Convert laser pointer to AA batteries

I play laser at the end of almost every day with my Border Collie, who is 1.5 yrs and has seemingly boundless energy.

My laser pointer is a strong Chinese (Taiwanese, actually, it turns out) number I bought years ago for some stupid reason. The green beam shoots really far and when its batteries are fresh, you can see the beam itself in dark or smoky air which is hella cool.

Anyway, it’s a problem because we play with it so often that the included CR2 battery wears out quickly. I bought a couple replacements, but it’s not sustainable. I already have a AA battery charger and batteries, so I figured why not try a conversion. It’s just about the level of DIY electronics that I’m ready for.

So I bought this 4 AA & 2 AA battery holder from Gikfun via Amazon.ca for just under $10 CAD. I wasn’t really sure what I needed, and haven’t completely worked out the voltage/current question here, but I plunged forward recklessly just the same.

Here’s what I started out with for laser, disassembled:

 

The brass-y looking part (not sure if that’s actually brass) has a mark on it: laserss.com with an ID number. I looked on the Taiwanese site but didn’t see it. It’s at least 10 yrs old though I think, so whatever.

Anyway, I watched some other confusing conversion videos and the process it turns out is actually really easier than I thought.

What I was able to get to work: use one alligator clip on the lower spring inside the laser case, and attach this to the black (negative) lead on the battery holder. Then attach the red lead to the case, since these kinds of cases are generally conductive and that completes the circuit.

Problem is that cuts out the build in switch and I don’t want an always-on laser, so I wired in an arcade button from Sparkfun which has been gathering dust as well. Wire the switch onto one of your leads, and then to the case. I’m not sure if you can do it off the black lead, but probably, right?

Anyway, once I got that working, I hunted around for a small box to use as an enclosure.

If I’m able, I will find myself an old NES zapper and gut it to use as a housing.

But this was a really fun, easy project with minimal parts requirements. What’s even more fun is that this laser seems more powerful than before even, and I can just recharge everything at my convenience. Will also work with a small dollar store style red laser like for cats.

Once I test this out in the field a few days, I will replace probably my alligator clips with a little soldering. But I need to find a great enclosure first!

Homebrew 1/2 Wavelength 2m J-Pole Antenna Build – Part 1 of 2

Building my +5 Staff of Summoning

My Nagoya whip apparently does not cut it with my Baofeng UV-5R. I’m not even sure I’m hitting the repeater, though it’s on a mountain that I can see across the river. I have no elmer to really help me figure it out.

Plus I bought the cheap radio all the more experienced hams told me not to. The Baofeng. One of the “non-compliant Chinese” radios, which a Toronto area radio shop told me they do not carry any accessories for. So many sources told me not to buy this, but I effectively tuned them out. And now I’m not able to tune anybody in to talk.

Okay, I got lost in my own metaphor there. I can hear others talking, but all my attempts to raise somebody, whether on simplex, repeater or on a net check-in have failed. I’m shy, but I’ve put myself out there again and again with no response (okay, except once in a dream, but that’s another story…).

I’m not ready to plop down money on a new transceiver though. And WI5HER claims that it’s “all about the antenna”. Don’t get me wrong, other people seem to have adequate success with their Baofengs. May depend on environment and proximity and density of other users. But where I’m trying to ‘work’ the airwaves, it’s not doing it with the little Nagoya (which is already bigger than the rubber duck it comes with).

So one of the major next steps that is affordable for people in my situation: you have a Baofeng and it’s not seemingly strong enough to reach other people, is to buy or build a J-Pole antenna for 2m.

If you’re not in the club already, two meters is the wave-length of the frequency band we know as 144-148 mHz FM. In the commercial radio spectrum in the US and Canada at least we listen between around 80-108 mHz FM. We usually call that just like 100.3 FM, but the true measurement is megahertz, or as they used to call it back in like the 50s and before (I don’t know when it changed tbh) “megacycles.” 1 hertz is one cycle per second. 1 megahertz is one million times that. Whatever that even means. Here’s a good diagram to help you sort it out in your head.

Anyway the model I followed was basically this guy:

And I even emailed him with questions and he was kind enough to answer (though someone else later gave a reason to do something different).

The measurements I used were based off this j pole calculator.

Best technical explanation I’ve seen of what’s happening (without being too dense) is this video:

I like that there is kind of a trombone quality about these antennas.

https://i1.wp.com/www.kanstul.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/TROMBONE-1606.jpg?w=700

I don’t think it’s accidental if we break both these devices down to what they’re doing: enabling the user to transmit a signal at a particular wavelength. One in audio (Hz) and one in radio (mHz). You can explore these feelings more on Wikipedia’s trombone page if you’re so inclined.

Also check out the J-Pole Antenna site. He has a guide for especially Baofengers about using external antennas on your radio, the why and more importantly the how. The guy’s in the US and makes and ships finished versions of what I’ve built below of much higher quality than what I will embark herein to show you now. I submit with humility, knowing the quality of my soldering is quite “shitty”, but this is my first time working with these materials (copper, flux, solder) and these tools really – mainly a blowtorch used in this way.

Best way to get good at something is to experiment, iterate, ask questions, try it out. Then you can do it better later. Sometimes you can succeed on a first try though too.

Jury’s still out on that for me, as I’m awaiting my coaxial cable which will let me mount and link the antenna to the radio.

This is after completing the cutting and soldering of the copper 1/2″ pipe to the measurements on the j-pole calculator.

I never cut copper pipe before. I bought a little $5 pipe cutter, which worked but crappily. This video was useful for general principle:

I also experienced a bug in my process because I bought two wrong parts: over-sized end caps, and an elbow which was 1/2″ on one end, but not on the other. So I bought a straight coupler and used that to join the small end of the elbow to the short arm (1/4 wavelength). There was no issue with that–the two arms are straight and parallel.

 

 

 

I tried to rotate this image, but oh well. This is the copper tubing attached with u-bolts to a stick of wood I will use as a mast and attach to the outer peak of my shed. It’s definitely starting to look like some kind of wizard LARP staff, which I really like.

Maybe I will get a costume to go with it.

https://i0.wp.com/images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41Vryv3yTUL._SL500_.jpg?w=700&ssl=1

Or maybe I can reserve that for when I actually get good at this.

Here is my electrical connection. I bought the SO-239 connector from Durham Radio, outside Toronto (online). Unlike the radio store that told me they don’t deal with my ‘non-compliant’ Chinese radio, Durham actually – you know – sold me radio parts. Go figure!

[Insider tip: you didn’t hear it from me, but they *might* even sell you an Android TV box, which is sketchy af but I like it! Netflix Canada subscribers, you feel my pain!]

Yes, I know my welds are ugly af, but again, first time so cut me some slack. They are sealed, which is mainly what’s important to me rn. On the feedpoint connection, I used electrical solder which I got from the hardware store rather than the plumbing solder I used everywhere else.

Oh, if you don’t know how to solder onto copper, you should take a look at least at this video. It’s really not complicated:

But I guess you can’t pull it off with just a soldering iron, cause you need to actually get the copper really hot (and apply flux first) or else your solder won’t ever really bond. I know because I tried to connect the stripped piece of copper wire I picked up after an electrician did a small wiring job at our house to the back of the SO-239 aka UHF female jack.

Anyway so I did eventually use the torch on it and that worked.

But there’s a pretty big “gotcha” here in this process, because it’s highly likely that you will melt the plastic inner on the UHF female. You can sorta see it poorly in the photo above, the white part is partially melted.

Once I get my coax, I will see how well the PL-259 seats into that. Worst case scenario (I hope) is I heat up a knife and cut out the melt that interferes – if any.

If I had it to do all over again, I would get a smaller or hand-held or ‘micro’ torch and use something which I could more easily control. I already had one like this, a sort of fat big propane canister with a simple control at top. It’s fine for general use, but for a controlled application of heat like this, something smaller would definitely be in order.

Oh well, I will take my lumps as part of the learning process.

Now, in the J-Pole build video above, he uses a flat copper plate to connect his UHF female to the copper pipe. It was non-obvious to me IRL where/how I could acquire such a flat piece of copper.

So what I did ultimately was flatten down one of the too-big copper end caps I had bought with a hammer and very small anvil that I have. Then I used a corded drill, a lot of patience and a little swearing to drill and bore out larger and larger an adequately sized hole to pass the UHF female jack through and connect the nut on it.

I know my results are crappy looking, but I’m proud regardless for a first try. You always encounter problems in building something totally new with new materials and tools, and it’s all about how you improvise in the moment to achieve at least an approximation of your desired end-goal.

As far as I can tell, this will probably do the job. I did a decent job of staying in line with the measurements the J-Pole calculator gave me. I tuned mine for 146 mHz which is right in the middle of the 2m band. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have an SWR meter – though I found that Durham sells an MFJ (MJF?) that works on 2m for around $60 so I will probably pick that up one day. It’s too expensive to buy into all this radio equipment at once before I even know what I’m doing.

A hobby is all about developing an interest into a mild side-obsession. That takes both time and repeated effort and can’t be just bought into all at once.

I would guess that with everything (excluding the cost of tools, coax and the SMA female to UHF female jumper I had to buy for the Baofeng), the J-Pole antenna build I did probably cost me around $20-25, including the mounting hardware. I didn’t keep exact track.

I ordered about 35 ft of RG58 coax, even though I saw some people say RG8U would be better. I honestly don’t know the difference yet, so this is the price of learning. Maybe I make an imperfect prototype. Worse things could happen. Like doing nothing or giving up completely. Cost me about $35 plus shipping.

SMA female to UHF female from Durham Radio outside Toronto, Canada cost me just under $20 plus shipping, but now I have a radio store that will allow me to indulge my cheap Chinese technology desires – even to my own detriment.

But as I see it, how could a learning experience like this be bad?

Unless, once I get it all mounted, wired and connected up people still can’t hear me.

Then we’ll have a problem.

Even if that happens though, I’ll probably still be left with a perfectly serviceable 2m antenna which I can use with a better radio once I finally decide to throw my Baofeng out the window.

Post script:

For every trash-talking ham out there who will tell you not to buy a Baofeng, most of them are talking from experience because they almost all have one. So take that for whatever it’s worth. In technology, ubiquity counts for a hell of a lot. So if you feel compelled to buy one, don’t let someone stop you if it’s your path to learning more.

Rediscovering the Spectral Arts

Every day after work lately, I go outside with my dog, a beer, my practice chanter, a Baofeng and a high-power green laser I got years ago on Amazon (deliver from China).

I don’t really know what I’m doing precisely, or why. Calling down frequencies. Calling out. Projecting, maybe.

Been working especially on my right-hand technique, and flipping to left as the notes climb higher in the practice chanter’s spectrum. It’s weird how the fingering isn’t like other woodwinds, and I still don’t really get how to consistently control tones on notes, but it’s seeming like something that develops. Letting the instrument teach me, for now. Very much focusing on making habitual microsteps, frequently handling, short bursts or runs of notes and stop.

I’ve been contemplating this arrangement of objects, and making intuitive leaps about how their functionality might be somehow, mysteriously, entangled. The audible frequencies. The visible. The radio. Might there be some type of device, or even entity, which was capable of interacting on all of these simultaneously. WI5HER‘s idea of a “wifi enabled species.” Is that our future?

What if I had a practice chanter I could use to dial-up the local repeater, and hit the offset frequency, spin off a command sequence. Morse code as notes in a song, an “air”, a spell. Pictograms sent as laser patterns across the dark. Macros triggering on hidden lawn computers in response.

Made myself a rat tail counterpoise for my Baofeng today. Threw out my call sign a couple of times. No response. Guess I will keep trying, keep re-arranging the configurations and connections between these calling devices. Re-discovering the spectral arts takes time and patience.

Sorry to end on a not-that-good video, but it was the only thing I could find for "laser bagpipes" on Youtube.

Here’s a short palette cleanser of people trying Spanish pipes in a shop:

Which Radio Should I Buy?

“Which radio should I buy” – this is oft cited as the #1 question for every new ham.

I don’t know what is right for you, but I ended up with a Baofeng F8HPΒ which seemsΒ “just fine”. I can connect to the local repeater groups here in Seattle. I just needed a special (but fairly inexpensive) cable to connect the radio to my computer so I could program in all the local repeaters using CHIRP. Doing it by hand is apparently quite tedious and I haven’t even ever bothered trying. Now I can just press a ‘scan’ button on my radio and it will loop through all the local repeaters and stop whenever it finds someone talking.

I also picked up a Nagoya antenna (common knowledge seems to be that the “rubber ducky” antenna that comes with your radio should just be thrown away). I can’t bring my self to throw it in the garbage; the object is still an infused mystical conduit, so I’ve kept it in a drawer at home in case I can find a use for it in the future conjuring.

With this basic setup, I have been able to use the repeaters to listen and converse with people as far away as Everett in the North, Enumclaw in the South, and all over the Olympic Peninsula in the West. Note: thisΒ is mostly theoretical because I have barely worked up the nerve to talk on the air. Let’s just say: it’s a work in process.

I think it will be easier once I convince all my friends to ditch social media and to get their ham licenses.

 

That being said, I’m wanting to explore what might be next for me in my adventures with Amateur Radio. There’s a whole world (and other worlds) out there. I found a form online that examines your interests within the hobby to determine what specific equipment you might want to look into purchasing. Here’s a list of what I came up with on my own personal interests. What are you interested in? Let me know in the comments. I’ll let you know what I hearΒ back from the people evaluating this form.

 

MY LIST

Communicate with international friends on Earth.
Communicate with the International Space Station.
Communicate through satellites.
Communicate with the Black Knight Satellite
Order a pizza.
Communicate with other objects in space.
Communicate with extraterrestrials.
Communicate with ultraterrestrials.
Utilize radio frequencies to locate water. (dowsing)
Utilize radio frequencies to operate a lawn computer.
Slow Scan Television.
Using a makey-makey and an RTL-SDR to play RF like a piano.
Convince 1000 new hams to get off of Facebook and into the ham shack.

 

Counterfeit Baofeng programming cables

So I got my Baofeng UV-5R in the mail yesterday with some antennas, a speaker mic and a USB programming cable (which I’ll upload photos of later). I think the programming cable I picked up on eBay is probably counterfeit though, as it was *not* plug and play with my Mac. I tried some drivers and some obscure command line mumbo jumbo, but I don’t want to spend 20 hours getting a $10 cable to work. I hear a lot of these cheapo cables work fine on Linux, but I’m not on Linux and I’m not going to start using it just so I can program my radio in CHIRP. I want an easy solution. So, sadly, I ordered another cable marked FTDi from Amazon.ca. FTDi chipset is supposed to be the “authentic” one, plug and play. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

My advice to new Baofeng buyers (at least on Mac): make sure a “real” cable. This is tricky, because even the fake ones are marked Baofeng. But if you don’t see any part number listed on your purchase, there’s a good chance it’s a fake. Consider yourself warned.