Friday, April 11, 2014

100 Days of Summer

I was reading AD5A's (Mike) recent blog post about "Ham Radio and Fitness" and it got me thinking.  I'm a little overweight and I could stand to lose about 20 lbs.  This is not uncommon.  Usually I swing up and down about 10-15 lbs through the year, usually with binge weight loss before our cruises in the Fall and Winter.  I usually gain back any loss during the cruise!

Anyway, I need to be far more active, which brings me to the topic of this post.  I do not have mountains in IA.  I don't have beaches to walk.  I have sidewalks, and small parks, and that is about it.  So unlike Mike, I cannot go hike to the top of a mountain every weekend (oh man would I LOVE that!).  So I have decided instead that I will make 100 trips to operate portable this year.  There's 93 days in the actual season of Summer but I don't plan on waiting until Summer actually starts.  If I hit 100 operations, I'll try to make it another 10 or 20 or however seems reasonable, but I will be getting outside.  A lot.

As you would with a SOTA activation, I am going to be judging the success of these outings by contacts made.  Just like SOTA, 4 contacts are required to make it a day I can count towards the 100.  This should make things a bit more difficult.

Next requirement is that I have to walk at least 10 minutes before I plunk down and start operating.  The park I like to operate from is only a 5 minute walk away so this should help me move to other parks in the area.  If nothing else, it will mean I have to get more exercise!

What do you think?  If you have any other ideas for guidelines I could follow to make the experience more interesting, let me know.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Etherkit CRX1 - Cool Piece of Kit!

As the Brits would say...

As you saw the other day, Jason, NT7S, was offloading the rest of his kits, so I picked me up a CRX1.  I've built a ton of SMT kits now so I didn't expect to have any problems and I didn't.  The kit is a good one for a fairly beginner SMT builder.  There are still quite a few parts and the pads are a bit small, but there's a lot of space to work.
All of the components are packed separated by value and type so it is really easy to keep track of parts.

dat blue board!
And that blue board! Way freakin cool!  I wish all PCBs were blue!

The instructions are very straightforward and you are guided to build by function with tests in between.  (tests? who does that?!)
After the first build section
It was pretty fun to build, and I love not having any leads to cut.

All built up - lots of turns on that on that dang coil!
On first power up, it was working great. I tuned around a bit and found a station in Italy working DX, and on 40m no less! I don't have much antenna on 40 and even when I've had stuff higher and longer, I have not heard or worked much DX on 40 at all. This receiver is pretty darn good.

I have not got it paired up with a transmitter yet, but if Jason still has some kits, I say you should go get one!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Help a brother out!

It seems one of our QRP homebrew brethren has made the difficult choice to temporarily close up shop on his ham radio kit business, Etherkit.  NT7S, Jason, has been designing some really neat QRP kits for the past couple of years and I've built his OpenBeacon.  Read about Jason's decision here.

He's offering his latest kit, the CRX1 for only $30 plus shipping.  It is a surface mount 40m receiver with a lot of options for expanding it to a full QRP station.  Do check out the kit and if you can afford it, help him liquidate the rest of his inventory.  I do hope he can get back on his feet soon because I know he's got all kinds of great ideas coming down the pipeline.

God Speed Jason!

This should stir the pot

As you know, I've been operating as W1AW/0 for IA the last few days.  I had planned to operate at the station at work with the K-Line quite a bit but I actually worked from home a lot more, and boy was I surprised!  Even with my modest station - and yes my station really IS modest - I stirred up big pileups and could run rates over 150/hr until the pileups died.  It was a blast and the 590 did a great job holding its own.
So as impressed as I was, I still wanted to get to the "big gun" station and see what could be done with 500w and a SteppIR.  I got up there on Saturday morning, pointed the beam to EU and fired it up.  Band conditions were terrible, and I think the SSB WPX contest was taking some of the DX ops away but I still managed to drum up a few pileups while I was there.  The first one that popped up was a big surprise though.  The audio on the K3 was downright awful.

Yes.  It was bad.  I was as shocked as you might be now.  I had become so accustomed to Elecraft sound that it took me by surprise.  I took a quick spin through the settings and didn't find anything that could be causing it, then I hit the AFX (audio effects) button and things improved immensely.  One of the other ops must have turned it off!  Still, I was really surprised to find how much of an improvement that was.  Without it I would share the sentiment that many others have - K3's sound pretty bad.  However, the AFX changes everything.  Do I still want one? Yep.

I found that operating the K3 split was a lot nicer, mostly due to the dual VFO knobs which made it almost too easy to QSY.  Also the way the K3 displays your split operation info (i.e. what band  you're transmitting on etc) is better in my opinion.  I don't really care for the way the 590 display flips between frequencies when transmitting in split, but I guess it is a very obvious indicator that you are/are not in split mode, while the K3 is a lot more subtle.

All this has taught me that the 590 really is an extremely capable radio and a must if you're considering something in that price range.  K3 is still tops, but maybe not as much as I had once thought.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Repairing the 590 and LEDs for all the things!

On Friday my parts for replacing the blown fuse in the TS-590.  The part I chose is Digikey part number 0603SFV050F/32-2CT-ND.  It is a 0603 size 0.500 A 32V fast blow fuse.  It probably isn't the exact same fuse that Kenwood uses in the newer models but that is OK, I think it will work fine.

 Anyone attempting this repair should be aware that 0603 parts are stupidly small.  I am used to soldering 1206 stuff from Steve Weber's kits and I did not think 0603 would be that bad but with the tip I have on my iron, it was a real pain.

Inside the bottom of the 590
The fuse is located on the right board below the row of 3 can inductors near the middle right and to the left of the red, white, and grey cable, which you can see in the close up of the finished product down below.

I first tried to solder the new part on top of the old one - a technique that some articles had mentioned was possible.  I tell you, not with the tip I have.  The original fuse is shaped more like a diode so it has flat, very thin wings that solder down rather than being shaped like a capacitor or resistor with vertical ends like the new fuse has.  This made it impossible to get solder to build up on the ends enough to make contact on both ends of the new fuse.  I wasted a lot of time and made quite a mess with all the flux on the board.

Finally I just put a screwdriver on the side of the old part and continually heated it until it slid off the pads which is what I should have done from the get go.  After that a quick pass with some desoldering braid to clean up the pads and the new part was installed in a snap.  Here's my last look at it before buttoning everything back up.

Sure enough, with the fuse installed, everything was back to normal.

I also bought a RotorBrite from W0IY, Barry, a member of our contest club, N0MA.  It's just a little LED strip you can put in your rotor controllers to replace the ugly, expensive, and prone to failure, light bulb.  It also adds a nice red indication when the break is disengaged which is pretty cool.  I was testing out one of the first kit versions which is built out of 1206 SMT components.  As I mentioned before, 1206 is what I'm used to so I didn't have any problems with this one! 

I also reintroduced a bit of LED light strip to the shack which I had up before I bought my new shelving material.  This time I added a potentiometer to adjust the brightness level which is pretty neat.  Here's a couple pictures with the new LED additions installed:
The little knob to the left of the 590 is the control for the brightness

With the shack lights off

Thursday, March 20, 2014

W1AW/0 Operations Coming Soon!

As many of you know, I'll be one of the guys operating a W1AW station when the Centennial Event comes to Iowa.  I'll be operating CW exclusively, mostly from the W0CXX shack where we have a K-Line and 4 element SteppIR.  Here's my operating slots as of today (subject to change)

Local times are Central DST.  I will be following DX propagation on the high bands.

I hope to work you!  I'll be operating split, so please spread out.  Mind your VFOs, remember to engage split before calling and please be courteous to other callers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Narrowly averted disaster!

So while chasing DX all over the bands tonight, and after a great QRQ session with KC0VKN down in Iowa City, my 590 went deaf.  Like super deaf.

As you would, I checked everything - antennas still up? yes, selector on right antenna? yep, RF gain up? Squelch off? RX antenna selected? everything was in order but still no received signals.  I even got my MTR hooked up and couldn't hear that in the 590's receiver just inches away.  Something was definitely wrong.

I came up and told my wife the bad news. This was not going to be a cheap repair, several hundred bucks for sure.  There goes the Dayton budget!

So while I moped and we watched TV, I did some searching.  I found a reference to a failure mode that caused the receiver to "die".  It looked promising but it was limited to certain serial numbers - B0AXXXXX being the last of them to have this problem - a tiny surface mount fuse opening up for no good reason.  Kenwood replaced the 325mA fuse with a 500mA fuse in the B0BXXXXX serial numbers.

A glimmer of hope!

I rushed down to check and sure enough, my serial number was in the right range for this to maybe be the failure.  I did some more searching and found pictures locating the fuse on the board and when our program was over, I ran down and sure enough, the fuse appeared open and it was one of the early 325mA ones.  I quickly tacked a component lead across the fuse and the receiver came back to life!

Of course you can't just go buy a new SMT fuse so I hit up Digikey and put in an order for a few of them.  A whole 23 cents a piece!  And to think I was almost ready to box it up and spend several hundred dollars to get some puny little fuse replaced.  Crazy.

The new fuse(s) will arrive in a couple days and I'll try to take some pictures while I repair the rig, but for now, off to bed!