Meta, Twitch

A New and Improved Experience

As you have probably seen, I’ve launched occasional Twitch streaming of my work activities, including schematic capture, PCB layout, library coding, firmware coding, and even some solder melting. It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but I’ve been traversing it fairly successfully, I think. However, one big problem that I was having was with the quality of my stream output.

Allow me to describe my home office and network infrastructure situation. We have Frontier FIOS internet, which is fiber optic to a junction box on your house, when then downconverts to RF over coax, like cable internet. Our modem and router live in our living room. The router is a cheap TP-Link flashed with DD-WRT. My shack/office is in a bedroom adjacent to the living room. Our house is early 70s vintage, so no network cabling was wired into the house. The old office network setup was another Linksys router flashed with DD-WRT configured as a wifi bridge, with all of the office devices connected to the bridge via Ethernet cable. In effect, nearly every device in the house was connected via wifi. Given the combination of the cheap router and wifi congestion, my internet speeds were slow. The internet package I had from Frontier was labeled at 25 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, but I’d be lucky if I could get 5 Mbps each way from the office. This meant that the Twitch stream was being bandwidth-choked, since it needs about 2.8 Mbps upload on a consistent basis, which this setup couldn’t provide.

So in order to provide a better stream experience, I did a couple of things. First I called Frontier and got our internet service upgraded to 30 Mbps up/down for a slightly cheaper monthly rate than we currently pay (it pays to check on that every year or two). Then I ran an Ethernet cable installation from the living room near the router to the office so that I could toss out the wifi bridge.

Happily I can now report that from all of the office/shack PCs, I can easily get more than 30 Mbps upload and download speed. I also ran a Twitch streaming test last night from the office PC and got two hours of continuous streaming without a single frame being dropped, which is quite an improvement from the previous streams.

It’s been a few weeks since the last stream, but I’m ready to pick up the pace a bit more again. Watch for more streams soon.


Now Streaming?

Given my withdrawal from Patreon, this seems like a good time to try out some new ideas that have been rattlin’ around the noggin for a while. One of those ideas was to get a little more social (at least in internet terms) by streaming some of my work sessions on Twitch.

So I’ve set up a channel, installed OBS Studio, and have started to learn how to use the software to at least provide a minimal amount of production value. My old Logitech 720p webcam was dusted off, and I even found another of the exact same model for sale at Goodwill in order to give me a couple of different video sources. I imagine I should be able to connect my USB microscopes to OBS as well so that you could get a good look at circuits up close.

At the moment, I’m getting this all set up at my battlestation, which will probably take another week or so to complete, along with the software learning curve. Watch for some test streams in the near future. I’ll try to make sure that Twitch announces when I’m QRV via my Twitter account. I have no idea how interesting this will be, but I figure it might be worth trying.


New Blog Theme

As you can see, I’ve changed the blog theme and I’m trying out some of the different post formats, so that I can hopefully make this platform more conducive to the type of “microblogging” I was doing on Patreon.


Some Site Updates

You may have noticed that now has HTTPS enabled (thanks to the wonderful Let’s Encrypt) and redirects all traffic to that protocol. I think everything is working ok, but please contact me if you find problems with the blog.

I added encryption for a couple of reasons. First, I’m on-board with the idea of HTTPS everywhere, if only to thwart any kind of future problems from intermediaries of various types using your browsing against you. Second, I needed to enable it so that I could start accepting revenue from Brave Payments using the Basic Attention Token (abbreviated BAT). What’s the tl;dr? This is a way to get revenue from your content via a decentralized, cryptocurrency token system based on anonymous data from people’s web browser. It’s still very new and I admittedly am not the most up to speed on blockchain/cryptocurrency, but I sounds right up my alley, so I’d like to try it. This blog was just authorized in the Brave Payments system, so I should now be able to receive BAT in my payments wallet if people choose to allocate them to me. Let me know what you think of all this!

Empyrean, Etherkit, Meta

The Road Forward

Per my last blog post, I’ve completely deleted my Patreon account. Those days are over and are not coming back. I’m still not sure what will replace it, or if anything will. It is already difficult for me to ask for money in return for mostly intangible benefits. Losing the Patreon monthly income will hurt a bit, as that was the funds I was using to pay for OpenBeacon Mini (and other project) development. I only sell a modest amount of the Si5351A Breakout Boards via Etherkit; basically just enough to pay for keeping the lights on there for now.

So allow me to start using this blog again for what I was doing on Patreon, sans the locked content.

OpenBeacon Mini has a schematic finished and I’m just about ready to lay out the PCB. Empyrean (my Arduino Zero derivative) testing is going to be delayed a bit while I figure out how to fund the beta batch. Those two projects are going to be my main focus and I hope to be going into release with both of them by Q1 2018. Further down the line, I don’t want to speculate too much, but I’ll probably tidy up and finish some half-finished smaller boards that I want to add to my Etherkit lineup in order to fill out the catalog with some more RF products.

I’ll work on ramping up the blogging here, using my own site much as I was using Patreon: to post smaller updates about project progress. I always felt the need to make more substantial posts here, which often deterred me from writing. I believe that was a mistake. Expect to see more content in line with microblogging here in the future. Thanks for hanging in there.


Patreon Shenanigans

What’s the Deal?

I’m sure most of you have seen my promotion of the Patreon account that I set up for myself about half a year ago in order to help fund the development work that I do. Yesterday, out of the blue, Patreon sent an email to its creators to notify them of a big change that is coming soon:

Dear creator,

In order to continue our mission of funding the creative class, we’re always looking for ways to do what’s best for you – creators.

With that, we’re writing to tell you of a change we’re making so that all Patreon creators take home exactly 95% of every pledge, with no additional fees.

Aside from Patreon’s existing 5% fee, you may notice that your income on Patreon varies because of processing fees every month. Your patrons may not even be aware that you actually take home a lower percentage of their intended pledges because of it. Our goal is to make your paycheck as predictable as possible, so we’re restructuring how these fees are paid.

A new service fee of 2.9% + $0.35 will be paid by patrons for each individual pledge starting on December 18th. This streamlines fees for both creators and patrons to ensure that you pay no more than 5%.;

As I wrote on a Patreon post, I do not want this change in the fee structure; I am in fact strenuously opposed to it. However, we creators were given no choice in the matter. Patreon claims they have tested this new fee schedule and received feedback from select creators. I haven’t seen one creator actually step up to say that they participated in this trial, so I have no idea how many were actually enlisted into this. Certainly, from the backlash I have seen on Twitter, the fee change has come under nearly universal condemnation from creators.

You Didn’t Agree To This

For its entire lifespan, until now, Patreon’s funding model was that when you pledged $1 to a creator, you paid $1. When you pledged $20, you paid $20. Of course, the payment processors have to get their fees and Patreon has to pay their expenses and make some money from the business, so there was a 5% cut for Patreon and a variable amount taken out for payment processing. All of that was deducted from the creators funds before they were disbursed, which is how nearly all businesses do things and how I believe it should be done.

Now, under the guise of giving more money to creators and stabilizing the amount of income a creator can count upon (which is a fallacy under this new system), the flat 5% is deducted from the creator’s funds from the “pledged” amount, and a 2.9% processing fee plus a fixed $0.35 are pushed onto the patron, on top of the amount of money they have pledged to the creator. There is no way to opt out of this new system and have the creator eat the cost of the fees so that a patron only pays what he agreed to pay.

All of my current patrons signed on under the model where they were making a once-per-month payment of whatever dollar amount they pledged, not a penny more. I wouldn’t dare think of trying to nickle-and-dime my generous patrons by asking them to eat my fee expenses, but Patreon corporate is forcing that upon us. My patrons pledged what they pledged because that’s what they budgeted for. Forcing a unilateral increase upon them in this type of funding situation feels incredibly scummy to me.

What’s worse is that it puts both we creators and the patrons in a bad place. Patreon pushed this change on us, but we have to manage the fallout (and they have shown no interest in dealing with it from what I have seen). Patrons now have to decide whether they want to suck it up and be forced to pay more in order to support the people that they like at the same level, cut out certain creators in order to stay within their budget, or drop the whole thing all together. I’m sure it doesn’t feel good for the ones dropping some support or cancelling accounts completely to leave the creators high and dry. But I don’t blame any patron for making that choice one bit.

Surcharges Suck

You should be paying the amount that you pledged, not a penny more. Converting creator goodwill into monthly contributions is already a bit tricky, for understandable reasons. One of the great things about the old Patreon system is that it made the barrier to entry to supporting creators quite low; even more so once a person had established a patron account and was supporting their first creator. Offering a $1 pledge level (which I believe most creators used) gave people a low-risk way to showing support, which had the chance of being converted to a higher pledge level later if the patron liked what the creator was doing. Also, it is important to remember that Patreon used to brag about their system of bundling pledges into one monthly transaction in order to save fees.

But that’s gone now, because there is no $1 level any longer. The minimum amount that you’ll be able to ask for is $1, and then Patreon will add the 2.9% plus $0.35, or $0.38 to every $1 pledge. That doesn’t sound like a huge change, but the problem is that a lot of people like to spread the love around and support many creators with small pledges. This will become much less tenable under the new regime. As has been pointed out on Twitter, when you support one creator with a $10 pledge, your new out-of-pocket cost will now be a relatively modest increase to $10.64. On the other hand, if you support 10 creators with a $1 pledge each (not an uncommon scenario), your new out-of-pocket cost is going to be $13.80. That’s an awfully big jump.

The fact is that this new fee schedule is regressive because of the $0.35 fixed fee on every pledge. It is my understanding that the lower tier patrons are the lifeblood of most creators. Sure it’s nice to have a few big contributors, but by having a lot of smaller ones your funding has a wide and stable base. This fee change sticks it to those who don’t have a lot to contribute each month and erodes that stable base of support (to an extent that we don’t know yet, but I suspect isn’t insignificant).

Even more infuriating is how this would affect creators who supported other creators, which I imagine, is most of us. In the old system, once you got your pledge funds, Patreon would then use those to pay out to the creators that you support. But it sounds like those days are over.

Now they are going to get those payment processing fees from us creators as well, because they won’t let you use internal funds to pay other creators any longer. Oddly, I noticed that my credit card was charged for my pledges on 1 December, which doesn’t usually happen. At the time I chalked it up to a glitch and didn’t think much of it, until I saw that tweet. It seems they have already implemented that change under the radar.

For all of the PR spin that they were making these changes to help creators, the truth is that this only hurts us. The ecosystem of Patreon depends on creators supporting other creators, and they just made that more costly as well.


One of the most galling things to me is the way communications on this have been handled, and how Patreon has offloaded the worst of this work to we creators. This news was unceremoniously dumped on us a few weeks before Christmas, and they told us creators one day before notifying patrons. I felt is was only fair to notify my patrons immediately, as this change was going to have a large impact on them. It was coming so quickly, I had no time to consider a good way to deliver the news. I suspected this was going to cause concern, and potentially cause patrons to withdraw their support, and that’s exactly what happened. In one day I lost $11 out of the $65 that I was pledged monthly, a 17% decrease. Again, I don’t begrudge those decisions one bit. It makes sense to me.

The real slap in the face was that they expected us to carry the water for their PR department. In the Q&A document they linked, there is a section about patron concerns:

Q: What do I need to tell my patrons?

A: We are sending notification to patrons about the change so you do not need to send them additional communication. That said, patrons always want to hear from their creators. It can often be helpful for them to hear about the change from you as well. If a patron reaches out to you for more clarity, we’ve prepared a helpful statement you can share with them for more detail:

In the past, I was covering Patreon’s 5% fee and all of the processing fees in full for all of my patrons. This meant that every month I saw anywhere from 7-15% of my earnings taken out to cover those processing fees.

Starting December 18th, Patreon will apply a new service fee of 2.9% + $0.35 to each of your individual pledges. This service fee helps keep Patreon up and running and standardizes my processing fees to 5%.

This ensures that creators like me keep more earnings in order to continue creating high-quality content. I hope you understand and continue your pledges on Patreon. You can read even more about the service fee here.

So they were helpful enough to give us some canned talking points to assuage the anxiety about a huge change to the service terms that they themselves weren’t going to address until later, and try to sell it as a benefit. Thanks.

Patreon Responds

As of the time that I was wrapping up this post, I was notified that Patreon had posted an extended explanation on their original post:

First off, I want to point out their response mostly ignores the complaint that everyone has: that pushing the fees onto patrons is just wrong and will hurt everyone. Also, look at the replies and you’ll get a palpable sense of the anger and frustration that Patreon is plowing ahead with this change while ignoring the big concern and only paying the slightest bit of lip service to the perception that there is even a problem at all.

To be honest, at first I thought that it was pure greed that was driving them to make this change. Why else would they charge a fee on literally every pledge? As it turns out from my reading of that update, it actually sounds like pure stupidity. In trying to fix the perceived problem, they are changing to a model where a patron is charged at multiple times per month, once for each pledge. Which apparently why that payment processing fee is being assessed for every pledge. What’s astounding is that this is literally the opposite of my understanding of Patreon’s founding business model. They bragged that they saved money by bundling payments, allowing you to spread around a lot of small-value pledges economically.

This is so gobsmacking to me I really don’t even know what else to say about it at this point.

My Response

Yesterday, I decided to wait before taking further action to see if they might reverse course. After seeing a huge negative backlash online, I held out hope that there may have been a chance that they would actually do it. But from what I have seen from the official Patreon updates and from Jack Conte (Patreon’s founder), I now have little hope they will listen to people and back out from this mess.

Regardless of whether they do or not, I’m done with them. They have lost my trust. On principle, I will not allow them to jack up the prices to my patrons, and therefore I will delete my account.


This is all quite disheartening for me, because I was finally getting to the point with my Patreon campaign where I felt like it was making a real difference in my life and not just giving me a few bucks to get a Dutch Bros coffee once a month. I don’t give this up lightly.

Apparently, there are some alternative options, but none of them really do everything that you could do on Patreon. One can receive one-off PayPal or Ko-Fi payments (and for now I decided to add a PayPal button on the blog sidebar), but that doesn’t cover recurring charges. Having a stable bit of monthly income is a big deal. I’ve heard mention of something I had never heard of before called Liberapay, which sounds perhaps the closest thing to Patreon currently available, but it still is quite different in funding structure and doesn’t support the content distribution part.

The best potential competitor to Patreon is something called Drip from Kickstarter. From the looks of it, it seems to function very similar to the old Patreon. The problem is that it’s currently in closed beta, which is no good for those looking to jump ship right now.

This brings up a larger problem. I could hold out and jump to Drip when it is public, but what’s to say they don’t take the same route of screwing their customers once they become significant? You still don’t have control over the terms there, and are hostage to their whims. The more well-established you are as a creator on their platform, the harder it is for you to break away when they crap on you (which is what I’m sure Patreon is counting on right now).

So ideally, I’d like to find a way to diversify my funding and use funding sources that are as decentralized as possible. It isn’t going to happen over night, but I need to be moving that direction. Because of those requirements, I’m intrigued about cryptocurrency solutions, and the first one I’m going to look into is the Basic Attention Token. Long story short is that this is a completely different funding model, and I recommend you look at that website (this may actually be a bit easier to understand). I’ve already applied to receive funding via that method. I have no idea if anything will come of it, but I believe it is worth trying.

In the mean time, I don’t know what I want to do to replace the recurring payments. I want to carefully consider things before jumping into another site such as Drip. I’d gladly listen to any suggestions below.

When I started Patreon, the payment model, ecosystem, and community were very attractive, but there was a nagging voice at the back of my head warning me about getting tangled up in a proprietary site (I think even some of my friends warned me outright :). I posted a fair bit of content on Patreon, and ended up not giving my own blog enough love. Perhaps this is a bit of a blessing in disguise, as I should now put more work back into this blog and look for a different funding model.


I am sorry to rant for so long that is probably inconsequential to most of my readers. I felt I owed an apology to those who were kind enough to donate to me in an ongoing fashion each month. And I was pretty steamed up about the matter, and wanted to get some things off my chest. Thanks for listening and thank you so very much to those who have supported me financially and otherwise over the years.


Rattling the Cup

It’s not easy for me to admit that I need help, but sometimes one has to swallow his pride a bit and do that in order to move forward. Now is one of those moments for me. As I noted last year, it’s been a bit of a tough time for my family lately, and my ability to work on Etherkit and to give to the community in ways such as blogging and contributing code has suffered quite a bit.

I’m ready and excited to move ahead but frankly, resources for continuing these endeavors are quite tight, as I am not able to divert them from the family income and I don’t really make anything from Etherkit at this point. I realized that it would be extremely helpful to have a monthly income for use in advancing the work that I do in electronics and radio, even if it is relatively small.

Therefore, I’ve setup a Patreon account in order to attempt to give me that bit of regular income so that I can focus more on content creation. If you are not familiar with it, Patreon is a way for creators to ask for pledges from those who value their work. You can ask for either monthly or per-creation pledges. I’ve decided to ask for a monthly pledge since I intend to increase my output by a fair amount (and my discrete creations usually aren’t as intensive as something like making a professional video).

I do realize that it’s a bit cheeky to ask for pledges at this point, when my output over the last year has been quite sparse. I would say that if you have received some value from my previously released work, then please consider how becoming my patron would help me to produce more content for free public release in the future. If you don’t wish to fund me at this time, I only ask that as I ramp up my output over the coming months that you consider becoming a patron when you are satisfied that I’m producing enough quality content to make it worth your while.

Also, one nice side benefit of Patreon is that it also functions as a microblogging platform, which is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s a bit easier for me to post more often when I can catch a few quiet minutes during the middle of my busy day.

So I would greatly appreciate it if you head over to my Patreon page to read my pitch and consider becoming my patron. There will be some exclusive perks to becoming a patron, including access to me on a private chat room, exclusive patron posts where I discuss and show off what I’m working on, and information on upcoming Etherkit releases. Thank you!



This is not going to be a particularly pleasant post to compose, but I feel that I owe it to those of you who I interact with regularly to give you some kind of status update. Pardon the light use of uncouth colloquialisms.

As of right now, I am not able to publicly be specific about certain aspects of this situation, as it involves someone other than myself. There may be a time when I am able to share more of the story. Maybe not. I’m not trying to be coy in order to build mystery for sympathy points. There are plenty of terrible people on the Internet, and I want to have a firm grasp on the situation and have my emotions in check before I decide when or if to give specifics on a public blog.

Our household has been hit with some really big, life-altering news. Our family is still intact, no one has passed away, but things are going to be different from now on. It’s not catastrophic, but it does alter our course going forward fairly dramatically. No one has wronged us; it’s just one of those things that the universe dumps in your lap.

Allow me to rewind a bit. Things were already on shaky ground here over the last month or so between a combination of being a lousy friend to people who I care about and having what felt like a lot of my support system outside of my family seemingly blow up. Momentum on the OpenBeacon 2 project was building up to a good tempo, and then hit the brick wall.

On top of that, I was getting to the point where I could not countenance the absolute torrent of bullshit on what used to be one of my favorite hangouts on the ‘net: Twitter. The SNR in my timeline had taken a huge plunge over the last few months, and I had noticed that many of my favorite accounts had gone fully or mostly quiescent. It was getting to the point where I was getting outraged nearly daily it seemed, yet I kept coming back for more hateclicks. It dawned on me that this is not a healthy behavior. (Now I really understand why online journalism is in a race to the bottom with their constant shitposting.) As I’ve said before, my emotional intelligence may not be great, but even this fool got it after being bludgeoned enough times.

I removed all of my Twitter apps, closed all pages, and disabled all notifications. Done. Haven’t looked at it for weeks now. There’s a good chance that some of you have tried to contact me there and have heard no reply. I apologize for that. I just can’t let myself get sucked back into that miasma right now. If I haven’t already alienated most or all of my online friends, I can still be reached via the usual email.

Allow me to say that it has been pleasant to claw-back all of that wasted time from the social media timesuck. I’ve been able to spend more time reading novels, working, and pursuing educational goals. I’m not going to delete my Twitter account as I want to keep it as an archive, but between my feelings about the medium and the above-mentioned situation, I don’t foresee myself actively participating in it any time soon.

To bring it back to where things currently stand, priorities by necessity are going to undergo a large reshuffling. I don’t know exactly what the extent will be yet, but I should have a handle on things in a month or two. This includes Etherkit. I’m not sure what form the business will take in the near future, but it will have to change or die. I’ve got some decent work for Etherkit in the pipeline mostly done; it would be a shame to have to put things to bed before it fully came to fruition. I’ll be putting out feelers for assistance and guidance. For now, I’ll still continue to sell the Si5351A Breakout Board.

It’s one of those times when you have to reassess a hell of a lot of things in your life. I’m laying low because I don’t want to make further missteps. I hope that those who know me forgive me for going radio silent lately. I’m having one of those uber-introvert moments where I really need some time to gather my energy before reengaging. I imagine I’ll ease myself back into some more blogging on the nominal topic soon enough; the volume of output depending on how things shake out in the priorities department.

Be excellent to each other.

Etherkit, Meta

Long Time, No See

I know. I was just starting to get some momentum posting to the blog on a semi-regular basis, and then — the drop off.

I am sorry about that. The Si5351A Breakout Board campaign consumed almost all of my work time. Given the limited amount of actual work time that I have, something had to give. So unfortunately it was blogging.

There’s also a bit more unfortunate news, as well as good news. The bad news is that I don’t foresee having the time to post as many posts as I would like, so for now, content will slow a bit. The good news is that is because I will be focusing my blogging efforts into the brand new Etherkit App Notes site at I’m going to be working hard to supply fun DIY projects that you can build using Etherkit products, starting with the Si5351A Breakout Board, and involving other Etherkit products as they come online.

In the meantime, it’s been very heartening to see all of the neat ways in which people have been incorporating the Si5351A Breakout Board into their own projects. For example, here’s a wonderful blog post and video from Mike N2HTT about how he constructed a multi-band VFO using the board and a 128×64 OLED display. I also received this link from Milan about how he use the board to clock his DVB-T dongle for SDR reception. It allowed him much greater frequency accuracy, as well as a way to slightly shift the ref osc frequency in order to see which signals are external and which are internally generated. All very neat stuff!

I won’t let this blog completely fade, but I will be putting most of my effort in to Etherkit-related work, so that’s where you’ll need to look to find most of my new content. Thanks for reading!

CC-Series, Design, Meta, OpenBeacon

Catching Up With Etherkit

The year is not starting out as well as I had hoped. Back during the beta test of the CC-20 I had set a goal to complete my revisions and be ready to sell production kits by 1 January 2012. Obviously that date has come and gone and I’m still not on the market. A few circumstances have contributed to this situation. First, the days available for me to work exclusively on Etherkit has been cut from 4 per week to less than 2 due to family member’s work schedules being changed. Second, it took me longer than expected to tackle the bugs in the CC-20 beta; the worst being the high number of spurs in the receiver.

So where does thing sit right now? The next CC-20 board revision is just about ready to be implemented. I’ve had to move to a DDS with a higher master clock frequency and change out the product detector from a dual-gate MOSFET to a diode-ring mixer. One advantage of the new DDS is that I can greatly simplify the transmitter circuitry, but this will require the trade-off of a fairly significant revision of the PCB.

I have been getting my PCBs manufactured in China, and right now many of the manufacturing firms (my board house included) are shutting down for two weeks to observe the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). So even if I do send my Gerber files to the board house, they probably won’t be back for at least a month. In the meantime, I’ve decided to work on a side project that’s been rattling around in my head for a while: a QRSS/CW/Feld Hell/Etc. beacon. Also, in response to a lot of positive response that I have received from my simple Twin-T code practice oscillator, I also spent a few days revising the circuit to make the output a bit more robust and then created a PCB for the circuit in Kicad so I could transition my EDA to an actively developed software package (I was using TinyCAD/FreePCB previously, which seems to be pretty much a dead end).

OpenBeacon Prototype
OpenBeacon Prototype

So allow me to tell you a bit more about the beacon project. For now, I’ve decided to dub it OpenBeacon (I know, so very original). But there is a decent reason for the name. Much like the CC-Series, I intend for this project to fill a niche in the market that is very empty right now. The list of notable open source/open hardware kits out in the market is very small. The only one I think of off the top of my head is OpenQRP. As far as QRSS kits, I’m only aware of the one from the talented Hans Summers. My goal for this project is to provide a kit that is open, extensible, relatively inexpensive and simple, and ripe for user modification. Let me tell you a bit more about the project specs and how they fit into this goal.

Let’s start with the bare hardware. The transmitter is a standard, vanilla Colpitts oscillator followed by an emitter follower buffer, which feeds a class A PA with fully adjustable output power (provided by a very cheap and cheerful part, the BD139). At full-bore with 13.8 VCC, the transmitter can put out about 300 mW into 50 Ω. The brains of the operation is an Atmel ATtiny85 microcontroller. The way that it interacts with the transmitter is via its PWM output, which can generate a voltage from 0 V to 5 V after proper filtering. This control voltage is fed to a reversed-biased LED which acts as a varactor to tune the oscillator in very tiny amounts (< 10 Hz). The PWM output is essentially an 8-bit DAC, so not only can the varactor be flipped between 0 V and 5 V, but it can be set to many intermediate values, which allows for things like Feld Hell and just about any kind of graphic or glyph you can think of to be transmitted. The transmitter PA is also keyed with a PNP transistor which is controlled by the ATtiny85, which allows the OpenBeacon to operate in standard CW beacon mode.

The main way in which this project will meet the goals I stated above is in its user interface. There is a handy open source project called V-USB which gives USB interface capability to AVR microcontrollers that do not have USB built-in. This allows me to wire a USB port to the ATtiny85 and have the V-USB firmware take care of all the ugly business behind the scenes so that I can focus on interfacing the OpenBeacon to a PC. With a simple command line program, the user will have the ability to switch between the many operating modes available, set his own callsign and beacon message without having to have the microcontroller programmed for him, upload custom glyphs to be transmitter, and monitor the status of the beacon. No need to mess with jumpers or in-circuit programmers (although the ISP port will be available for those who want to hack their OpenBeacon). The client program is written in C and should be able to be compiled for Linux, Windows, and OS X machines.

KI6FEN Grabber Capture
KI6FEN Grabber Capture

Right now, the prototype is pretty much complete save a few minor tweaks. Yesterday, I got the code for the CW modes completed and put the beacon on the air in DFCW 6 second dit mode just above 10.140010 MHz. Conditions weren’t great, but I did manage to get a few weak captures on the KL7UK grabber and one from KI6FEN via Twitter. The signal was way too wide and extremely drifty, but I’ve solved those problems by changing the coupling capacitor between the LED varactor and the oscillator and by creating a rudimentary thermal chamber for the beacon out of pink antistatic foam. I’ll be leaving the beacon on for the next few days when I’m not working on the project (which will be most of the day). Any reception reports would be greatly appreciated!

So the plan is to get the CC-Series PCB revisions hopefully done by next weekend so that they can be sent off to the board house before their vacation is over. In my little bits of downtime, I’ll continue work on the code for the OpenBeacon. The plan for this project is to get the PCBs cranked out very quickly. Now that I’m familiar with Kicad, I think it won’t be too difficult or take too long to design the boards. I’m also going to be trying out a new PCB vendor which promises much cheaper prices and faster turnaround times on smaller boards such as this. With any luck, I can fast-track OpenBeacon testing and production and have it out while the CC-Series is in it’s final beta test. Stay tuned, this is make-or-break time!