Sunday, March 26, 2017

Xiegu X-108G HF "Go Bag"

Over the winter I purchased a Xiegu X-108G HF transceiver for portable operations. I have an Elecraft KX-1 which is fantastic for "CW Only" operations but a lot of times I like the ability to do SSB and also operate more bands than the KX-1 covers.

I wrote a little about the X-108G earlier in my Winter Field Day post. The basic info is it covers 160M to 10M (AM, SSB, and CW) and has power output which is adjustable from 0.1W to 20W. In my opinion reliable SSB operation usually needs more than 5W and I find that 15W or so works really well.


The photo above shows the "guts" of the portable station. Major items are as follows:
*I plan to put some sort of rubber or foam ring around the two buttons on the tuner. I did not notice any problems today but I don't want the pack to hold them down and drain the battery while traveling.

These three items are all mounted to a thin piece of masonite peg board, maybe 1/8" thick,  using nylon zip ties. The tuner is attached to the radio with Velcro for ease of accessing the battery.

This method with the zip ties isn't especially pretty but I've found that an awful lot of my projects spend their lives in "beta test" mode as I constantly tweak and tinker with the designs trying to achieve the elusive "just right" configuration. The reason for the corners of the masonite being chopped off will be obvious shortly.


Everything I need to go portable fits in a small backpack with the exception of my collapsible 28-foot kite pole. The top of the pack I chose is slightly rounded so I trimmed the masonite base so it would fit easily. Although it might be possible, I don't plan to operate the radio in the pack. With higher power comes more heat. I spaced the radio up off the board to provide some airflow but being inside the pack would prevent that from doing any good. Besides I need to get to the antenna connector on the tuner.


Here's the station all buttoned up and ready to travel. The outside pockets of the pack hold the X108G's microphone, a small set of paddles, a 9:1 unun and wire for the antenna. There's also a small notebook, pen/pencil, and a pocket knife for "field repairs" if needed. 

A 25ft length of RG-58 is coiled and attached to the outside with velcro. That length coax provides an adequate counterpoise for the antenna. The coax will actually fit in a thin pocket that is the same size as the entire pack. I ended up putting it on the outside because it was just a lot easier. 

This afternoon when I was trying things out in the back yard with a 30ft wire I was able to get a low SWR on 40, 30, 20, 17, and 15 Meters. The WPX contest was going on and I made contacts on 40 and 20 Meters without any problems.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Ozarkcon 2017 Is Nearly Here!





Each year the Four State QRP Group puts on a QRP convention called Ozarkcon in scenic Branson, MO. This year's event will be held April 7-8, 2017.

Ozarkcon is a great, relaxed time. It has a swap meet, a day of presentations, build-a-thon, etc. to keep the fun pumping. Branson has plenty to do for spouses or kids not interested in QRP and best of all since it's "off season", room rates, etc. are very reasonable.

More info on the Qzarkcon Web Page.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Monday, March 06, 2017

My Humble Station

I'm not sure why but it seems every time I post here, on Facebook, etc. someone always contacts me and wants to know about my station. It isn't bare bones but considering I've been at this for 40 years now I still think it's modest but functional. Note there are no VHF/UHF FM items listed here. I change those too often and in general I think they are mostly a matter of which one you like the looks of the best. HF is my favorite part of amateur radio.

Here goes:

Radios & Antennas

  • - Icom IC-7200
  • - Ameritron AL-811H (seldom used) 800W amplifier
  • - Palstar AT-1K Manual Tuner
  • - 80 Meter Inverted V w/Balanced Line feed.


  • - Xiegu X108G Portable HF Transceiver (20W)
  • - Elecraft T-1 Autotuner
  • - End fed wires & 28 ft Jackite collabsible kite pole
  • - Buddipole


  • - Elecraft KX-1 Really Portable QRP Transceiver (40/30/20 Meters)
  • - End fed wires


  • - Assorted novelty rigs (Heath HW-8, Pixie, Rockmite)

Computers and Software

  • - Windows 10 Desktop, Windows 7 Laptop
  • - N3FJP Amateur Contact Log and Contest Logs
  • - FLDigi for most digital modes
  • - WSJT-X for JT65

No, this isn't every piece of gear I own but it's the major stuff. I have a few odd small tuners and accessories tucked away here and there along with some test equipment but I'm too lazy to get all of that out and inventory it. By and large these are the things I use regularly.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The Pixie Lives On!

I remember being all excited years ago with the notion of a 40 Meter transceiver kit that could be had for the princely sum of about $15.00US! I recall buying the kit but never built it. I let it age on a shelf near my bench and ultimately sold it at a hamfest.

Pixie II Kit




















Well, a few years have gone by and the venerable Pixie lives on but in an updated version. While most ham gear has gone up in price the Pixie has actually gained an enclosure and gone down in price. You can buy an assembled Pixie in a case on eBay for around $8.00US as I write this. Oh, that price includes shipping by the way.

Chinese Pixie


















In theory, one could claim that if you changed the crystal to somewhere a Technician has 40M HF privileges, added a simple dipole tuned for the Pixie's crystal frequency, an inexpensive key, 9V battery, and some earbuds a person who puts in the effort to learn Morse Code could get on HF for under $15.00US. While that's technically true I absolutely do not advise this as a plan to get into ham radio cheaply. The reality of the situation is that operating a very lower power transceiver on a single frequency with little to no CW skills and experience would be, in my opinion, a recipe for frustration and disappointment.

None of that of course means you shouldn't get a Pixie. If you have some modest skills or a couple of friends who live nearby it could be a lot of fun. If your operating skills are up for it you can probably make a lot of contacts.

I mentioned changing the crystal. The Pixie comes with a frequency of 7.023 MHz which is in the US Extra Class allocation. While you could certainly operate there as an Extra I'd recommend you switch it out to the more common 7.030 MHz QRP "watering hole" or even move up the band to around 7.122 MHz where there's quite a bit of slower speed CW activity. Things are a lot more casual there.

As for the crystals, one supplier I've had great success with, and who has great prices, is KC9ON's 3rd Planet Solar site. He sells crystals on many of the common frequencies for just a $1.00US each and ships very fast.

73,

Tim N9PUZ


Monday, February 27, 2017

Wire Antenna Confusion

I see a lot of misleading comments about antenna wires fed at their ends. Perhaps I can clear up some of the confusion.

There is a general category of antennas that are "end fed wires". These consist of two basic types. First is the EFHW (End Fed Half Wave) antenna. As its name suggests it is a half wave long and is normally only usable on a single band. It requires a small matching network in most cases. The EFHW design isn't quite as obvious as it sounds. Steve Yates AA5TB does an excellent job of explaining the End Fed Half Wave Antenna.

The second common type of end fed wire antenna, and one I usually use for portable operations, is the Random Wire Antenna. The name of this one is confusing. First off, it is not exactly a random length and second of all you definitely DO NOT want it to be an actual have wavelength long on any of the bands where you want to operate. The reason for this when you feed a half wave long wire at its end the impedance is very high compared to the 50 Ohms we typically want. Most internal radio tuners and many external tuners cannot bring this high impedance down to 50 Ohms which will result in an SWR that is too high for most radios. My choosing a length of wire that is NOT a half wave long on any band where you will operate a good match is more likely. The following article describes how the author calculates good wire lengths and provides a hand chart that shows suggested lengths for different combinations of bands. Mike AB3AP's Random Wire Lengths.







One small tuner that works very well for these random length wires is the MFJ-16010. It's small so I like it for portable operation and you often see them for very reasonable prices at hamfests.








73,

Tim N9PUZ

Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Autotuner - Elecraft T-1

Well, Elecraft has been making the T-1 for some time now. I just recently added this little 20W model to my portable setup.


The MFJ-16010 I normally use for portable work is a great little tuner. However, not only is the T-1 smaller it can probably tune a lot faster than I can manually.

Elecraft claims it can even tune in both CW and SSB mode. As soon as I have the proper cables made up for the Xiegu X108G I'll have a full report.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Winter Field Day 2017 and Portable HF


Winter Field Day 2017
This year I and several friends from the Sangamon Valley Radio Club participated in Winter Field Day from the Clayville Historic Site west of Springfield, IL. Not only was it a chance to get outdoors with friends but it was the first field test of a new HF radio and LiFePO4 battery pack for me.

..........

I recently bought a Xiegu X108G HF rig for portable HF operating. They are readily available from several suppliers on Amazon.com. It works great as a QRP radio but also allows up to 20W of power if you desire. I love pure QRP operation with CW but with its broader bandwidth requirements 10-15W SSB seems a lot more practical. No, I'm not a purist. I just enjoy operating outdoors.

The X108G is fairly small. Here's a quick comparison to my IC-7200. Sorry for the mess. This was taken the day I unpacked the radio.


The X108G has a small but clear and bright LCD with all the pertinent information clearly shown. Along the right side where you SQL, CMP, and SWR it displays "soft" labels for the corresponding function buttons F1 - F4 to the right.


For Winter Field Day and most of my portable operating I use an end fed wire supported by a 28-foot tall fiberglass pole. For this outing I drove a piece of angle into the ground.



I use Velcro straps to secure the pole in place. There is no picture of the wire going to the top of the pole. You can't see it because it is so thin.


Here's an antenna photo before deployment. You can buy it ready made from the Emergency Amateur Radio Club of Hawaii or you can download the documentation free of charge and make your own.





Here's the rest of the "station". From left to right are 1) The X108G transceiver, a Bioenno Power 9AH LiFePO4 lightweight battery, and a manual MFJ-10610 antenna matcher.


On this particular day I chose to operate from the car because it was cold and windy. You can see from the components that it would be just as easy to toss the items in a small pack for hiking, SOTA, etc. or do "picnic table portable".

73,

Tim N9PUZ



Monday, October 05, 2015

The Art of Electronics


I read in a newsletter today that the Third Edition of the classic Art of Electronics is out. This is a "must have" reference for anyone serious about electronics in general. While it does not cover many RF topics if you had only this book and a copy of the ARRL Handbook you would have a pretty awesome reference library at your fingertips.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Hellschreibner Digital

Last night was a first for me. Even after all these years in Amateur Radio.

Last week my Friend Mitch K9ZXO gave a presentation on the digital mode Hellschreibner at the Sangamon Valley Radio Club. I'd heard of Hellschreibner or "Hell" as it's affectionately known, but had never given it a try. Well this weekend I made sure my copy of the FLDIGI software was up to date and Sunday evening Mitch and I had a Hell QSO on 20 Meters. Woot!


Unlike other digital modes a decoded Hellschreibner signal is displayed as a picture on your screen as is shown in this Wikipedia image. This gives Hell a unique flavor that is really intriguing and takes advantage of that awesome Digital Signal Processor that sits between your ears under weak or noisy signal conditions.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thoughts on Backups

The last few weeks seem to have brought a lot of, sometimes confusing, information about backing up your computer. I don't think it should be as complicated as so many authors make it seem. Here's my take on things...

We live in a digital world. Most things that are important to our family either came to us digitally or we've scanned into digital format. Much of our lives and memories live on an inexpensive, cheaply made hard drive spinning at 7200 rpm.

Scenario #1: Computers or one of their components will periodically break. That means you need to have a second copy of anything stored there that's important to you.

Scenario #2: Crooks can break into your home or office and steal your stuff. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fire, etc. are all possibilities you should consider. If you do have a copy of your important data it should be somewhere other than where your computer is located so it doesn't get stolen or destroyed by the same disaster that got the computer.

In Scenario #1 it is more likely that the disk drive will break than other failures. In this case it is nice to have an image backup so you can put in a new disk, restore the image, and be back where you left off without having to reinstall your operating system, application programs, data, etc. If it is NOT the disk drive that fails and you'll have to buy a new computer or motherboard the image won't do you much good since it's specific to the configuration of your old computer. You have a lot of reinstalling ahead of you but you should not have lost any information.

In Scenario #2 you or your insurance carrier will be buying a new computer. All of your important data was stored elsewhere so although it may be inconvenient, you haven't lost anything and you can restore it.

Please note: In any situation where you will have to reinstall application programs you need to have made copies of the originals along with the product keys, serial numbers, etc. If you copy those installation files, scanned copies of your invoice, license keys, etc. and store them in a folder on your hard drive they will be backed up along with all of your other important stuff. The one thing you do need to have separately (and off-site) is your operating system installation disks and information. This mainly applies to those of you who build your own computers. Most off the shelf computers come with the OS pre-installed if you have to buy a new one.

My recomendations?

I use an external USB hard drive and use a program such as Macrium Reflect or Acronis True Image to make a fresh image backup once a month. I also subscribe to a service called Crashplan which backs up data on an ongoing basis. It makes copies to the external USB hard disk, another computer on my home network, and off-site to Crashplan's cloud storage. You don't have to do anything specific, it just works all on it's own.

There are other products that do similar things to what Macrium and Crashplan offer. I'm sure that many are good products. These were what I used first and they have never let me down so I haven't explored others.

I know a lot of people will think this is a lot of trouble or that none of this can ever happen to them. Well, I'm sorry, you're wrong. It happens to people all over the world every single day.


Friday, February 20, 2015

What's the Difference Between Resistance and Impedance?

I was reading a Facebook discussion today and there was a lot of confusion between resistance and impedance. Someone was trying to measure a speaker with an ohmmeter and didn't understand why his "8 Ohm Speaker" measured less than 8 Ohms. One reply posted this link which I thought was pretty good...

Difference Between Resistance and Impedance

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

W9DUA D-STAR Repeater Update

A few days ago some Sangamon Valley Radio Club members and other friends from the central Illinois area got the gateway computer for W9DUA/R up and running again. The repeater is permanently linked to REF051 so it's tied together with D-STAR repeaters in Decatur and Bloomington. If you have D-STAR capability please tune up the machine nearest you and say hello to central Illinois hams!

5 Million Raspberry Pi Computers

I read earlier today that the Raspberry Pi Foundation reported than over 5 Million Raspberry Pi computers have now been sold. This number supposedly includes only true sales and does not include the number that have been given away for educational and philanthropic reasons.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Raspberry Pi and Arduino Tech Night

On Thursday, March 5, 2015 the Sangamon Valley Radio Club is hosting a "Show and Tell" evening that will focus on uses of the Arduino and Raspberry Pi single board computers that you've seen mentioned in Amateur Radio and Maker publications. The meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. The location is:

American Red Cross Building
1045 Outer Park Dr.
Springfield, Illinois 62704-4408

An specific agenda is not yet finalized. There will be a presentation on considerations for applying devices such as these to an application and several SVRC members will be describing and demonstrating experiments they have been working with on their own. If anyone has an Arduino or Raspberry Pi project of your own you are welcome to bring it and share your story as well.

The SVRC will be supplying some light refreshments at the event. As such, if you are not an SVRC member, we ask that you please let us know that you will be coming just so we can get a rough head count.

There is no charge to attend.

If you plan to attend, please send an email to Roger K9LJB at:
president@svrc.org so we can plan for the refreshments.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Web Site Update

I've made a few edits to the EMCOMM Email Via Radio In Sangamon County, Illinois page on the main web site. In recent times the Byonics TT4 Tracker/KISS Mode TNC has become one of the dominant TNC types in the Amateur world. Just trying to keep people pointed in an appropriate direction.

Find out more or buy a TT4 at the Byonics web page



Friday, April 20, 2012

eBook Utilities













Do you have an iPad? Kindle? Nook? Another tablet? Besides the obvious things you can do with these handy tools they are a great place to store your own notes, documents, etc. Recently I discovered a program called Calibre which lets you convert between the various eBook formats and can also take an HTML document and create an eBook from it.

A lot of these devices can display PDF files so why bother with making an eBook? Well, the biggest reason is that an eBook can be re-sized, etc. and your documents can have all of the handy features of the other documents you download or purchase.

Check out Calibre, it's worth a look.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Housekeeping

I went back and corrected some typos in earlier posts and edited the first post to include links to the Yahoo Group where the amplifier is discussed and supported. Now, back to the workbench!

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Surface Mount Components

I've made a little more progress on the amplifier. About 10 more capacitors were added before my eyes got tired. I quit before messing anything up.

I got an email asking about using "surface mount" components. There are lots of articles about this technology on the web. This one, What is SMT Surface Mount Technology from Radio-Electronics is a good beginning if you are unfamiliar with it.

The smallest SMT parts used in the WA2EUJ Amplifier are what's called an "1206" package. This designation means that the part is 0.12 inches long and 0.06 inches wide. That seems tiny but other common, but even smaller sizes are 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201! Realistically, while using anything is possible I suppose, I think the 0805 is the smallest most hobbyists would easily deal with. The 1206 is definitely more "middle aged eye friendly."

There are techniques for hobbyists to use old electric skillets, hot plates, and toaster ovens along with something called 'solder paste' to mount SMT parts. I chose to use a traditional soldering iron and hand solder my board. I don't build a lot of projects that use SMT parts and I didn't want to gear up to do lots of SMT work for this one item.

Below is a photo of one component that's been hand soldered onto the board. It probably has a bit more solder than is necessary but frankly the soldering wasn't so ugly that I'd be embarrassed to share the photo!






















My process for hand soldering these components is as follows:
  • First I tin the pads on the PCB with a tiny amount of solder.
  • Next I use a piece of solder wick or a 'solder sucker' to remove the solder from the pads leaving a thin smooth layer.
  • Then using tweezers I set the SMT part across the pads (be sure to observe any polarity on parts like capacitors or diades that have them.)
  • While holding the part down with the tip of the tweezers touch the soldering iron to one end of the part and the solder pad at the same time to re-flow the solder.
  • Go back and add a small amount of solder to each component lead so you have a good electrical and mechanical joint.
This sounds tedious but it really goes pretty quickly once you get into it. Be careful!!! If you drop one of these parts or squeeze it too tight with the tweezers you can easily launch it across the room. 0.08" and 0.05"? It's practically a waste of time looking for it unless your shop is a whole lot cleaner and less cluttered than mine.

That's it. Easy as pie if you take your time. I recommend using one of those magnifiers with a headband while you do this work. In general you should always wear eye protection when soldering. A blob of molten solder in your eye would really take the fun out of a project.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pictures of the Amplifier

Okay, the camera problems are resolved. Here are some initial photos to give an idea of the project.

First up is the PC board made available by the designer...














This heatsink is probably overkill for a 50W amplifier but the designer and most of the other builders have used it successfully. Can an amplifier be too cool?














Finally, here's a sampling of the parts that will be added. Not shown here I have actually started soldering the surface mount capacitors. More on that later.














73,

Tim N9PUZ

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Amplifier Construction Begins

Well, good news and bad news.

The heatsink arrived so I can take some real measurements for mounting, etc. and I've started slowly attaching surface mount parts to the printed circuit board. I'm taking pictures along the way however my digital camera has decided to not want to let me have them via the USB port. As soon as I fix that problem or come up with a card reader I'll post some "in progress" photos.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Project: WA2EUJ Amplifier

A couple of years back after a lot of research I took the plunge and bought a Flex 1500 Software Defined Radio. This QRP radio is a really fine machine and I enjoy it very much. Although I also like QRP operation there are times, especially on SSB, that a little more power would be nice.

WA2EUJ won the ARRL Home Brew contest a while back with a neat little 50W amplifier design. He has since updated the design to include filtering for 80-10 Meters and there is a professionally produced printed circuit board available for this updated version. I've decided to build this amplifier and will be documenting it here as a series of posts. I have the bulk of the parts on order and hope to begin as soon as the bench is cleaned off!

Update: January 15, 2012. Several people have asked about where more information can be found on the updated project. Current bill of materials, schematics, etc. are available on the ARRLHBC Yahoo Group. Several other projects are discussed there as well but the files section is a treasure trove of information about the PC board, tuning, etc.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Old Reliable UHF Connector. Is It Really?

One of my favorite blogs is that of KB6NU. He always offers up a good selection of interesting things found on the web and elsewhere. Today he mentioned this article which details some tests done on the common PL-259 connector designated a "UHF". Read more in the 'UHF' Connector Test Results.

73,

Tim N9PUZ

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Exploring USB Devices

The 9-pin or 25-pin D-Sub type serial port connector is going the way of the dinosaurs on most computers these days. Yet, the people who make add-on gadgets such as TNCs, antenna controllers, etc. still crank out products that require a serial port connection. Fortunately a lot of companies make USB-to-Serial converters. Some even make good ones.

I don't claim this is a scientific evaluation by any means. It is just my observation. While any USB-to-Serial converter may work in some cases it is my experience that those with an FTDI or Prolific chipset inside them will always work.

Anytime I buy a new USB-to-Serial adapter I try to buy one that tells me what chipset it uses. Then, if I have a choice, I usually get the FTDI variety mainly because they were some of the first ones I found to work well and they provide good support and information.

But what if you have a device and have no idea what it uses? Knowing the chipset manufacturer may help you troubleshoot a problem. Microsoft has a neat little utility circa 1968 called USB Viewer. It will show you all of the USB controllers and hubs in your system plus in most cases it will identify whose chipset is inside them and even what model chipset in some cases. In the picture below I've plugged in an adapter with a Prolific chipset.


This utility is available free. Download USB View from the FTDI Website

Happy hunting!

73,

Tim N9PUZ