My worst FAIL or how to destroy a $500 radio

     A year or two have passed so I figured I’m finally ready to share one of the worst FAILs of my young EE life.

     It all started with a dream… A dream to tap into the Intermediate Frequency line inside my beloved FT-817. If it worked, I would have been able to use the FT-817 as a HF upconverter for a RTL SDR dongle. In conjunction with my tablet, I would have had a super cool portable “panadapter” setup with my FT-817. A waterfall display on the tablet would show me every signal inside the FT-817’s receive bandwidth at the same time!

     For this to work, I needed to install a buffer amp and filter between the IF line in the FT-817 and an SMA connector I install in the radio case. The RTL SDR will reside just outside the FT-817. I bought the amp and filter kit from w1ghz and was all ready to go. 1st things 1st… drill a hole in the FT-817 case to install the SMA connector.

     Stupidly, I didn’t remove the main PCB inside the FT-817 as I drilled through the back side of it’s aluminum case. In a split second the drill bit propelled through the case completeing the hole and taking out several SMD components as it screeched across the FT-817 main PCB! All in all, the drill completely took out the CXA1611 FM/AM radio chip and it’s traces on the PCB.

     Over the following year, I attempted two seperate repairs of the chip and traces. Unfortunately, the radio has never functioned like it once did, and I hardly use it anymore due to this accident.

     Lessons learned: think before you drill holes in expensive radios!



Score of the Year! Free Multi-kW HF Linear Amplifier!

Ahhhh how I love attending a college with active research labs decades older than me!

Where else could I score a free Multi-kW HF Linear Amplifier!?!?!?!

Anyway, this find is most definitely my find of the year. This SERVER RACK SIZED amp was a CW (continuous wave) RF source for a Sputtering System in one of the materials labs at my university. Every once in a while these old research labs get some money and decide to renovate. When they do this they discard old equipment in certain areas for recycling. Many times this equipment is in perfect shape and very valuable if you happen to know what your looking for… and when and where to find it.

This is where I come in. Over the past 10 or so years that I’ve been hanging around my college I’ve become an expert in dumpster diving this electronic junk. This amplifier is simply my most recent find and possibly my most valuable one to date.

So why am I excited about this specific piece of equipment?

  1. It’s a MASSIVE AMPLIFIER! It can boost an RF signal 15 to 17 times with an output of several kW!
  2. It can be easily modified to work on Ham Radio Frequencies! (I’m a Ham!)
  3. It’s worth A LOT in parts alone! (similar Ham Amps are several $1000’s)
  4. Nearly everything to make it run is present and intact

Now for the nitty gritty…

This Amp consists of 4 main components all housed in a convienient rack with wheels.

  1. The power supply (High voltage system, tube filament transformers, etc…)
  2. Control system (relays, metering circuitry, etc…)
  3. RF exciter (100w Sine Wave Generator @ 13? Mhz ISM)
  4. Main RF Deck

The RF Deck is the most important component. This is the heart of the amplifier. It uses a 3cx3000a7 Triode Vacuum Tube with a rated plate dissipation of 4000 watts. The Amp is in a common zero-bias grounded grid configuration with a tuned input network and a Pi-L output network. If the 3cx3000a7 tube is good, it alone is worth almost $1k.

Here is a hand drawn schematic of the Main RF Deck…because I’m awesome



Getting this Amp up and running is now one of my primary projects.

The Goal: Turn this Amplifier into a legal limit (will easily go above 🙂 Ham Radio amplifier for the HF bands.

Here are some more pictures until I finish writing this post:







Programmable VFD Display & Ticker

This is a project I’ve been working on for a while now, and it’s finally progressed to the point where I feel comfortable sharing it. The goal was to make a small programmable display so I can quickly check the current Bitcoin or Dogecoin price, see the time, weather, etc as I walk into my room. The display also had to look cool – I tried to make it steampunkish / hipster if you will. I am also contemplating the marketability of a reprogrammable display of this nature. If there is enough interest, I may improve it a bit (laser cut acrylic or wood base, etc…) and try to sell it. Price would likely be between 50$ & $100. Of course it would be open source so anyone could build their own or or modify to their liking.

The whole thing is really just a large VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) and a Raspberry Pi, both of which I mounted to a bent metal plate as a stand. There is also a PIR motion sensor which I have setup to put the display to sleep after a set amount of time with no motion in the room. There are green LEDs between the metal plate and the back of the VFD to create a green glow around the edge. The Raspberry Pi is running it’s default debian distro (Raspbian?) and auto connects to wifi on boot, and a Python script controls the VFD through the Raspberry Pi’s serial port.


This project all started when I purchased a large VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) from a surplus electronics store (Skycraft – greatest surplus store in Orlando) a year or two ago. I found out this display actually accepts serial data. The connector was RS232 voltage level, but there was a MAX232 chip on the back converting the +-12v signal to TTL (+5v) for the onboard controller. I spliced into the 5 volt input to the controller chip and the display happily sprung to life as I sent it simple serial print commands from an Arduino.

To power the Raspberry Pi, I rigged up a LM7805 5v voltage regulator on the back of the metal plate. I’ll hopefully be replacing this with a 5v switching regulator though because the LM7805 heats up the whole metal plate. The PIR sensor is connected directly to one of the I/O pins on the Raspberry Pi, and it triggers an interrupt in the Python script when motion is detected. I may add a photoresistor so the display turns off after a certain amount of time without light (when I go to bed). The last major detail is a small transistor controlling the green leds…I can actually use the Raspberry Pi to PWM the leds to vary the green glow brightness, but this isn’t implemented yet.

More pics:

Here’s the Python Script:

I tried to comment as much as I could, but I’m not a good programmer. Let me know if you have questions about anything.

#working programmable display code woohoo!

import sys, serial, time, requests, json, glob
from time import sleep, strftime
from subprocess import *
from datetime import datetime
global serialport
import RPi.GPIO as GPIO

sensorPin = 7

GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BOARD) #I/O connector layout config
GPIO.setup(sensorPin, GPIO.IN, pull_up_down=GPIO.PUD_DOWN)

global timeTest #this is used for the interrupt
timeTest = 38 #display function takes 16 seconds to run so 38*16 = 608s or about 10m until display goes to sleep after motion stops.

LCD = serial.Serial('/dev/ttyAMA0',19200) #seup serial port
cmd = "ip addr show wlan0 | grep inet | awk '{print $2}' | cut -d/ -f1" #get IP address

def run_cmd(cmd): #get IP address fnc.
 p = Popen(cmd, shell=True, stdout=PIPE)
 output = p.communicate()[0]
 return output

#def getBitcoinPriceStr(): #Screw Mt. Gox
# URL = 'http://data.mtgox.com/api/2/BTCUSD/money/ticker_fast'
# r = requests.get(URL)
# priceStr = "$" + "{0:.2f}".format(float(json.loads(r.text)['data']['last']['value'])) + "/Doge"
# return priceStr

def getDogePriceStr():
 URL = 'http://api.vaultofsatoshi.com/public/recent_transactions?order_currency=doge&payment_currency=usd&count=1' #fetches data I want
 r = requests.get(URL)
 priceStr = "$" + "{0:.6f}".format(float(json.loads(r.text)['data'][0]['price']['value'])) + "/Doge" #uses json to parse text to find price value
 return priceStr

def getBitcoinPriceCampBX():
 URL = 'http://campbx.com/api/xticker.php'
 r = requests.get(URL)
 priceStr = "$" + "{0:.2f}".format(float(json.loads(r.text)['Last Trade'])) + "/BTC"
 return priceStr

def displayStuff():
 LCD.write('\x0E\x0C') #clears display
 ipaddr = run_cmd(cmd)
 LCD.write(datetime.now().strftime('%b %d %H:%M:%S\n'))
 LCD.write('\x10\x0D') #2nd line on display
 LCD.write('IP %s' % ( ipaddr ))
 time.sleep(8) #pause 8 seconds

outStringDoge = getDogePriceStr()
 outStringCampBX = getBitcoinPriceCampBX()
 LCD.write(outStringDoge + " VoS")
 LCD.write(outStringCampBX + " CampBX")

 print "Error"

def resetTimeTest(self): #function called by interrupt in another thread (requires timeTest to be global to still use here?)
 global timeTest
 timeTest = 38
 #print "hello"

LCD.open() #initialization stuff
LCD.write('\x0E\x0C') #clears display \x0C #LCD.write("whatever")
LCD.write("hello & welcome lostengineer")

GPIO.add_event_detect(sensorPin, GPIO.RISING, callback=resetTimeTest, bouncetime=40) #interrupt for PIR sensor

while 1:

 if(timeTest > 0):
 displayStuff() #display isn't asleep until time runs out. time is reset to 10m (38) or whatever by PIR sensor if motion is detected


timeTest = timeTest - 1
 sleep(1) #this main loop runs on a 1s basis with displayStuff() taking 16s during every call.


There are a couple other things you need to do to make everything work.

  1. Make Python executable with $ sudo chmod +x pythonscript.py
  2. Run script as root or it can’t access the serial port $ sudo ./pythonscript.py
  3. Disable boot crap output on serial port on startup
  4. Setup script to autorun on startup

Mining Dogecoin

This is a GPU miner I built to mine Dogecoin several months ago. The main components are the GPU’s, and this rig ended up containing 4 R9 290’s.

Max hash rate was around 3.4KH/s, but unfortunately this rig was stolen! I had it running in the X-Labs hackerspace room at USF and someone stole it in the middle of the night (door was accidentally left unlocked). This has been a big setback for me as this rig cost upwards of 2.5k to build along with many hours of my time.

I’m slowly constructing another mining rig and general purpose server out of older parts sourced from Craigslist. That rig is almost complete, but won’t be able to mine nearly as much as my first rig.

Hopefully I’ll be able to write some tutorials or an ebook for setting up mining rigs of this sort soon.


Welcome to lostengineer.com!

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Head over to the About page for more info. Otherwise, stay a while and build something.

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