February 28, 2013

Funny Velveeta commercial featuring ham radio

Funny (but flawed) commercial featuring ham radio.  Can you spot any of the flaws?

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

February 26, 2013

Amateur Radio Supplies Announces Giveaway to Promote Youth in Amateur Radio

Haverhill, Mass., February 2, 2013 – Amateur Radio Supplies of Haverhill, Mass., announced today a new biannual giveaway to promote youth in amateur radio DXing and contesting. “Getting on HF (high frequency) in today’s economy is very challenging for many, but especially for our youth operators,” said Jeff Demers, owner, Amateur Radio Supplies. “Many youth operators are unable to purchase the needed equipment to get on the air. Here at Amateur Radio Supplies, we want them to experience the joy that has propelled us in this hobby for many decades. Thus, on June 1, 2013, we’ll be doing the second of many station sponsorships to support youth in DXing and contesting.” 
Amateur Radio Supplies will give a complete HF (high frequency) station to the selected applicant, including: 
  • Alinco DX-SR8T/E 160-10m All Mode Transceiver & 30 Amp PS
  • LDG AT-100 Pro II Desktop Antenna Tuner
  • Choice of Rugged All Band G5RV or HyGain DX-77A Vertical 100’ of
  • Premium RG-213 Coax
  • Vibroplex Brass Racer Iambic Paddles
  • SignaLink USB Sound Card for Digital Modes
  • Heil Pro Set Plus Headset

Applicants from any country under the age of 21 are invited to provide brief answers to the following three questions, as well as their name, call sign, and license class online.

1. How often are you able to operate on the HF bands?
2. Where (what QTH) do you typically operate from?
3. How do you intend to use the equipment provided?

Visit the Application Form

Nominations will also be accepted. If you know of a deserving youth, please email Randy Rowe at randy@amateurradiosupplies.com.

About Amateur Radio Supplies

Founded in 2012, Amateur Radio Supplies provides a full line of gear, including antennas, transceivers, coax, antenna wires and countless station accessories. Amateur Radio Supplies was founded in order to provide amateur radio operators with the supplies they need to pursue their passion – ham radio. Amateur Radio Supplies, www.amateurradiosupplies.com, offers low prices and a full selection of tools and station supplies, baluns, antenna wires and more.

More Information:
Media Inquiries: Michelle Garrett. 614-315-4037. michelle@saintsomewheremarketing.com
Nominations and Questions: Randy Rowe, N0TG. randy@amateurradiosupplies.com

February 23, 2013

Built to trash: the totally defective HT clone cable

I admit it.  I like to save money and I love to home brew, repurpose, and recycle.  Ham radio seems to fit really well with this way of thinking.  A ham radio project is simply more fun when you are engaged with your own two hands and applying your own creativity.  Some my call it being "thrifty" but it really goes well beyond the dollars and cents.  Fundamentally, it is the human need to create that is at work here.

However, occasionally the home brewing and repurposing (and money saving) goes awry.  Case in point: the totally defective HT clone cable. 

I had an idea for a project that involved interfacing our Kenwood HT audio-in and push-to-talk switch.  I mulled over various approaches including buying and soldering 3.5mm and 2.5mm jacks.  Using two jacks would certainly work and was easy-enough but the result would not looks as nice as the commercial dual-prong moulded connector used on the HT's headset.

I happened on a super-cheap eBay listing for Kenwood HT clone cables and decided to buy one.  This cable would give a dressed appearance on the HT side for our home-brew the interface.  The cable arrived and went into a box (along with the month-balled project) for several months due to a relocation.

Super cheap Kenwood HT Clone Cable from eBay

Skip forward to the present... I dug the project out of its mothball status and pulled out my Kenwood technical documentation, solderless breadboard, capacitor, resistors, digital multimeter and got to work.  However, no matter what was tried I could not get the HT interface to work.  After a series of fruitless attempts with checking and double-checking the circuit I realized that something wasn't working as it should.

The next step was to isolate the fault.  The first step was to check all of the alligator clips.  We had run into a faulty clip-wire connection with a past project.  The clips and wires all checked out fine.  Next tested our ability to trigger the push-to-talk through the cable manually.  Strangely this did not work as expected so we decided to test the continuity of the cable itself using our digital multimeter.

The multimeter continuity testing immediately showed that only one of the six contacts had continuity through the cable.  That is a strange problem for a brand new commercial quality cable.  Caveat emptor (corollary: especially when buying through eBay).

The next step was to cut the cable in half and check for continuity between the wires and the two plug contacts.  If only one side was defective then the other could be salvaged for use in the project.  When the the cable was cut and wires exposed, only 4 wires were found. 

There are were six contacts on each plug and not all are needed during the "cloning" procedure (copying the memory of one HT to another).  Further testing showed that neither cable-end had electrical continuity to more than one of the wires.  This test eliminated the possibility of the defect being only one-sided.   The dissection again proved that this was a totally defective HT clone cable.

So what did we learn from this experience:
  1. If you buy a cheap cable through eBay, test it on receipt and return it immediately if it is defective.
  2. Often you can make a better cable than you can buy (though perhaps not cheaper).
  3. When faced with a home brewed roadblock, work the problem and isolate the fault.  Failure is the best teacher.
  4. Home brewing takes tenacity.  Don't give up.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

See related articles on NJ2X.COM:

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2013. 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.

February 21, 2013

Home Brew 17 Tube Hoofus-Doofus

This 1929 Polymet ad gave us a chuckle.  Wouldn't you love to see the home-brew 17 tube "Hoofus-Doofus"?

1929 Polymet Ad

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

February 17, 2013

Project: PicoKeyer Plus Kit

Back in 2010, we built the PicoKeyer Plus (V3.8) kit from HamGadgets (N0XAS Dale).  We really enjoyed building and using this kit and wanted to share our experience and a pictures of the finished product.

What is a PicoKeyer Plus?

The PicoKeyer Plus is a diminutive Morse code memory keyer that comes in kit form.  The PicoKeyer Plus is available fully assembled too.  This photo provides a little perspective of the relative size as compared to a Hamkey.

NJ2X's finished PicoKeyer Plus connected to a Hamkey

Why the PicoKeyer Plus?

There are a fair number of keyers on the market.  We choose the PicoKeyer because it fit really well with what we were looking for.  Namely:
  • Value - Hard to beat this much keyer for under $20.
  • Code Practice Oscillator - The built-in speaker was attractive since the keyer could be used for learning Morse code.
  • Kit - There is nothing quite as satisfying as building your own device and then using it.
  • Appearance - We really like the quality looking finished product with its attractive and durable case.
  • MCW - The small size, self-contained power, and built-in MCW mode makes this a very attractive way to explore Morse code on FM HT's or mobile rigs.

The PicoKeyer Plus Kit

This is a very straightforward kit.  The kit comes with easy step-by-step instructions and an operations manual.  All the parts are through-the-hole so soldering is a breeze.

PicoKeyer Plus Kit

All the parts are mounted directly to a silk-screened board.  The board is easily fit into a nice black project case by drilling four holes and securing two screws.  Drilling templates are provided which makes hole placement easy.  We used clear tape to secure the templates to the face and end plates.  This worked perfectly the first try.

Templates secured to the face and end plates with clear tape
Face and end plates after drilling with templates still in place

PicoKeyer Plus board soldered prior to mounting in the case

PicoKeyer Plus Fully Assembled

We really like the how our finished kit turned out.  It looks great in its enclosure.  The quality is everything we had hoped for.  The board is held securely in place and is protected by the case.  There is no play in the controls or connections.  The knob on the front panel is used to adjust the Morse code speed.  The button is used for programming purposes.

NJ2X's fully assembled PicoKeyer Plus (front)

The PicoKeyer Plus can work with paddles or straight key.  It can even automatically detect when a straight key is plugged in during power up.

NJ2X's fully assembled PicoKeyer Plus (rear)

The code practice oscillator feature is very handy.  The audio volume is adequate when practicing in a quiet environment.  This is as expected considering the small speaker.  We haven't found the need to connect to an outboard audio amplifier so far.

If you enjoy kit building or are in the market for an excellent keyer do give the PicoKeyer Plus consideration.  All-in-all, it is a fantastic bargain.  We highly recommend the kit and N0XAS (Dale) is great to work with.

We hope to eventually interface our PicoKeyer Plus to our Kenwood HT and give MCW a try.  Stay tuned to NJ2X.COM for a future article.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

Other related articles on NJ2X.COM

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2013. 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.

February 16, 2013

Vintage Electronics Ads - A Window Into The Past

One enjoyable way to pass a little time is to flip through vintage periodicals.  Each page is a window into the past that allows you to see how people lived. 

This ad shows a radio phonograph selling for $81.88.  That was a lot of money for the time.  You couldn't buy anything like this made today at any price.

1922 ad for a radio hand microphone

1923 Morkrum lightweight keyboard control designed for transmitting radio teletype from an airplane
1923 Magnavox Radio Ad

1925 Western Electric Speaker Ad

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

February 8, 2013

GlobalQSL Service Review

We love receiving a batch of QSL cards from the ARRL 2nd District QSL Bureau.  It is fun for the whole family to look through the cards and marvel at the pictures of far away places, exotic names, and the creativity and artistry of each card.  QSL cards seem as varied and different as people - each one is unique and special.  We file each card away by country of origin in a big box.

Example of NJ2X's QSL card design created with GlobalQSL's graphic editor
The ARRL QSL Bureau performs a wonderful service for the US amateur radio community.  We are amazed each time we receive a packet of cards at what must go into the process.  We had an opportunity to stop by the ARRL HQ in 2012 for a tour and saw the operation first hand.  Kudos to all the ARRL QSL Bureau volunteers.

We are enthusiastic users of the ARRL Logbook of The World (LoTW) service for the majority of our contacts.  It is easy to use, convenient, fast, and a less expensive way to QSL than traditional paper QSL card.  However, not everyone is a subscriber to the LoTW so we also return paper QSL's cards on request.

For international outbound QSL cards, we have been using the GlobalQSL.com service since October 2009 with excellent results.

We chose the GlobalQSL service for several reasons:
  1. Minimizes cost of printing and mailing QSL cards
  2. Simplifies the process
  3. Saves time
  4. Flexibility to design and change QSL cards
  5. Free card design tool
  6. Ability to export ADIF log file from Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) logbook (and other electronic log book tools)
  7. High quality card printing (double-sided, glossy, color)

Getting Started

To get started using the GlobalQSL service you must first setup an account, purchase QSL printing (in multiples of either 100 or 1000 cards), design a QSL card using the GlobalQSL card design tool.  The free Windows-based QSL design tool is easy and fun to use.  GlobalQSL provides a tutorial for the graphic editor to help first time users.  The cost per cart is relatively inexpensive considering it covers both the cost of card preparation and postage.

With this tool you can design two-sided cards that incorporate your own text, pictures, graphics, and color.  We like the fact that you can create multiple card designs for use as needed.  For example, it is easy enough to create a card for a specific event like a contest, holiday, or field day.  You can also update your cards as needed to keep them fresh looking.

How to upload?

GlobalQSL automatically creates your outgoing QSL cards based on QSO information that you provide via an ADIF file exported from  your favorite logging program.  The ADIF file will contain on the relevant information that GlobalQSL needs to fill in the QSL card such as date, time, mode, band, ....  This allows you to send out cards in a batch in only a few minutes.  No time consuming filling out cards by hand.  We view time as our most precious resource so the automation is really important to us.  Simply put, the less time we spend on QSL cards the more time we have to operate.
  1. Prepare an ADIF file from your log tool.  We use Ham Radio Deluxe which provides an menu item for exporting selected QSO's to an ADIF file.
  2. Log into your account on the GlobalQSL.
  3. Select, "Upload ADIF log file" from the GlobalQSL menu on the leftside of the screen.
  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and select a call sign from a drop down list.
  5. Click the "Browse" button and find the ADIF log file on your computer
  6. Click the "Upload ADIF" button to upload the file
At this point GlobalQSL takes over to prepare and send your QSL cards to eagerly awaiting hams worldwide.  GlobalQSL will print up to five QSL's with a single station on a card which further reduces cost.  GlobalQSL sends an email confirmation once your upload has been processed and queued up for printing.  Example:

Congratulations! Data successfully inserted!

The transaction is complete! The QSL's will be printed soon.
Load end time: 04-Feb-2013 17:20
Total inserted records: 15


My QSL Images

GlobalQSL has a page where you can track incoming QSL's that other hams have sent you via GlobalQSL's service.  We don't really use this feature much other than to browse through some of the QSL images.

My Outgoing QSL

This GlobalQSL page provides status of the QSL's you have uploaded.  This is useful to confirm that you uploaded a particular contact and the status ("uploaded" or "printed and sent").

View History

This screen gives you a listing by date of all activity including purchasing card printing credits, cards processed (debits), and your credit balance after each transaction.  You can also download the processed ADIF if needed.  We haven't had cause to download a ADIF file from the site yet.  Perhaps there are situations where this would be useful?  We do like having a record of QSL credits and debits and current balance information.

Card Quality

On a couple of occasions QSL cards that we sent out via the GlobalQSL service have been returned by a foreign QSL service due to being undeliverable (e.g. deceased recipient).  From these cards, we were able to see first hand the quality of the printing and paper.  The GlobalQSL-produced card quality is excellent and superior to the cards we have attempted to produce ourselves.

Bottom Line

All-in-all we are pleased with the GlobalQSL service and how it saves us time, paperwork, and money.  We are also impressed with the quality of the QSL cards (double-sided, full color, good paper).

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2013. 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.

February 7, 2013

Power of positive thinking...

“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” -- Henry Ford

February 2, 2013

What are common-mode currents?

You may have heard of common-mode currents in reference to transmission lines, baluns, common-mode chokes, SWR, RF in the shack, and a long list of other RF-evil.   So it is clear common-mode currents are to be avoided but what the heck are they?

The key to a basic understanding of common-mode currents is to recognize that the word "common" is used to describe currents flowing in the same (common) direction on both transmission line conductors.  This is in contrast to the optimal situation (with no common-mode currents), where transmission line conductors will have currents flowing in opposite directions exactly balanced.

Common-mode currents appear on transmission lines due to asymmetry in the antenna system.  For example, common-mode currents appear when feeding a balanced antenna such as a dipole with unbalanced feed line (coaxial cable).

Good DX and 73, NJ2X