Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Upgrades, planning, the future...

Over the last couple of weeks, I've started participating in a little round table on 80m at 5 AM.  Yikes.  These group of guys are outstanding CW operators and all working on honing in on their high speed, or QRQ, operating.  The average speed is in the 40-50 wpm range depending on who is there and conditions, though pretty much everyone is running (well) over 100w so conditions don't usually have much impact!  I'll admit, the last few years of inactivity mixed with the intermittent keyboard-sent contests, my sending has suffered immensely.  Yes, I can probably manage quick fills in a contest at 35wpm but even though I'm close to copying ragchew QSOs at 40wpm, I can't send over an extended period more than 30wpm without errors.  It is a humbling and frustrating experience to be among such great ops and still feel like a complete LID!  They are all very accommodating though and willing to withstand the poor fist while I improve, which is honorable.

My station has been performing very well through all of this though which is a great feeling.  There has been little RFI to speak of and I've become used to relatively comfortable operations.  (save the computer taking a dump on me but that's not related to ham radio)  With that said, I am always looking for ways to improve the station (plus it gives me something to strive for, which is always good in life).  Based on recommendation from a friend, I figured I'd try to get an antenna resonant on 60m.  I used to work on 60m a bit from Iowa but it's been years since I have had any interest or reason to check it out.  With its "unusual" propagation characteristics, it might be a nice change of pace from the other "low" band operations I'm used to.  The Gap Titan is not resonant anywhere near 5.3 MHz so I was left with figuring out something on the inverted L for now.  The inverted L is cut for 80m and does a pretty good job there but to get from 3.5MHz to 5.3MHz I'd need to add some capacitance to make the antenna look shorter.  Luckily I picked up a homebrew tuner some years back at a hamfest so I had a couple of open air tuning capacitors at my disposal to do the job.  I rigged up some hokey wiring and hooked it up and was able to tune a nice null a few places along the coil with the capacitor in series.  It was interesting to see how I could pick different spots of resonance and get different network Q, showing a variety of usable bandwidths.  I decided to pick a lower Q option so I could get the whole 60m band, and back at the operating position, the SWR stays below 1.5:1 across the whole band.  Now I can operate 160, 80, and 60 meters on that antenna without much trouble. Just a few jumpers to move around.  I would love to make it remote switching but that's a job for another day.

Next little project was to do some work on the Gap.  My and I had a little spat regarding the beauty of my antennas (you can guess which side she comes down on) and I made a private promise to help the situation a bit.  The Gap has a wire loop on the bottom part that serves as a counterpoise for 40m as well as part of the 10m element and it happens that the mast I chose for installing it was a hair too short - ok it's about a foot too short if we're being honest - to put the loop above head level.  This means when walking around the pool deck, one has to duck to not hit the loop; a scenario that is less than ideal for obvious reasons.  As it turns out, the shape of the loop isn't really important for operation on 40m, and at least one other ham has modified his antenna to allow for a more conventional radial in place of the loop due to similar constraints.  So to help pad the concerns of the XYL, I set out to do just that.  I removed the spreaders and ran a counterpoise along the top of the fence in the NE direction and pruned for a good match on 40m.  Luckily I was able to find one not unlike the original match without affecting the matches on the other bands!  So now I have a loop-less Gap Titan, and time will tell if it will cause any degradation in performance on 40 (or other bands).

Remember the part about the QRQ CW net in the mornings?  Well that high speed, QSK operation has made it really obvious the most critical limitation of the TS-590: Relay based T/R switching.  You may recall I noted this way back when I did the side by side comparison between these radios and nothing has changed in that regard.  I still think the TS-590S and SG are some of the best deals in radio, especially considering the 2nd hand market for the 590S is down BELOW $700!!!  It makes the value proposition against the K3 very difficult.  However... if silent and smooth QSK is your goal, there is simply no match for an Elecraft radio (well maybe Ten Tec but lets not go there mkay?)....  I think you can see where this is going!  Upon introduction of my W6LVP receive antenna loop, the TS-590 now has TWO relays clacking away and at 50 WPM it can be quite a racket.  I did make a considerable improvement in this by covering both relays with blue-tack putty (the stuff you use to hold up posters from the office supplies), but both are still quite noticeable even when wearing headphones.  Those of you who know me well know I'm a real stickler for noisy stuff like this so it's just hard for me to ignore.  Which has brought me to the conclusion that I have to start my journey back to the Elecraft lineup, and perhaps my timing could not be better.  It just so happens that my friend N5EIL is in the process of upgrading his remote station and reducing the stack of radios he has at home and among them is a K3/10 with the sub-receiver installed.  Neil made me an offer I simply cannot refuse and will let me "hold on" to the K3 for him on the pretense that I buy the 100w PA.  Some time down the road we'll decide if I want to buy the whole radio from him or if he'll buy the PA from me.  The only drawback is if I decide to let him have it back, I'll be stuck with my only radio being my FT-817, and I think we all know that's a non-starter!  So the reality is, I'm going to end up buying the radio from him soon enough and I'll be back in the family!  Someone get the Kool-Aid mix!

I'll keep you all updated as things progress but that's all for now!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A few things

Just wanted to update on a few developments at the QTH over the last few months since the last update. 

First thing since the last update was putting up an L for 80m.  With the Winter Foxhunts coming up, I wanted to make sure I had something up to run 80 and the vertical works pretty poorly, even in the portion of the band with good SWR (hint, it isn't the CW portion).  I've always toyed with the idea an L so it was about time. The L is situated along the SE side of the house with a pulley at the top - about 20 feet then somewhat sloping towards the back fence. I then put out 6 fairly random radials and trimmed for a good match. 

I got curious if I could get 160m operational too and happened to remember I had a coil in my parts bin that might work.  I mounted it up at the feedpoint (and dressed it up quite a bit more) and ended up with this: 

Doesn't look the best, but its pretty great! The coil dropped the tuning right in the CW portion of 160m without any jumpers (ignore the one in the picture...). Naturally, the L tunes up great on both bands with the amp, 1,000w input no problem, although the RFI issues are pretty extreme to the point that my keyboard stops working and I'll get into my wife's computer stereo system.  I will have to spend some time investigating a solution, which may be as easy as just moving the feedpoint away from the house some. 

Next up, I sat down at my desk one day and decided it was time for a little rearranging.  I had wanted to mount some stuff under the desktop for a while but I finally managed to think up a good method of doing it, I just needed a little bit more exotic manufacturing than I'm used to. I used a cheap chunk of aluminum angle from Home Depot and used a Dremel to trim it as needed to mount to the frame of the desk. I put my audio components in there and it looks/works pretty good!  A coat of stain would be a nice addition but I'm not sure I'll get around to it any time soon. 

About a week ago I noticed my hackjob of a mic mount was starting to loosen up and I was starting to get afraid of one or both of my mics falling off. This is what I came up with: 

Both mics held securely and safely, and looks half decent too! 

Finally over last weekend I got the gumption up to move my W6LVP loop to the roof. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

A blog update

I left you last having completed the installation of the vertical.  I'm pleased to say, it's still up!  And yes, I'm having a blast being back on the air.  Here's what I've been up to.

After getting the vertical up, I set to putting the SB-200 back on the air as well.  Last time I shared SB-200 stuff with you guys was when I just about killed myself by sticking my hand in the chassis with the HV power applied.  I definitely learned my lesson and took many extra precautions this time around.  Getting the SB-200 out of storage and converted back to 120v (no 240v in the new shack) I noticed the softkey circuit I had was not working, there was no keying action.  The circuit was powered by a 3v lithium coin cell so its no surprise.  I thought while I was in there, I'd rework the 12VDC power rectifier I built for the PC fans I put in there in our last blog post.
 I decided to go full hog and just throw a 12v transformer, as well as cut out the case for better air flow.  This turned out to work a lot better than the way I had it hooked up before and I didn't have to worry about the filament voltage from being impacted in any way.  Unfortunately I did find out that you can't ground the DC side of the transformer to the case.  It took a while to find out why the fan would stop when transmitting.  In investigating all of that, I ended up going down to just 1 fan and I can definitely tell it works really well with just the one to keep the tubes cool. 

Since I was running the amp on 120v I wondered if I could improve the performance with the lower source voltage.  With the exception of the soft key and the fans, I'd made zero modifications or updates to the amp.  Surprisingly the amp was totally untouched and working great all things considered.  And yet, I had picked up replacement capacitors for the power supply when I bought the amp at Hamvention so I figured it was time to just replace the aged ones in the amp.  You've probably seen pictures like the one below on the internet and I always thought, "oh that's a blown up cap," but it turns out that's just the glue that goes in the paper covers!  All 6 of the caps in my amp, did end up being absolutely fine, but I did find a bad diode which I also replaced.

Everything else checked out and once it was all buttoned up everything looked great!  I got the amp back on the air and it didn't take long until I reached the limit of the 15 amp circuit to the shack and that was about it.  It became painfully obvious that I was just not going to be able to run an amp in the new shack without a more worthy circuit. And, do be honest, in all these years, I've not really enjoyed using the amp on CW.  Friends will tell you, I'm a little extreme about having a quiet shack and once you get rid of the fan noise, the SB-200 is silent...until the T/R switch goes off.  And man is it loud!  I seriously considered adding QSK but it turns out there's no "drop in" boards available anymore so I kind of went off the deep end...

Yeah now I'm running 1 KW......

more to come!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Breaking Ground

With building permit in hand, it's finally time to get my vertical....vertical again! 

I started out the process by emailing the Building Official for the city with my plans and an outline of what I had planned to install, asking for guidance.  Since my antenna is MOSTLY quite small (diameter wise) you could judge that there is no permit required, but with the 40/10m counterpoise loop, it does exceed the diameter rule so the building office required me to get a permit.  They also wanted to see that my home owners included liability for the antenna (which most do), but after my $50 fee, I had my green slip in hand.  

After booking my 811 call - never dig without making sure you'll be away from utility lines - I waited until the authorized work start date rolled around and got to digging.  The GAP instructions call for an 18" wide hole, 3 feet deep.  I had flashbacks of digging this hole at the place in Wylie and I was nervous about it this go around. The soil here is 99% clay about 8" down so it gets really unpleasant to work in quite quickly. Luckily the ground was relatively dry so it was just a matter of scraping and evacuating the hole repeatedly until I hit the magic number.   

The instructions from GAP suggested to use a pipe with PVC pipe over it.  PVC does not bond to concrete so the idea is that you could pull the antenna out of the concrete for maintenance.  I did not try to do this at the last house since I didn't spend enough time thinking about how that worked.  I could not find any PVC at the normal stores that would fit over any mast material but the instructions did suggest cutting the pipe lengthwise to expand it over the mast.  This go around I decided to give it a shot.  Using a standard wood handsaw, I cut the slot down the side of the pipe and hammered it onto my mast (sorry no pictures).  I then wrapped the PVC in shipping plastic - you know the stretchy stuff they wrap furniture in - and got it situated in the hole.  5 bags of quick set concrete mix and she was set.  Then came the time to attempt to pull the mast out... It moved about 2 inches then there was no more movement.  I tried everything to get it to pull out of the concrete but it was not going to happen.  Its no loss, I just had to mount the antenna the same way I did at the last house: put the bracket near the ground, tilt the base into it and then slide it up the mast to the top.  Really not all that difficult having done it several times before.  Someday I'll figure out a way to get some more upward force on the mast to free it from the concrete but not this time.

I completed the installation by installing the 40/10m "radial" loop and spreader arms.  My measurements and planning almost worked the way I wanted.  I was far enough from the fence that the hoop didn't hit anything but my mast was just too short to get the hoop above the fence, and more importantly, above head level.  I can probably find a way to lash up another mast to get the additional elevation I'm after but this will do for now.
Looks a little wonky... guys were too tight!
The last step was to install an 8' ground rod bonded to the pool equipment ground (which in turn is bonded to the panel):

Is it the most elegant solution? No. But it should provide the protection I need.  My only hope is that it passes inspection!

Be looking for operating reports soon!  I'm on the air!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

Watch this space...

Hey guys!  Just wanted to pop in and give you a little update - we've moved out of the oppressive, anti-ham regime in Wylie to Rowlett, TX, just a few miles South.  I'll have lots of fun stuff to share regarding ham radio soon but lets kick off the reboot of my blog with some pictures!

Our new house's lot is not a bit bigger than the old house, but this one has a POOL!  We've already spent a ton of time out there and we're really looking forward to having a back yard oasis.  When we got the house, the grass in back was insanely long... (pardon the vertical video)

But once I got it all mowed, it looked really good!  

So much better.

As for radio stuff, Rowlett is not the best locale as they limit towers to 40 feet without special permitting but they do allow anything less than 2 meters in diameter to go up without a permit at all, so the plan in the near term is to put the Gap Titan DX back up and then start looking at bringing the hex beam back into action.
As you can see, there's still a lot of room to work for verticals and even a tower near the house.  So that gives you an idea of where we are right now.  I'm looking forward to getting back on the air soon, and I'll be bouncing around on HF with a magnetic loop in the shack for now.  Once I start getting unpacked up there, I'll be back with a new shack tour and more!  Thanks for hanging in and WATCH THIS SPACE FOR MORE!


Monday, September 25, 2017

Elecraft discontinues the K1 (and KX1?)

I've been out of the QRP loop for a while as my operating has waned in the last year or so but happened to run across an article on the blog of K4SWL, qrper.com.  His post includes a note from Wayne, N6KR, on the fate of the K1:
We should have made a formal announcement here. Yes, we discontinued it because certain parts are hard to come by now, making it no longer cost effective for us to manufacture.
It was a great product for us, and I used mine for years, taking it on many trips. I thought of it as a “Sierra on Steroids” at the time (referring to an earlier design I did for the NorCal QRP Club). But we’ve moved on to more versatile field radios, including the KX2 and KX3.
This news meets me with mixed feelings.  The K1 is the radio that started Elecraft - well technically it existed before Elecraft even.  To see it go certainly strengthens the signals we've been seeing from Elecraft for several years now, since the introduction of the K3.  I certainly hope that they continue to offer piece-part kits as long as it is possible. 

However, I will admit, I am no raving fan of the K1 as a radio - I have built one and I did not find it to perform very well with a fairly drifty VFO and weak filtering.  For the price, it is too much toy and not enough radio.  Still, it was one of the first kits many hams have had the pleasure of putting on the air so I can see the draw. 

Now Tom's blog noted that the KX1 was also on the chopping block but I did not see any evidence of this on Elecraft's site, as they are still selling the KX1 from stock, but I have not gone in and researched if there was further discussion in the thread Wayne posted on.  In my opinion, the KX1 is far superior in performance and operation to the K1 and it would be a shame to see it go from the list of offerings.