January 31, 2012

Famous Quotation: Reading

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body" - Tatler, March 18, 1710

We love this observation and couldn't agree more.  This is a timeless truth which remains unchanged by our high-tech on-line world.

January 30, 2012

Logbook of The World to Now Support CQ Awards

The ARRL and CQ Communications, Inc have signed an agreement to begin providing support for CQ-sponsored operating awards by the ARRL’s Logbook of the World LoTW electronic confirmation system.  The target for phase in of the CQ awards is April 1, 2012.

This is very exciting news for hams especially those who have already made the leap to the LoTW.  In network economics, the value of belong to a network is directly related to the size of that network.  This means that the LoTW users will enjoy more and more value as the number of hams susing LoTW increases.  CQ awards will definately increase the popularity of this wonderful system.

We are looking forward to expanding our award pursuits to include the CQ awards and seeing an increasing number of confirmations via LoTW.  If you haven't joined the LoTW, now is a great time to do so.

The ARRL announcement provides additional details regarding the agreement.

Check out related articles on NJ2X.COM:

January 29, 2012

Project: Anderson Powerpole to 2.1mm Connector Pigtail

When building our KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit we realized after starting that we lacked the necessary power 2.1mm connector to supply 12v to the power jack.

From a design standpoint we decided to construct an Anderson Powerpole to 2.1mm connector pigtail.  This was a natural choice since we previously converted our radios and cabling to Anderson Powerpoles.  A 2.1mm connector to Anderson Powerpoles will give us maximum flexibility to move the radio from one power source to the next (e.g. battery, car power, shack power supply, bench power supply, ....).  The commercially available Anderson PowerPole to 2.1mm cable costs at the time of this writing about $5.00 plus shipping. 

We decided it would be more ecconomical and far more fun to build the pigtail cable ourselves.  A home-brew cable would also give us an opportunity to incorporate a few improvements in design over the commercially available cable.
One of the improvements we wanted to include on the cable was an RF choke.  We decided to add a ferrite (from the junkbox) to the pigtail to help minimize RF travelling over the power cable.  This would potentially be useful when running the radio from a car or other noisy source.

Pigtail construction in progress with ferrite bead
To protect the ferrite bead and assure the wire loop would stay nice and tight we added heat-shrink tubing around it.  We also added a section of heat shrink tubing to the end next to the Anderson Powerpole connector as a strain relief and to dress the cable nicely.

Finished 2.11mm to Anderson Powerpole Pigtail with ferrite bead for RF supression
After completing the wiring we ran a quick series of continuity tests with our multimeter to verify that the cable was fully functioning and without any shorts or other defects.  For our project, we needed the 2.1mm center to be positive.
The final product came out really looking and functioning perfectly and cost very little.  Having a completed cable enabled us to continue on building and testing our KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit - Step 2: Audio Amplifier.

By Michael W. Maher (NJ2X)
Other related articles on NJ2X.COM:

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

January 28, 2012

Brain Game Kit - Velleman

In this article, KC2VSR builds another of the inexpensive and fun Velleman kits: The Brain Game.  Nothing better in the winter than father and son time in the workshop building something.  NJ2X had to put down the soldering iron and take a break from working on the KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit to give KC2VSR a shot at this Christmas kit.

The Brain Game Kit has a lot of great attributes as a kit for young people or anyone just learning to solder.
  • Discrete through-the-hole parts (much easier to solder than surface mount components)
  • LEDs  (blinking lights = fun factor)
  • Sound (bleeps = fun factor)
  • Its a functional game (once built everyone wants to try it)
  • Attractive hand-held device to show off the builder's skill
First step in approaching any new kit is to read the instructions.  The Velleman graphic design instructions are so much better for kids than step-by-step text instructions.  Very little coaching of the builder was required.

Velleman instructions are light on text though very visual and helpful
The ritual of inspecting, identifying, and laying out the components is an important part of the kit building experience.  Our builder chose to group LEDs, semiconductors, resistors, switches, and "other".  Simple and fun process that yields learning at the same time.

Always fun to inspect and layout all the interesting parts when starting a new kit

The building went very smoothly without any errors.  Things to watch out for include reversing the orientation of the semiconductors (diodes, transistor, or integrated circuit).

The Brain Game Kit about 50% built
After soldering the last component in place, we inspected all the joints looking for defects such as solder bridges or cold solder joints.  None were found - nice job!  We then used rubbing alcohol and Q-tips to remove the excess flux from the board.

KC2VSR demonstrating soldering technique

KC2VSR was so excited to power up the kit and collected three AA batteries.  Two of the batteries were from the "new battery storage" and the last two remaining.  Rats!  KC2VSR scrounged up one more from somewhere.  All three batteries were put into the kit's battery pack and the LED's came on.  Good sign.  After a few moments of button pushing and blinking lights it was apparent that the kit was not functioning.  Rats again!

A Teachable Moment
One of the skills that hams and kit builders need is the ability to diagnose and correct problems (not a bad skill to have in life too).  The non-functioning kit presented an nice opportunity to grow this skill.  We went through the following checks together:
  • Are the parts installed in the correct orientation?
    • Yes, no issue with part installation.
  • Are there any soldering defects (bridges or cold joints)?
    • No, a double check again showed confirmed all was soldered correctly.
Well what else could it be?  The LED's were bright so battery didn't seem likely.  If the batteries were dimly lit then perhaps.  Well that is an interesting potential failure though.
  • Are the batteries good?
    • We powered up our digital volt meter and selected the 2v range and checked each of the 3 batteries independently.
      • 1st = 1.4v
      • 2nd = 1.4v
      • 3rd = 0.75v
      • The 3rd was a bad battery and the one scrounged.  Physical inspection also found light traces of alkaline leaking through.  This battery had definitely seen better days.
KC2VSR immediately went scrounging again for a 3rd "good" AA battery.  Digging around in the battery storage area yielded one last AA hidden in the back.  With great anticipation it was slipped into the battery case..... and VOILA the kit worked!

Finished Brain Game Kit
After a short celebration and a few whoops and high-fives, KC2VSR and NJ2X commenced with playing several rounds of the brain game in the work shop.  The game is a lot of fun and is similar to the old Simon game from the 80's.  The object is to repeat a sequenced pattern presented by the game by pushing one of four buttons in the correct order.  The sequence is built up incrementally.  The brain game has 20 levels of difficulty which keeps the player interested and challenged.

This kit reinforced learning in several ways:
  • Component identification
  • Soldering skill
  • Troubleshooting
  • Following instructions
  • Lesson learned: always use fresh batteries when testing a kit for the first time.
If you are interested in building this The Brain Game Kit yourself or giving it to a new builder, you can buy these on-line or in stores that are Velleman dealers.

73, NJ2X

By Michael W. Maher

Be sure to checkout our related articles:
Project: Wheel Of Fortune Kit (Velleman)
3D Xmas Tree Kit - Velleman
Soldering 101

January 27, 2012

What can you do with an oscilloscope?

This is an oscilloscope:
Tektronix Type 422 Oscilloscope
An oscilloscope is a test instrument that displays a graph of voltage verses time which allows the user to visualize electronic waveforms. The vertical axis displays voltage and the horizontal axis is time. Modern oscilloscopes are either analog or digital. It is a must-have piece of equipment for experimenting or working on electronics and very useful to radio amateurs in general.

So what can  you do with an oscilloscope?
  • You can determine how the voltage of a signal changes with respect to time.
  • You can calculate the frequency and period of a waveform.
  • You can test for malfunctioning components causing signal distortion.
  • You can measure a DC voltage in a circuit.
  • You can find what component of a signal is direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC).
  • You can tell how much of the signal is noise and whether the noise is changing with time.
  • You can attach a transducer and measure all manner of phenomena.
  • You can create Lissajous figures.
  • You can measure the timing of events having very brief durations.
  • You can visualize signals.
  • You can build a scope clock.
  • You can check a DC power supply for AC leakage due to a bad capacitor.
  • You can test to determine if components in a circuit are functioning correctly (resistors, capacitors, inductors, and semiconductors).
  • You can measure the phase shift between two sinusoidal signals.
  • You can measure the RMS value of a noise signal.
  • You can use an oscilloscope as a very cool prop in a play or movie.
  • And so much more....

See related articles on NJ2X.COM:
Oscilloscope School
Soldering 101

January 24, 2012

Oscilloscope School

The New Jersey Antique Radio Club held an Oscilloscope School in March, 2011.  The club recorded this excellent 2 hr 21 minute program and provided an on-line textbook.

  • Part 1: History of Oscilloscopes, by Al Klase, Technical Coordinator for NJARC
  • Part 2: Basics of Oscilloscopes, by Alan Wolke (W2AEW), Application Engineer at Tektronix Corporation (begins at 15 min. 42 sec. into the program)
  • Part 3: A Brief History of Oscilloscope Tubes, by Nevell Greenough (begins at 2 hr. 13 min. 35 sec. into the program.)
This is a first rate presentation regarding oscilloscopes and we highly recommend it to anyone interested in this versatile piece of test equipment.

See related articles on NJ2X.COM:

January 21, 2012

HRD DM780 Calling Macro

One of the things we enjoy about digital modes is automating repetitive tasks like calling.  One trick we like to use in certain situations is to call for stations in specific locations.  This is particularly useful when looking for those final one or two states to complete the ARRL WAS or Triple Play awards.

By calling for specific locations you may just entice a reply from state you need who would have otherwise not responded.  In this example, we are calling for NJ stations.

        CQ NJ CQ NJ CQ NJ de NJ2X pse kn

It doesn't always work and you will definitely get responses from hams outside of your target location.  However, this approach does pay off from time-to-time.

What does not work particularly well, some would say it is even annoying, is to call with a very long list.  For example:

        CQ AK AL AR CA CT DE FL GA ID IA ....

This is simply too verbose to work well.  Better to simply call the band since there is a good probability you will make contact with a station on the list no matter who answers.

Here is our Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) DM780 macro that we created for calling specific locations.  Just copy paste into your own macro and edit with the locations you are targetting.

#   Short CQ DX call for CA and HI station, stops TX when all text sent.
CQ CA, HI CQ CA, HI de <my:callsign> <my:callsign>
CQ CA, HI CQ CA, HI de <my:callsign> <my:callsign>
PSE K <stop>

Related articles on NJ2X.COM:
HRD DM780 - variations of the 73 macro
HRD DM780 Macros: Curse or Blessing?
HRD DM780 Calling Macro

January 19, 2012

KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit - Step 1: Power Supply Circuit

This is the 3rd in a series of articles on building the KN-Q7A Single Band 40m SSB Transceiver Kit.  In this article we proceed to build the first step - the Power Supply Circuit.

Before starting we organized the bag of parts provided in the kit into a plastic bin grouping parts into general categories.  This will make it easier to locate specific parts during construction.  It will also contain the parts and help prevent them from being lost on the bench.

KN-Q7A parts sorted

We followed the step-by-step instructions and installed the parts making up the power supply.

KN-Q7A with power supply parts installed

The final step was a test to verify the power supply circuit is functioning by measuring the voltage output.  We passed the test the first time with an output voltage of 7.91V which was within the acceptable tolerance (target is 8V).  So far so good and we are having fun too!

One of the take-aways from this stage was that we do not have the appropriate power plug for the kit's power jack.  We were able to work around this by powering up with alligator clips.  To prepare for the remaining stages we will order the plug.

In the next installment we will proceed with building Step 2: Audio Amplifier .

Other related articles on NJ2X.COM:

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

January 18, 2012

Ab Absurdo - Robbing Paul

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
-- George Bernard Shaw

January 17, 2012

KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit - Opening The Package

This is the 2nd article in a series on building the KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit.  We were very excited to see the kit arrive in the mail.  The kit was packaged in a padded envelope.  The outside of the package had various stamps and customs declarations.
We were so excited to receive this in the mail we forgot to take a picture BEFORE opening it.
Inside the mailer were the microphone and a very durable metal project box.  The box itself will become the housing for the transceiver kit.  All the components and the circuit board were stored safetly inside the project box.  We are impressed with this packaging design since it reduces the possibility of damage to delicate parts.

We used a screw driver to remove four screws securing a metal plate to the end of the box and found the circuit board, compontents, screws, and faceplates predrilled and silkscreened.  Everthing was neatly and efficiently packed.

A single page overview of the kit was included in the package as well.  This sheet provided current information and instructions on how to download the kit manual.  We followed the link and downloaded and printed the 25 page manual, a template, and parts list.  Some people are opposed to reading manuals.  We would not recommend such an approach for a kit with over 200 components! 

We spent some time in a comfortable chair and carefully read all the material in preparation.  The manual seemed thorough enough and included step-by-step instructions, pictures, as well as theory of operation.  The kit is built in stages and includes function tests at the end of each stage.  We really appreciate this approach and it also helps with understanding how the stages work together to form the transceiver.

In our next installment, we begin construction with KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit - Step 1: Power Supply Circuit .

Other related articles on NJ2X.COM:

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

January 15, 2012

Ayn Rand - The Property Status of Airwaves

We recently re-read an essay by Ayn Rand called, "The Property Status of Airwaves" which she originally published in April of 1964.  It also appeared in Ayn Rand's book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.  It is a thought provoking piece and worth hunting down a copy of the book to read.

In her essay, Rand argues that the radio spectrum are not "public" property as it is treated today but rather property that should be returned to private ownership as with any other scarce resource (mineral deposits, oil fields, ...).  Property rights form the basis of all other rights.

Ayn Rand
Rand points out that the government incorrectly claimed ownership of the airwaves at the dawn of radio thereby nationalizing the resource and simultaneously introducing several problems.  Among these are the distortionary effects of wielding power in the undefinable "public interest". 

Public interest is inevitably used to justify government actions including censorship in conflict with the 1st amendment of the constitution.  Additionally, government bureaucrats are imperfect people and subject to influence and corruption.  Public interest therefore becomes discretionary power which people and corporations seek to influence in order to gain special favors (e.g. protect against more capable competitors).

Rand offers a solution to these problems:
  • Return government to its role of enforcing private property rights and get out of the business of ownership, regulation, and dictating "public interest" with respect to the radio spectrum.
  • Return the radio spectrum to private ownership by auction off the spectrum to the highest bidder (i.e. ownership not licenses).
  • Allow the free market to maximize the utility of the radio spectrum. 
Our copy of "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" was first published in 1967 and includes many interesting essays by Ayn Rand and other authors like Alan Greenspan.  Winter is our favorite time of the year for indoor activities like amateur radio, building electronics, and reading.  If you enjoy ideas that challenge your own thinking then definately give this book a read.

January 14, 2012

KN-Q7A Single Band SSB Transceiver Kit - New Arrival

We recently ordered a new 40m single sideband (SSB) transceiver kit for the purpose of being the focus of our bench time in the shop this winter.  The kit is the KN-Q7A single band SSB transceiver by Adam Rong, BD6CR/4. 

KN-Q7A Kit

Adam launched his new website CRKits in December 2011.  The website includes complete documentation and pricing information.  The current price for the kit is $115 plus $25 shipping to the US.  Kits can be purchased from Adam directly or through distributors.

We had been considering various kits over the last few months.  We decided on this kit for several reasons:
  • Low cost
  • Compact for portable use (153 mm x 97 mm x 40 mm)
  • Discrete through the hole parts (except for 1 surface mount part)
  • Manual well thought out
  • 40m SSB phone operation
  • 10 Watts
  • Nice looking finished product
  • Challenging kit with a healthy parts count (200)
  • Positive comments posted various places on the Internet
The one downside is the lack of an automatic gain control (AGC) in the design.  This limits the use of the radio to an external speaker.  Our preference would be headphones; however, audio transients without a AGC through headphones could result in hearing damage.  We decided we could live without the AGC given the other desirable attributes of the transceiver.

Now that the kit has arrived we are eager to start the project.  We plan to write a series of articles for NJ2X.COM reporting our progress and sharing our lessons learned as we bring the radio to life.  Next we dive into the project by opening the package and reviewing the contents.

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

January 13, 2012

9th UK DX RTTY Contest 2012

The 9th UK DX RTTY Contest 2012 (UK-DX-RTTY) will start time at 12:00 UTC on Saturday 14.01.2012.  Ending time at 12:00 UTC on Sunday 15.01.2012.

The rules and other information can be found at http://www.ukdx.srars.org/ website.

January 11, 2012

Powerful DX Hunting Accessories - Your Ears

Your most power DX hunting accessories are your ears.  Your ears can provide you with a great deal of information about the signal itself (beyond the message being transmitted).  With practice a DX'er can learn to identify mode, location, distance, propagation, tuning, and many other useful bits of information by simply listening.  Amazingly, your ears and brain are also powerful filters.

Another useful accessory is a pair of headphones.  Speakers are great when listening to broadcast stations though not as effective for DX'ing.  Headphones are superior to speakers for DX hunting.  Remember, you are searching for those weak stations down in the noise.   Over the ear headphones also isolate your ears from the ambient noise in the room and block out distractions.

One consideration is the use of headphone on gear lacking an automatic gain control (AGC).  A loud static crash or nearby powerful station while working a weak signal can cause a sudden increase in volume that could hurt your ears when using headphones on a rig without an AGC.  If you have a rig without AGC then speakers are safer for your ears.  Lets all preserve our hearing.

WWII Tanker Helmet with integrated headphones
Comfort is very important since you will likely spend a great deal of time wearing the headphones.  Headphone fatigue can creep in after an extended period of use.  Spending a few extra dollars on comfort is definately worth the investment.

You do not necessarily need headphones with a very high frequency range since DX'ers tend to dial-in a fairly narrow range of audio frequencies.  In our opinion comfort is more important than frequency response when it comes to headphones for DX'ing.

We have found that headphones with a heavier cable and a well constructed plug last longer than the el-cheapo ones.  From time-to-time we accidently put the headphone cable to the test by attempting to walk away from the station with the phones still on.  It is worth a few extra dollars to go for quality construction as long as durability doesn't interfere with comfort.

Put those ears to work with a comfortable pair of headphones and listen for those weak stations that the others miss.

By Michael Maher (NJ2X)

January 10, 2012

What is the BEST DX Mode?

If you enjoy chasing DX you can increase your DX contacts by using, "the BEST DX mode".  Which mode is that you ask?  The BEST DX mode is.... all of them.  Hams around the world enjoy running different modes.  This means that if you confine yourself to only one or two modes then you risk excluding some potentially great contacts.  Add as many modes as you can to your repertoire and increase the opportunities to work DX.

By Michael Maher (NJ2X)

January 8, 2012

Ham Radio University 2012 - January 8

Ham Radio University 2012
Our 13th annual event!

Sunday, January 8, 2012
Briarcliffe College
1055 Stewart Ave
Bethpage, NY 11714

Spreading Ham Radio Knowledge and Know How
"A day of education to share ideas, experiences, knowledge and fellowship among Amateur Radio operators"
NJ2X Note: Ham Radio University is a wonderful event providing excellent learning opportunities for all interesting in amateur radio.  Hope to see you there for an "eyeball QSO"!

January 6, 2012

Amateur Radio Kids Day - January 8, 2012

Kids Day is an on-air event to encourage young people (licensed or not) to have fun with Amateur Radio. It is designed to give on-the-air experience to youngsters and hopefully foster interest in getting a license of their own. It is also intended to give older hams a chance to share their station and love for Amateur Radio with their children.

The traditional exchange for kids day is: name, age, location, and favorite color. Be sure to work the same station again if an operator has changed.  To draw attention, call “CQ Kids Day.”

  • Sunday, January 8, 2012
  • Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kids Day always runs from 1800 UTC through 2359 UTC. Operate as much or as little as you like.

We have enjoyed operating on kids day in year's past.  It has always been a lot of fun.  99% of the contacts have been very positive.  The best contacts have been with hams who are patient and encouraging to the youngsters (a.k.a Potential Future Hams).

We have encountered one or two not-so-patient and not-so-encouraging contacts.  These hams seemed to have not been aware of the kids day event nor understood the intent.  If you belong to an amateur radio club or net please pass the word about this year's kids day event.

January 5, 2012

Canadian War Museum

We recently had the opportunity to spend an afternoon visiting the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.  This is one of the finest museums of its kind.  The museum has an incredible collection of artifacts, photographs, and armaments.  The presentation incorporates personal stories woven into a timeline of conflicts.  Walking through the museum, one cannot help but be moved.

One of the first things that caught our attention as we approached the museum entrance were the odd windows.  On closer study we recognized that the windows were arranged in the distinct pattern of dits and dahs representing a message in Morse code.  We will leave it to the reader to decode the two messages one in English and the other in French.

The Canadian War Museum

Related article:

January 2, 2012

Benjamin Franklin's Timeless Advice

Much of good old Ben Franklin's advice is as relevant today as it was in colonial times.  Consider this timeless gem. It is certainly better than most run-of-the-mill new year's resolutions.

Either write something worth reading or do
 something worth writing. -- Benjamin Franklin

So what will you do this year?

Benjamin Franklin

January 1, 2012

World's Most Powerful Transmitter?

Recently we were operating and enjoying making contacts around the world on our HF station running 100 Watts of power. Pondering the wonder of doing so much with so little got us thinking about the opposite of QRP - extreme station power. What is or was the highest power radio station in the world?

We did a little research and learned that the Bolshakovo transmitter near Bolshakovo, Russia is credited as the most powerful mediumwave broadcasting station. This station gave a 2,500,000 Watt world-wide voice to the Voice of Russia on mediumwave (1116 kHz and 1386 kHz). The transmitter fed special cage antennas.

Like many other hams, we became enamoured with radio while exploring shortwave and listening to exotic and distant stations like the Voice of Russia.

 Voice Of Russia Wikipedia