Monday, July 11, 2016

Hacking off a piece of the Winter backlog..

An outfall of the disastrous 2016 Zuni Loop FD effort was that WB6JDH's (Dick Palmer) tent poles got squirreled away to my domicile and Dick made the trip last Saturday to retrieve them. By the way, just so you get an idea of what a crapfest field Day was this year, we fell from 11,000-plus points last year (a 33-year high) to just over 8,000 point (duped but not verified.) Our QRO competitors down the road in Orange County and perennial powerhouses, OCARC/w6ZE, fell off to just under 5,000 points and they were off by about 3,000 points as well. But more later.

Anyway, Dick picked up his poles but took the occasion to bring down his modified and hot-rodded HW-7. I will fill this post out later with details but this is his own version of an earlier mod for this rig that basically "hots up" the receiver to a fire-breathing -125 dBm. He does so by incorporating two circuits from the venerable Ugly Weekender article, shown below:

As I said, I will provide notes and descriptions later, but for now, here are some pictures:

Sunday, April 10, 2016

K6WHP Rendition of K7QO's QSB-01 20m Build

This is under construction and will emerge as a compendium of notes and comments based on my progress through Chuck Adam's QSB-01 project. You are referred there for the details.

dit dit


Friday, April 1, 2016

A good idea whose time has come and gone and come again..

..uh oh:

April 1, 2016

Washington, D.C. – April 1, 2016 – Today, the Federal
Communications Commission (Commission or FCC) approved
Report and Order 14-987af which reinstates the Morse
Code test for General Class and Amateur Extra Class
licensees. “It was a big mistake eliminating the Morse
Code test,” admits Dotty Dasher, the FCC’s director of
examinations. “We now realize that being able to send
and receive Morse Code is an essential skill for radio
amateurs. As they say, it really does get through when
other modes can’t.”

Not only will new applicants have to take the test, but
General Class licensees who have never passed a code
test will have one year to pass a 5-wpm code test.
Similarly, Amateur Extra class licensees that never
passed a code test will have one year to pass a 13-wpm
test. Those amateurs that fail to pass the test will
face revocation of their operating privileges. Materials
for administering the examinations will be distributed
to Volunteer Examiner Coordinators by the end of April,
so that they can begin the testing on May 1, 2016.

“This isn’t going to be one of those silly multiple-
choice type tests,” noted Dasher. “We’re going to be
sending five-character random code groups, just like we
did in the old days. And, applicants will have to prove
that they can send, too, using a poorly adjusted
straight key.”

Technician Class licensees will not be required to take
a Morse Code test, nor will a test be required for new
applicants. “We discussed it,” said Dasher, “but decided
that since most Techs can’t even figure out how to
program their HTs, requiring them to learn Morse Code
seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.”

When asked what other actions we might see from the FCC,
Dasher hinted that in the future applicants taking the
written exam may be required to draw circuit diagrams,
such as Colpitts oscillators and diode ring mixers, once
again. “We’re beginning to think that if an applicant
passes an amateur radio license exam it should mean that
he or she actually knows something,” she said.

For further information, contact James X. Shorts,
Assistant Liaison to the Deputy Chief of Public
Relations for the FCC .

Well, now that all of you no-code Generals and Extras have your sphincters puckered down to f/16, look at the date of the FCC bulletin. (Actually, it's an old one -- from 1024.)

As for all of your Baofeng Techs out there..well..there's no excuse for you. You ARE dilettantes and ARE going to have to learn technical shit some time.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Late to the Dance: Palm Springs 2016 Hamfest

Earlier this month, WB6JDH and I ventured out to Palm Springs for the Desert Rats annual ham fest. Originally held on a private residence on the last Saturday of January, it was moved to a public venue because the tree-huggers were afraid we hams would step on too many snails or birds or mammals or some-such.

I had been absent the last couple of years but Dick told me that the Desert Rats had come to their senses and waived the $25 fee for tailgating they had been charging in the past in the interest of getting more of us casual sellers to attend.

Last year's swap meet aspect of the get together only say abut three or four participate. This year, there were more and -- hopefully -- the participation will climb.

As you can see, it is a spectacular place to sell, being on a verdant almost golf-course-like outfield of a baseball field. While the pickings might have been small, it was a nice, warm day of relaxing in the sunshine.

Cannot wait until next year!


Sunday, February 21, 2016


Spent the weekend (Friday and Saturday, actually) in Yuma, Arizona for the ARRL Southwest Division Convention. (Or, at least I thought that's what it was.) Anyway, while the talks and vendor displays weren't up to par, there was a swap and it was an opportunity to hang with Dick, WB6JDH, as we basically solved a lot of ham radio problems and consumed food and drink.

The swap was o.k. but nothing that really rock your socks and the prices were surprisingly "retail". You know the drill: some desert hermit has an Icom 7000 that's covered in dust and soaked in tobacco juice and he wants $2.75 under full HRO prices. Although, that said, Dick scored a really, pristine Heathkit HR-1680 receiver for $60 -- after I goaded him into making the guy an offer. We had a running dialog about "where am I going to put it?" and "where are you going to put it?" and "you know that if you don't buy it, the fact that you passed on it will eat away on you til you are on your death bed". (I really get morbid at times but that set the hook. Dick bought the receiver and he says it works great!)

We had a real vicarious adventure checking in at our hotel, the Quality Inn. Seems there was a line at the front desk around 1730 and all kinds of hell was brewing. The poor girl who had evening manager duties was hung out to dry by the hotel's local management. When a couple of folks complained about their rooms (small things like, oh, the plumbing did not work, no towels, lights broken, no TV, etc.), she told them that SHE COULD NOT SWAP THEIR ROOMS because she did not have the authority. Yessir, it was a real case study in mismanagement.

Dunno what the deal was, but I seemed to be pretty beatific about the whole thing. And, in the end, when Dick and I got our room, we made a full-on military inspection of the facilities: toilet, towels, TV, and running water. Fortunately all checked out except for the TV which was unplugged. Easily remedied although the TV was not used.

The surprise of the evening was when we searched for a restaurant with no crowds. Since the ARRL convention was in town, all the visitors flocked to the "more exotic" dining places and the waits were incompatible with Dick's and my dietetic patience. Exercising what we initially thought as an act of desperation, we traipsed into a Pizza Hut expecting to be greeted by a fast-food, TV blaring, serve-yourself shit hole. Instead, it was a really nice sit-down diner with very friendly waitresses, an expanded menu, and draft Bock beer! Two pitchers of that and two medium pizzas and two hours later, we were excruciatingly contented and sauntered off to our hotel to sleep it off.

But, I gotta tell you this, I am still impressed by the layout and motif change. It was clean, bright, and two old farts could engage in a pleasant evening's conversation without jackhammer disco or rap or servers with tattoos and pierced appendages. Hope to God that it's not only in Yuma because that's an awfully long drive to get an anchovy, black olive, mushroom pan crust pizza.

The weather at Yuma was pleasant, sunny, and mild. But then again, this was not the Summer.

Also seen were a many folks from the SoCal area: the TRW vendors and so on. We also had a pleasant visit from Jim Duffey, KK6MC, a.k.a., "Dr Megacycle" who chewed the fat and swapped the latest gossip in the world of QRP.

But, the most surprising of all as my bumping into an old friend from back in the early 80s, Frosty Oden, formerly N6ENV now NQ1S (Not Quite 1 Second), who had retired from CBS three years ago and moved his family and Motorola business to Phoenix. (Basically, Frosty said he got tired of California and the politics and preferred the friendly people of Arizona. Heat? well, there's always air conditioning, he told me.) How did I meet Frosty? Well, he and his wife were one of the couples who complained about the conditions at the Quality Inn.

It sure is a small world..

..but I would not want to paint it.

Enjoy the pictures.

Open for business on Friday afternoon

This guy was selling his first RB floats for $4.50 (mug included) and subsequent fill-ups for $1.00 each. Tempting, but.. 

Tailgaters; motor home camping AND selling.


More goodies..

The hard-top area; prime real estate for selling and camping.

Left side of the pavilion for tailgaters.

Right side of the pavilion was occupied by this asshole from England. Annoying guy with over-priced junk.

The English asshole from a safe distance.

More RV camping. 

Left side of the pavilion close up. Nice seller; still junk.

Just a small sample of the nearby Yuma MCAS activity on Friday afternoon

Nice seller; no junk; great prices. The Tek 7704 and HP signal generator came back to SoCal.

Interesting boat anchors; unattractive prices.

Ibidem. Close up.

One of the truly nice (and smart) QRP luminaries. Jim Duffey, KK6MC, a.k.a. "Doc Megacycle".

Dick and Doc (KK6MC) chat the afternoon away. 


Thursday, February 11, 2016

HW-8 Adventures

At this writing, I am wrapping up a refurbishment of the HW-8 I got from WB6JDH. It was in beautiful shape (sort of) and worked just fine until I over-rotated the dial and pushed the rotor plates off the shaft. At that point, I was about to have a meltdown because I thought life for this radio -- as I knew it -- had come to an end. Surely, unless I found a scrap unit, the arcane VFO cap was a once-in-a-lifetime thing of the past.

Wow, was I misinformed! Turns out that there's a guy in Northern California who stocks and sells these beauties for $20 + 5 s&h. It might seem a little steep but, when you're the only game in town, you almost break your hand writing out the check. (There's also a factory that makes them and they also sell retail. After all is said and done, the price plus shipping is about the same.)

So, after waiting for the mailman about three to four days, I set about replacing the cap and, while not an easy task, it was do-able. But, you know me, Al. I kept running into kluged solder joints and inexpertly wired leads, and the odd mess here and there that just screamed to be tidied up.

Also there was the matter of the two upgrades I ordered from John Clements in Michigan. These were his non-pereil T/R switch and his audio board. The former is somewhat of a luxury but the latter is an absolute necessity if one wants to drag their HW-8 (or HW-7) out of the QRP stone age and convert it to use 8 ohm speakers and headphones. Both of these boards are stone cheap and come with the added benefit of superb customer support and the friendship of KC9ON, one of the nicest hams I have met in a long time. I will go into more detail in the description of the mods down below, but you need to seriously think about these two items as "must haves" for your "8". (Or "7" as well.) They will be a stock mod for any rig I now have or will acquire in the future.

UPDATE: Done with everything except the K1EL K16 keyer board and I am still up in the air on that one, torn between building it into the radio or building it into am enclosure and using it with all of the HW-7s, HW-8, and HW-9. Probably do the latter. Anyway, whatever magic lives in these ancient Heathkit QRP rigs sure has jumped out an bitten me in the ass bit time. Here are the mods I did and some comments regarding same.

Boy, this was a bitch! Basically, I removed to old cap, of course, and was thinking it could be recovered because the rotor blades were glued once before but, alas, that was not to be. Anyway, I must have had that cap in and out about five times because I was always forgetting a step in the process here and there. The recommendation is, of course, to carefully study the whole process beforehand as this tend to cut down the re-dos.

Also, I was too smart by half and thought I would tap one of the holes on the back of the heavy metal cap bracket but this was a fool's errand. There is a tensioner spring that slots on the shaft and the bent-down edge catches in that hole. My jerking around forced the tensioner out of the hole and -- upon reinstalling the cap -- a couple of turns cause the spring to fall out. The cap was removed (yet again), the spring re-seated, and the cap reinstalled (for hopefully the last time).

Old VFO cap with missing rotors

New VFO cap

Removed VFO cap, bracket

Whole section gutted 

Replacing new VFO cap and bracket

Rewiring VFO cap

As the VFO cap was extracted, what became apparent was the wiring around the RF Gain/Audio Gain potentiometer was a kludge. I carefully unwired and rewired it and -- although I am still not happy with the results -- it is considerably better than it was. I suspect that to do the job properly, one would need to re-cut and redo a lot of the cables in the unit. My main concern was getting the radio back working and ion the air. If there is ever a rainy day and I am feeling suitably ambitious, then this will be a project. (Heck, maybe even if a basket-case HW-8 is encountered?)

This was technically the very first mod done to this radio. It was a real no-brainer given that (1) KC9ON's boards are specifically designed for the HW-7 and HW-8 units, (2) the price extremely reasonable (around $10 delivered or something like that), and (3) John's friendship and knowledge comes with the bargain. That last point has to be the biggest selling point of the whole deal. He is always ready to answer questions and add additionally rebuilding tips and pointers along the way. So, get used to it, I will be gushing about John's goods and services quite a lit here.

That said, it's a pretty straightforward mod. One just assembles John's new board (easy), removes the old audio board (easy), and installs the new board where the old one was (very easy), and re-solder some wires. The last step is a little tricky but nothing by way of complexity.

The results are a good, clean robust audio that plays nicely with 8-ohm speakers and headphones.

'nuff said.

The KC9TR switch is as neat as John's audio board -- maybe neater! In assembling it, you must fabricate the plug for the relay you will be replacing. The kit does that by ingeniously by reworking one of those right-angle terminal connectors and soldering them onto the T/R switch board. (See pictures.)

How to make the T/R Switch plug (Borrowed from KC9ON's web site)

After that has been done, then the population of the board is pretty easy. However, you should use caution and make sure your components are placed/seated properly and that the solder joints are clean and solid. John's instructions are plenty detailed and not confusing at all, but he had a method -- a static test -- for checking out the switch before it is installed that confirms it will work. Read on.

I had put my T/R switch in and, during testing, I noted very low transmit power and THEN noticed that the the red and green LEDs were not properly lighting during transmit or receive. So, I pulled the switch and contacted John who sent me a full e-mail of diagnostic testing steps and recommendations. With those, I was able to resolve the issue by re-inspecting and re-working the solder joints until the unit functioned properly. Once installed, things worked grand and my little HW-8 was back in the big leagues with full QSK. Here are his words in describing the static test:

Before shipping an assembled board I do a small “vulcan nerve pinch” technique to test it out. Might help you here and you may not need to go as far. You will need to remove the T/R switch from the main board, fortunately this is pretty easy to do with the extra wide holes in the main PCB.

Take a power supply and connect up the +12V Terminal Block and Ground pin (with alligators). Then with a jumper wire tap the “Relay” or “K1” pin to +12V. At this point Red goes bright and green goes out. The nerve pinch comes in trying to hold the non-soldered LED’s into position at the same time.

I followed the customary procedures as outlined in the Heathkit manual with nothing out of the ordinary. It's just this was my first time and familiarization was required. I did note that sprucing up the receiver by using one's ears (especially ears that have been on this planet almost seven decades) to be very challenging. So, since I had worked long and hard breathing life in those beautiful HP AC voltmeters, I may as well put one of those things to good use.

The results were amazing!

By hooking up the AC voltmeter to the speaker output in parallel and feeding a signal into the radio, it was a simple matter to peak the trimmers despite their being touchy and hyper critical. Once done, I put the radio on the air and happened to listen to 80 meters and was surprised at the sensitivity! Luck was with me that night because 80 is usually a swamp of electrical QRN and cable TV hash but not only was it quiet, there was a sprint going on and the signals were rolling in.

In replacing the VFO cap and reworking the RF Gain/Audio Gain pot, I had to take out the kludge that was an S-meter mod the former owner made. It worked fine but was in the way and, in removing it, I screwed up the terminal strip and decided to junk it in favor of another one I built. The circuit below appeared all over the interwebs and, because it offered a variable pot instead of a fixed 12K ohm resistor, I built that up on a small piece of PCB with QRPMe squares. It turned out decently and, when installed, performed beyond expectation. The pot was an absolute necessity as the resulting sensitivity was much lower than the 12K ohm resistor would have allowed. (That is, the meter would have merely bumped a little bit for the strongest signals.) Obviously, it was not calibrated scientifically but rather made to peg at "5" when a local very, very strong CW signal was heard. A nice feature of this circuit is that the meter operation is smooth owing to the decay time of the RC constant with the 10 uF cap.

Plenty good enough.

This is pretty self-explanatory. I stumbled on a reel of these tape-backed super-bright LEDs on eBay and found them to be indispensable around the house and shack. You can cut them into discreet sections (minimum of three) and drive them with 12 VDC. As you can see, they fit nicely behind the HW-8s proscenium. A 12 VDC LED (one with the current-limiting resistor already part of the unit) was dangled over into the meter "area". It is very effective.

This has been postponed until i decide whether to actually built the K16 into the unit or build it in its own case and use it with my other HW-8s and HW-7s.

This little radio, while not up to snuff with the "modern day" QRP technology that abounds in even the most simple QRP kits, possesses a charm and grace of its own. It is easy to see why builders and owners form an affection for these radios. Not only do fond memories accrue from the building of the kits by their owners back in the seventies and eighties are built, but the prospect of owning a radio and having an instruction manual which covers EVERYTHING gives one a sense of invincibility should problems arise. Also, having the manual allows one to wade into the mods with much more confidence.

I may have said before, but I will repeat: while it is nice to keep these in their pristine, unmodified state, the few simple alterations here (the T/R switch, the audio board, and the S-meter add so much more enjoyment to operating these radios. As an aside, peering into this model's older cousin, the HW-7, I am overcome by its simplicity and I look forward to seeing what i can do to cure the ills and make those work well too.