Look in any hamshack today and you’re gonna be hard pressed not to find a computer sharing space with the tranceiver. We them for, most importantly, buying equipment, but also for logging QSOs, looking up someone’s details from their callsign, looking for active DX spots…
For sometime I have had a MFJ-259B that I had purchased from an SK estate. I have treasured the device for a number of reasons. I knew what I had paid for the device was helping that ham’s family and I felt like I needed to honor his memory by using the analyzer. Use it I did! KB5NJD even helped me mod it so it would give us readings down to 470 kHz and I could tune my 630M antenna. As my knowledge has improved, I came to find that there are a lot of things this model of antenna analyzer does not do and that made me think about getting a different device.
One: It doesn’t resolve the sign of X. i.e. is my load inductive or capacitive? W2AEW has a great video on how you can actually resolve the sign of X using a smith chart using an MFJ 259B style analyzer.
Two: The oscillator in the machine is not particularly stable in my opinion. i.e. what freq I was measuring was in doubt by up to 20hz. This isn’t a deal killer for measuring impedance in the field, but is frustrating in a lab environment.
Three: The freq. knob is too sensitive in my opinion. I suppose it makes sense given the tuning range within each band the analyzer covers, but I wanted a little more precision.
Four: All it provides is Freq (approximate as noted above), SWR, R and X (unresolved whether it is positive or negative.)
Again — As a new amateur, it is perfectly adequate as an antenna analyzer. But I wanted something a bit more capable. As it turns out a friend has an AA-600. He was showing me his conventional transformers and how he could measure the frequency response with the AA-600. Not only will it define the sign of X, this thing draws a Smith Chart. It will auto sweep over the entire spectrum of the oscillator enabled on your machine. You can do live measurements where it will show you the rectangular format of impedance and the vector form of impedance. This is a genuine scientific instrument.
Now the question is what frequencies should I cover? I genuinely only have an interest in HF, BUT satellite contacts are interesting. . . and I’ve recently started doing some VHF fox hunts with a local club. At some point I’d really like to build some kind of 2M yagi. If I was doing satellite contacts, it would be ideal to have a 440 beam as well, but the cost differential and the likely hood I would ACTUALLY build such a thing. . . I’ll probably just by a satellite antenna, it’ll be close enough. 🙂
If I decide I really want to experiment at 440 MHz I can always up grade later.
For a long time I have wondered WHY do people always scream a warning at you if you plan on using a small magnetic loop. “Be careful, there is a lot of voltage across the capacitor!” yeah, yeah. . . OK, whatever. . . I’ll be careful.
I asked a number of friends. I heard a lot of explanations. The one that stood out to me was that a mag loop acts like a auto transformer. uhh. . . I’m sure someone reading this is going, “yeah!” You could have told me that it has to do with a wind storm on Mars and particle entanglement. This seemed just as plausible to me.
As you may remember I left you at a metal can with a hole cut out to an incorrect size and then mashed over. You may also remember that there were a few components that I needed to acquire to complete the kit. While I definitely had a stock of BNC panel mounts, I did not have a supply of SPDT switches. This involved me scouring
the interwebs looking for inexpensive, panel mount, SPDT switches. I ultimately chose to order from danssmallpartsandkits.net. If you are thinking that this guy must be a real niche market seller and cater to his customers. . . You’d be 50% right. . . It’s definitely a niche market! From what I can gather he is a nice guy, but he has rules that must be followed. Read carefully and follow the instructions. I’ve never had a problem. I also always order a bunch of other random parts I don’t “need”, but hey. . . next time when I need an NPO bypass cap, I have a stock of them. This is a practice that was recommended to me by an elmer some years ago. It’s why I have parts on hand. . . not always enough, but sometimes enough and sometimes enough to make it inexpensive to order a couple other parts. Get what you need plus 2-3 items you don’t need, but are generally speaking useful.
So a few weeks pass by and a boring, worn package shows up. In it are my parts. They smell as if they have been living in a smokers attic for at least a decade, but they seem to pass the test of working and that is all I need! The next step is getting the case ready for the board. I installed a coaxial power jack from my stash, 2 BNC panel mounts, and the SPDT switch. I choose to wire up all of the internal components so that when I am ready to connect the board there is little work to be done.
This is where I made my second mistake of the build. If you follow the manual, you will build the transmitter. Then when you are done they will give you some options to improve the performance. I read the manual in advance and had opted to install the circuit for preventing chirp ahead of time. IF one were to build this radio and intend to build it with this mod installed from the beginning, one would not burn themselves with a soldering iron while trying to put an electrolytic capacitor between the coaxial power and a ground lug on a BNC ground lug because that capacitor is NOT necessary assuming the anti-chirp mod is installed. The joys of homebrew!
Anyway. . . I had the can wired up and it was time to start on the board. The manual has great step by step instructions. I won’t belabor them other than to say that in the last step, they have you run a capacitor between two terminals near an inductor on the bottom of the board. If you read the manual in advance you would choose to put the capacitor in before the inductor. I think it looks nicer and is less likely to short out any traces. It also fits through the hole just fine if you put it in ahead of time and just bend it over out-of-the-way.
The last step was to build up the home-brew anti chirp mod. It’s a simple circuit and I had all the parts on hand thanks to some prior orders from kitsandparts.com. See how my advice from earlier has paid off in this build! If I had it to do over again, I would use fewer of the manhattan pads. I laid it out exactly as the schematic showed, but you really only need about 5 islands.
The rest of the build was uneventful. I made a short video to show the first smoke test, but unfortunately I must have hit the slow motion button as the video is completely unwatchable and 20 minutes long for something that took about 2 minutes. You’ll have to just enjoy the pictures. It does work and I hope to make an actual contact at some point when the bands are cooperative!
More projects are in the works. Stay Tuned!
The FOBB is a contest put on by the Adventure Radio Society. These are the people who also host the spartan sprint once a month. The idea is to get portable and operate your radio. The FOBB and NJQRP Club Skeeter Hunt are the events that I actually learned radio doing!! I’ll never forget the first contest I took part in, I worked Greg Lane N4KGL. How he copied anything I sent and the fact I copied anything back is a miracle! But. . . I still follow Greg on Google+ and we trade emails occasionally. He has been a very helpful elmer over the years. You’ll hear him in my video! (This is actually just a bizarre coincidence! I happened to hit record right before he responded to me.
JD (K5HH) has been showing me up by Vlogging. I doubt I become a Vlogger, BUT. . . I did make a video of the contest and figured I would share with you. Check it out, share with your friends. Tell me what I can do to make it more useful for the upcoming Skeeter Hunt in the comments below!
Tuna Tin finished post coming soon!
I mentioned previously that I had won a tuna tin 2 at a NORTEX QRP meeting. Well, I’ve finally started building on it. Step 1 is to read the manual. I know. . . shocker. . .
The Manual is pretty straight forward, but I was surprised to learn that it doesn’t actually come with all the parts required to make a working transmitter. You need your own antenna jacks, your own T/R switch, and not surprising. . . Your own tuna can.
For those of you unaware, my wife (KG5WCI) is a vegetarian. Before we got married our prenuptial agreement consisted of this.
- I promise not to cook bacon or eat tuna in the house.
- She agrees to never have a dog that she carries in a purse.
Now. . . before we continue I think I need to address the elephant in the room. Many people feel like I made a poor bargain. But lets be real. . . when I got married my diet consisted of frozen Tony’s pizzas, Burger King (nearest fast food), and Jersey Mike’s (around the corner from work). So its not like I was cooking a lot of bacon.
Back to radio!
As you can see, its not like I can run out to the store and buy a can of tuna. Consuming it at home is not in the cards and consuming it at work, well. . . thats complicated. Primarily because I’ve not made my own lunch in at least a decade and given rule number one exists it’s not like the YL is going to make it.
Luckily. . .
I have friends. A friend at work was listening to my dilemma and rather than running scared, as one should do. . . she mentioned that the next time she makes tuna casserole she will bring me the empty can and even rinse it out. (So as not to even come close to rule number one. #blessed) This actually worked out incredibly conveniently as this friend and her husband are expecting now and canned tuna is expressly not permitted for expecting mothers. Not to mention, she is likely to enact rule number one in her home at least for the next 90 days. 🙂
A week or two later a chicken of the sea tuna can wonders into my life and the adventure it seems is officially ready to start. The first step was to map out the can and figure out the dimensions and how the top will fit mechanically. The manual gives a couple of options, but I’m enamored with the concept of the full open can. This means the bottom of the can needs to be cut out.
Here my friends is where I exhibit the first word in Amateur Radio. What I should have done was put the PC board on top of the can and got a sense of where the hole in the can needed to be. i.e. how big the finished hole should be.
Instead. . . I tried to leave a little bit of the can so I could mount the PC board to the can. Unfortunately after cutting the can out, I discovered that I couldn’t orient the board in a way that did NOT short out a trace. In addition, the edge of the PCB will go right to the edge of the can no matter how big the hole is. There is no need for “structure” to attach it to.
It was time to cut a bigger hole. Unfortunately once I had a hole, it was nearly impossible to cut more metal with a nibbler. It was just too flimsy and wouldn’t “bite” off, which means I just had to bend the metal over. Not an ideal solution, but it worked. We are off to a good start. Hole is cut and its time to mount the hardware.
More to come soon. . .
This episode we’re talking about the WSPRlite flexi.
Now this is a cool little device made by the folks over at SotaBeams in the UK that lets you test your antenna’s actual transmit propagation in real time. It uses the WSPR protocol (Weak Signal Propagation Reporter) originally developed by Joe Taylor K1JT. (Quite an interesting guy, you should look him up.) Now WSPR is open source and still actively worked on. Please find relevant links below.
I’m not going to tell you how to install the support software, as that’s all very well documented when you buy the unit. The point of this episode is just to go over what it does. So, let’s go straight into the setup app where you can update the firmware and set up the device for operation.
After you plug the WSPRlite in to the computer, pick the correct COM port and click CONNECT.
Every so often, I click Update firmware, to make sure it’s current.
Then, enter your callsign and first 4 digits of your QTH locator. Currently WSPRnet only uses the first 4.
Honestly, I’m not sure what the CW callsign checkbox is for, so I ignore it. If you know, please post in the comments below and share your knowledge.
Choose the band you wish to test. Once you pick a band, it will pick a random frequency in the WSPR accepted range.
The flexi version of the WSPRlite has lowpass filters for 20 & 30 meter bands built in. You may need to get some external lowpass filters for any other band you wish to test, depending upon where you are operating from. The WSPRlite will work without them, but you may end up operating out of bounds depending upon your location. Something to keep in mind. I don’t have any other lowpass filters yet, but they’re on the way if I need them.
Then, pick your power output. I’ve just been leaving it at the default 200 mW which, when using the WSPR protocol is equivalent to 1000 watts of SSB. I’m not using an external amplifier, so I leave the Reported power at it’s default.
They suggest leaving the Repeat rate at 30%, so that you’re not hogging the frequency every minute. I’ve also left the Max runtime at it’s default of 3 days.
At the bottom is a very important link. This will send you to your own, personal DXplorer.net report page for your specific device. We’ll get to that later, for now, go ahead and click Open in browser, then, when it opens, bookmark that link. I think it will generate a new link per band.
Lastly, go back up and click Save WSPR Settings.
That’s it, you’re done. Unplug the device and let’s get set up to transmit.
I use my radio power supply,…
… and plug it into the SotaBeams Power Conditioner. When I didn’t use this, the power supply generated an ugly buzz in the transmission. So, I bought this conditioner as a kit, and haven’t had an issue since.
Plug it into the WSPRlite
Connect the feed line…
Which goes to my Emtech ZM-2 QRP tuner which I’ve posted a pictorial write-up on the build previously, see that link below.
Then attach the antenna to the Tuner.
Wait for 2 seconds past the minute on my atomic clock….
aaaand press the button to start transmission.
On the ZM-2, flip the switch to TUNE and fiddle with the knobs until the light goes out, or as dim as possible. If you turn the knobs to the stops and the light stays bright, try Adding picoFarads and keep trying. I took my time here. At 200 mW, I wasn’t too worried about overheating anything. When done, flip the left switch to Operate which takes the LED out of the circuit and give you the least resistance on the line.
Done, you’re now transmitting. Give it a while to transmit for a few minutes, and then go to the above mentioned DXplorer.net link you got from the setup app.
The DX10 Table shows you a list of your best 10, in range every 2 minutes or so.
The Graph is a visual representation of the data points of all your connections. In every report, you can choose a time frame snapshot.
The Spots map is … well, self explanatory.
The Spots table shows you all your spots, most recent on top.
If you’ve tested on other bands, you can swap over to them here.
And there you have it. This is a very useful bit of kit that lets you see just how well your antenna is working based on it’s configuration and current propagation conditions. For around $80 and it’s diminutive size and weight, I highly recommend it. You get a very accurate, real-time picture of how long your radio’s arms are at that moment. Especially in our current solar minimums, it’s quite handy to test out where you can reach.
If this video was helpful in any way, please, give us a thumbs up. If you have any questions on the WSPRlite flexi, please post them below. I’m no real expert, but I’ll be happy to get back to you with what I know.
Thanks for watching the DummyLoads. See y’all next time.
Some friends and I decided to go on a camping trip recently. Camping in June, in Texas is generally NOT a great past time. BUT. . . My friend’s dad had passed away recently and we all felt like we should get together and enjoy nature. Much as his father had.
As with all camping trips, on my list of items to pack is a radio and an antenna. For this particular outing we were going to be at Huntsville State Park in Texas. Since I was the only amateur on the trip, I opted for a small footprint antenna and brought my Buddistick to pare with my KX2.
We arrived late in the day and were greeted with some interesting signs. . .
Like all good trips we had a lot of fun. I managed to set up my buddistick and do a lot of CQing. Unfortunately our location was not very favorable. We were in a low spot and the antenna was vertically parallel and near a very tall tree.
I’m confident that some of my radiation went directly into cooking some of the grubs in the tree. I called CQ for about 20-30 minutes the first night and managed to only work one station (XE1XR). While he didn’t answer my CQ, I did work him. I shut down for a couple hours and came back around midnight Central (0500 UTC) and called CQ again for about 1/2 hour on 30M. Not a single spot. Good SWR so I’m not sure what went wrong other than the location. I did enjoy tuning around the band late at night. I don’t do this much, but I heard an “F” Station and some “I” stations. They obviously didn’t hear me, but it was fun to have a chance!
I forgot to take any pictures of my set up. A couple of noteworthy things you would have seen in my picture. . . had I taken one. The picnic tables at Huntsville State Park are extremely thick concrete tables. I couldn’t get my clamp to open up big enough to go around any part of the table in order to mount the antenna. I was also very close to the water and therefore not very high. So I mounted the antenna to a handicap railing at the base (read bottom) of the stairs up to the vehicles. Again. . . not a great location, but it is what I could do with what I had. . . Next time I’ll bring the PPD. There is plenty of room in most campsites to set that up.
Since the bands were not hopping I opted not to do radio and instead went fishing on the 2nd night. Where I ran into this guy. . .
As you can see I made it home to type this, so it all ended OK. I’ve never seen one in the wild and never dreamed I would be so close to one in the wild.
After buying a WSPRLite I decided I needed a QRP antenna tuner. I was first looking at the QRP Kits SOTA tuner, but after a recommendation I took a look at Emtech’s ZM-2. I looked at a couple others, but after reading a bunch of Eham.net Reviews, the ZM-2 looked to be the best choice for me. The ZM-2 comes as a relatively easy kit, so what follows are some pics of my build. I followed the instructions and the video advice from W5CYF.
Keep in mind, I’m not very good at soldering… yet, so be kind.
Start by winding the toroids.
This was an easier process than I thought it was going to be. Even the little one, I was a bit concerned that I was going to snap the little wire, but it snugged up nicely. I gotta say, I don’t like soldering the heat removable coating on the little wire. I was never sure it was hot enough to melt and get a good connection. I also read the instructions wrong and didn’t leave enough red wire on the large toroid, and so had to create a pigtail for that end. There was plenty of wire in the kit, so that wasn’t a problem in the end.
Setting up the LED
I ended up having to go buy some helping hands and a head mount magnifier to do this part, which worked out for later parts as well. My eyes ain’t what they used to be apparently.
Attaching the front face decal, after spraying 4 coats of Krylon.
Installing the Faceplate.
Here are the switches, connectors, and variable capacitors installed. If you build one of these, don’t attach the right poly cap knob until after you screw the faceplate into the box. The right-bottom screw ends up being under that knob by half a screw width.
Final Components and wiring.
The area near the two main switches was a bit fiddly and mine looks ugly, but there’s no shorts.
It seems to work, but there’s some issues I don’t understand yet. I put out an email to Emtech, but never got a reply. I’ll try calling them. Y’all can expect a video of it in action in the very near future.
The weather in Colorado is spectacular this time of year. Even better at altitude. Crisp, dry, cool mornings are WAY better than the Texas Humidity Enhancer! I seriously need to look for a job up there. 🙂
I am blessed to call Myron Schaffer (WV0H) a friend. He has allowed my family and I to join his family and do field day the last couple years. This video only covers ~30 hours of field day and leaves out most of the details of antennas, etc. I hope you find it entertaining at a minimum!
While on our trip the youngest kiddo mentioned some projects for she and I to work on together. I intend to finish up the Tuna Tin 2 then get after some research and building of our daddy daughter project!
Hope you had a good Field Day 2018!