build a web application with elm. I’m thinking of a web-front-end to WSJT-X, to allow me to operate remotely.

Let’s see how I get on…!

A busy year, but very few blog updates, hence this one.

A couple of amateur radio projects started, but not finished (QCX built but not boxed; magnetic loop put aside; digital all-in-one transceiver idea written up but no more done; EasiBuild MkII stalled after I fried the DDS and buffer amplifier). I also joined West Kent Amateur Radio Society, after not being a member of a local group for many years, and would like to (find time to) work some contests with them, something I’ve never tried before. An attempt at running a special event station was not very successful but there will be future opportunities.

“Finding time” has emerged as my major problem.

I became a blood donor again after several years not doing it – if you haven’t considered donating, please find your local donor centre and make an appointment: you could save lives.

Open source development ground to a halt on my peer-to-peer project due to a bizzare interaction & test failure I couldn’t fathom… so it went on hold.

I’d been considering getting my old Transputer emulator up and running again, and this turned into my main open source project from March onwards. I’ve made quite some progress on it – but won’t write more here… see The Parachute Project for the writeup. Next year’s updates should feature this project quite a bit, as I feel it has legs..

As for 2019 and its goals, I hope to write more frequent updates here and make more small software releases. I’m also hoping there’s more radio activity and construction!

It’s fun to take a minimum of equipment out to a high place, lob a half-wave long wire antenna up into a tree, or support it with a fibreglass pole, and off you go – but such a long wire typically has a high (2.5kΩ to 3kΩ) impedance. To make it work, this needs transforming down to match the 50Ω output of a typical transceiver. This is done using a 49:1 autotransformer, built on a small toroid.

This post details my construction of the end-fed half-wave autotransformer and antenna for the 10m, 20m and 40m bands.

The antenna is very effective, can be erected in a variety of ways, exhibits low noise, doesn’t cause any RFI in the shack (use a choke balun in addition), places the feedpoint very near to your transceiver and it’s pretty easy to build.

Acknowledgements

There are many other articles out there on this subject:

There are also several other pictures of builds I’ve used to assist in this project, particularly from Ian MW0IAN and Michael G0POT. Thanks!

Introduction

I hope to add some detail and pictures for the terrified constructor in this article, but the above are my source materials. This antenna and its autotransformer are a great project for those new to construction – the toroid winding isn’t hard.

One problem I find in many projects is that they go from diagram to finished construction very quickly with insufficient detail. It’s a bit like “How to Draw an Owl”….

How To Draw An Owl

So I wanted to document what I’d done, in the hope it might be useful to others, especially if you’ve not wound toroids before. The key point is that the count of ‘turns’ relates to the number of times the wire goes through the inside of the toroid.

Parts and materials

I’m building this autotransformer on a FT-140-43 toroid, purchased as a pack of two on eBay from Spectrum Communications, for £9.50 incl P&P.

I first wrapped this in plumber’s PTFE joint sealing tape.

I’m using Maplin 0.9mm 20SWG enamelled copper wire, code YN82D. £8.49 for a small reel (the picture on their page is misleading; it’s not as small as indicated). The source articles used 1.0mm wire; this will allow higher power to be transmitted – I’m mostly QRP, and without calculating it, 0.9mm will be fine for this.

For connectors, I’m using a BNC socket, £2.49 for Maplin’s code HH18U, and a small terminal post, again £2.49 for Maplin’s code FD69A. A small black plastic box, for £3.39 code KC91Y houses the completed autotransformer. This box is a bit ‘tight’, but it does all fit. You’ll also need a 100pF 3kV ceramic capacitor, available for £0.131 each (min order, pack of 10) from RS Components.

Building the Autotransformer

Wire lengths for the toroid winding given here come from reading other articles which describe builds on the larger FT-240-43 toroid. After I’d wound on the smaller toroid as shown here, I had some waste wire that required trimming – you could start with shorter pieces of wire, and I’ve estimated possible lengths for this [in square brackets]. However please note I haven’t tested those lengths.

Measure two lengths of wire, 1.0m, and 22cm. [For the FT-140-43 toroid, and a small box as given above, you could probably use lengths of 80cm and 18cm.] Strip the enamel from the ends for about 2-3mm, clean with sandpaper and tin with solder. Solder the two right-hand ends together.

Solder the right-hand ends together

Holding the soldered end in pliers, twist the two lengths tightly together for 13cm [for the FT-140-43, 9cm may suffice], to form the bifilar winding. ‘Bifilar’ meaning ‘two filaments’, I presume. The remaining length of the shorter piece of wire (at the end of the bifilar winding) being about 6-7cm long. Let’s call this length ‘the tail’.

Now to wind the bifilar part onto the toroid.

Pass the bifilar part through the toroid from the back, so that the ‘tail’ passes under the bottom edge, and the start of the bifilar part is entirely running through the inner of the toroid.

Starting the Windings

Wind the bifilar part back round the top and outer edge of the toroid, and back through the hole. Bend it again over the top. You should have two bifilar passes through the toroid. The end of the bifilar winding (that’s the soldered-together end) will be connected to the outer/shield/chassis connector of the BNC socket. The end of the tail will be connected to the inner/centre connector of the BNC. I’ll get back to the connections later.

The Bifilar Winding

Now, there’s the rest of the toroid to wind.

Wind the long single strand of wire through the toroid so that you have six passes on the inside.

The first part of the rest of the winding

Then pass the wire over the top, and over to the other side, going under the far edge. Loop over the top, and go back through the toroid so that on the far side, you have seven passes, with the remaining end (‘the antenna end’) going under and out.

Ensure that the windings are spaced as evenly as you can.

The final winding

Now tin the connections of the BNC socket and terminal post, and fit them in the box.

Carefully trim the three wires coming from the toroid to fit; scrape off enamel (might need to unwind the end of the bifilar winding a couple of mm to do this properly), clean and tin the ends.

The toroid, trimmed, with box

Solder the bifilar winding to the outer of the BNC; the ‘tail’ at the end of the bifilar winding to the centre pin of the BNC; the ‘antenna end’ to the terminal post.

Solder a 100pF 3kV ceramic capacitor between outer and centre connections of the BNC. Use a hot glue gun to fix the toroid to the inside of the box (not shown).

The assembled autotransformer

Put the top on the box, and there you have it.

The completed autotransformer

Building the antenna

There’s a long antenna wire attached to the autotransformer terminal post, followed by a coil and a further bit of wire. I used fairly rugged plastic-insulated wire; the outer diameter is 2mm, bought years ago on a 100m reel, probably from Maplin.

-----+                                                           
auto |         Length L1           Coil in uH    Length L2  (fibre-
xfor-|=----------------------------|\\\\\\\\\|------------|  glass
mer  |                                                    |   pole)
-----+                                                    |

For 80m+40m+20m+15m+10m, L1 is 20.35m, the coil impedance is 110μH, and L2 is 2.39m.

For 40m+20m+10m, L1 is 10.1m, the coil is 34μH, and L2 is 1.85m. I built this variant.

These lengths are taken from the diagrams in the PD7MAA article. Also see PA3FRP’s notes.

I had a length of plastic tube with an outer diameter of 15mm; I wound 141 turns of the Maplin 0.9mm 20SWG copper wire on this, and measured 34μH. This was very much a trial and error exercise; I had no idea how many turns it would take, so the initial length was extended by soldering more on, several times.

Testing

I attached the far end of the wire to the top of my 7m SOTABeams fibreglass pole, and fed the wire out so that the autotransformer was on the ground – imagine a right-angled triangle with a bowed hypotenuse; I also lifted the autotransformer up onto a small table.

Measurements with an antenna analyser show very favourable SWR readings for the three bands I’m interested in:

  • At 7.305MHz, SWR is 1.21:1
  • At 14.318MHz, SWR is 1.14:1
  • At 27.780MHz, SWR is 1.15:1

With a bit of adjustment, and appropriate positioning – it does seem sensitive to its location above ground (this is explained in the test article by John Huggins) – I think it’d be fine to transmit into this. I’d ideally like to tune it a little more, so I can use it on the exact frequencies I frequent without an ATU.