Thursday, December 27, 2018

Neat Kit: 40m through 10m Multi Z Tuner from QRPGuys

Some time in early December, I determined that my soldering iron needed thawing out and, while I was more or less burdened by stuff to do in anticipation of the holidays, I did not want to go full-tilt boogie on one of the innumerable single-board transceiver kits I had stockpiled for my retirement nor was there spare time to jump into one of my repair/salvage jobs similarly warehoused.

I had stumbled on the review that W2AEW, Alan Wolke, did on YouTube and it set the hook.

So, having a couple of double sawbucks kicking around loose in the purse, I kicked in for one and after a couple of weeks of waiting, the kit arrived. (The mild delay was understandably explained by Doug Hendricks as a rush for him to get out kits, etc.) Anyway, Alan describes the idiosyncrasies and less direct points of constructing the kit so I will just add my two cents here.

Firstly, I have absolutely no need whatsoever for this kit as I am knee-deep in tuners -- automatic and manual -- and even some kits and projects waiting in the wings. But, if you believe in the "TMR" concept, then you should not be engaged in amateur radio as an avocation. I do not and therefore I am. Besides, I was smitten by the looks of the assembled kit -- so I was a goner.

I would like to echo Alan's sentiments regarding the manual; it, is complete, well-written, and festooned with helpful photographs and diagrams to assist in the construction. One can be especially appreciative of the step-by-step explanation of winding the main coil as well as the surgery on the polyvaricon caps to allow them to fit into the PCB.

It is easy to dismiss this as just another collection of those type of plastic caps, a large tapped toroid coil and the usual SWR indicator accoutrements. But, it is apparent that there was a lot of thought put into this with respect to the PCB layout, building the "case" with the gussets and face plate, and the overall look and feel of the finished product.

The only thing I "added" was on of those Home Depot flooring sample chips as a a wooden base to add stability and heft. Seems to have turned out fine.

And, as far as not needing a new tuner, I think this little beast is a nice addition to some of the small QRP kits I am about to build. Don't you?

Herewith are a flock of pics to give you a better idea. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas..and Chirp, my ass!

Firstly, a Merry Christmas to all visiting here! Sorry to be so irreverent -- especially on a Christmas morn, but I wanted to post some pictures and an explanation and woke up a little grumpy. Perhaps this is how my day will play out:

..anyway, to get to the point. Chirp is a freebie software project that is wonderfully simple and direct in its implementation but I was having some difficulties getting it to work with my Yaesu FT60R. Succinctly, the Chirp software was able to read the code plug from my FT60. The symptoms I was reporting were that the "the upload to radio" dialog came up with the Vendor and Model edit boxes coming up disabled and for some reason, the "OK" button was disabled as well. In fiddling with the software this morning, it allowed me to click OK which sent me to the upload instruction dialog. Following instructions, I dutifully clicked through it and pressed got the radio into "CLONE" mode and pressed the "MON" button whereupon the software reported a communication error. This was done several times without success.

Below are a sequence of pictures that describe what I am talking about. I will leave it at this: it's a wonderful piece of freeware but I am not presently disposed to track down and resolve why it will not write to my FT60R. I do not plan on rolling back any drivers, install any operating system patches or get any new cables. The main reason is that I already have Bob Freeth's marvelous programs for each of the Yaesu radio types I own (an FT60R, 2 VX-150s, an FT7900, an FT2900, and an FT-817) and they work flawlessly.

Were I not so bountifully appointed, I would pursue a resolution more diligently.

Happy Yule, y'all.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Millen 90651 Grid Dip Meter Serial Number H528 Spare to my Needs

Offering this to any on the Antique Radio Forum For Sale forum. It is in decent shape and works fine. I checked it out with my test parallel L/C coils and it's pretty accurate. Note that the plastic case cracked at the end and  it was repaired it with SuperGlue and Duct Tape -- you know, the stuff that holds the universe together -- and it's pretty substantial and should hold just fine. Details of offer found in the forum offertory email. Here's the unit:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

SUCK to SARK..the voyage around the SUCK begins..

Preliminary report: the cool thing about the Sark100 (Chinese eBay knockoff I have) is that is a decent signal source. Lo, look upon the emission and be humbled:

The manual specs claims that it is about 2.0 vols p-p adjustable but, seemingly, no external adjustment exists so I guess that the adjustment is done by means of rewriting the firmware as I cannot recall any internal trimmer extant.

However, while I originally thought that the "bands" were discreet frequency ranges relating to the amateur bands (160m, 80m, 40m, etc.) I note that these are broad contiguous ranges covering roughly 1.0 MHz to 60.0 MHz. Per the manual:

Also, hitting the "CAN" (up arrow) or "VAL" (down arrow) buttons will segue from one band to the next without stopping. It does so by stepping the preset increment per the config parm.

So, basically, it's a fairly decent signal source and reasonably accurate.

Sadly, it seems that the capacitance and inductance measuring capabilities of the device (CAP and IND mode) does not seem to work as described but I have to diddle a little more with that..

..more later.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Retraction: Suck100 does not suck nearly as bad as I thought..

Boy howdy! I sure got egg all over my face on this one!

Often in my career as a software developer, I would lapse into a childish tantrum and blame everything else on my software's failure and I found one fact to be almost axiomatic: the louder I complained, the more certain it was that the problem was my fault! Below, I unloaded on the Sark 100 antenna analyzer that I brought back from the morgue slab, calling it a worthless piece of shit, in effect, and barely worthy of the money and time I expended. Well, I am here to chow down on a huge plate load of crow.

Like the old aphorism goes: READ THE F**KING MANUAL!

That is, I got hold of one here and, after perusing it, I find that this little unit is the bargain of the year! Firstly, this disclaimer: this applies to the "original" kit which was derived/created by EA4FRB and is archived on this site.

As you will see, the Sark100 was discontinued in 2011 and has been superseded by the SARK-110 which is an ass-kicker of an analyzer with a hefty price tag. You interested? Look it up. This is about the SUCK Sark100. Also, another caveat: this is about the Chinese eBay Sark100 ripoffs so I cannot vouch for that at present. But, based upon what I read in the manual, the little unit is blessed with a lot more features than I originally thought.

For example what follows is a summary of what I found and will confirm in the next few days.

The Sark100 SWR Analyzer Kit is a measurement instrument which determines antenna system performance across the HF/6M amateur bands without the need of connecting the transmitter to the antenna. It is ideal for checking the resonance, bandwidth, and SWR in an easy and fast way. The meter also measures the resistance, reactance, and the magnitude of the impedance.

The analyzer is comprised of a single double-sided printer circuit board PCB (145mm x 81mm) containing all components, controls, and a 2x16 LCD display with backlight; all inside an enclosure that allows in-hand use. The enclosure holds an 8-cell AAA battery pack enabling convenient field use.
The analyzer design is based on a DDS signal generator, a PSoC microcontroller, and a reflectometer for the impedance measurements. The features and flexibility of the PSoC microcontroller allows for a simple hardware design. The design provides an USB interface to allow FW updates and uploading of the real-time measurements to the PC. The development environment is the free PSoC Designer tool and the
code has been programmed in 'C' language allowing along the USB update capability the easy customization of the code without the need of acquiring any tool.

Frequency Generation & Control
o 1 - 60 Mhz
o Source impedance: 50 Ohms
o Stability: +/- 100 ppm
o Spectral Purity: Harmonics down >- TBD dB beyond 60 MHz
o Step Size: User configurable increments of 100 Hz, 1 kHz, 10 kHz, and 100 kHz

Usable Measurement Range
o SWR: 1.0 to 9.99
o Impedance: approx. 5 to 2000 ohms

RF Output
o Adjustable: 2.0 Volts pp (typ)

Power supply
o External: 13.8 to 19 Volts DC, 500mA
o Internal: 8xAAA 1000mAh NiMH cells (Chinese knock-off has mini battery cavity)
o Charging time: 12 hours (charge rate 0.1C) (Chinese knock-off N/A)

o Pushbuttons (5): "MODE", "BAND", "CONFIG", "SCAN", "UP", "DOWN"
o Switch: "POWER ON"

o RF Out: BNC (Chinese knock-off is SO-239)
o USB: Mini-B receptacle
o External power: 2.1mm Power Jack (center pin positive)

Instrument Capabilities
o Measure antenna electrical parameters: SWR, impedance
(resistance + reactance), capacitance, inductance
o Measure feedpoint impedance
o Measure ground loss
o Adjust antenna tuners and determine loss
o Measure inductors and capacitors
o Measure coax transmission line (SWR, length, velocity
   factor, approximate Q and loss, resonant frequency,
   and impedance)
o Measure and determine optimum settings for tuning stubs:
   SWR, approximate Q, resonant frequency, bandwidth,
o Determine characteristic impedance of transmission line
o Determine length of ¼ and ½ wave phasing lines
o Coaxial Cable Loss
o Determine antenna tuner loss
o Measure balun loss
o Measure inductor Q
o Estimate quartz crystal parameters
o Measure magnetic loop resonance and SWR, it's these last items that intrigue me the most as it appears as though there's a lot more smarts behind the little beast than meets the eye. If those have been carried over to the Chinese eBay knockoffs, then, at $60-70, they are quite the steal. And I rather suspect that, since EA4FRB created this with an eye to open source development, there's a good chance that our Asian merchants have incorporated a lot of the functionality into their offerings.

Will get back to you as more is discovered. But, for the present, I was so stoked to discover this that I ordered the $50 MR100 version now on the market.

Gonna be an exciting voyage of discovery.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Saga of the Suck100 Antenna Analyzer

So here's the deal: Dick came by the yesterday to calibrate his Aussie Antenna Analyzer and check things out. That process was was moderately plain sailing until I pulled out my Sark100 analyzer (hereinafter referred to as the Suck100) and we did some comparisons.

Well, it actually was not the comparisons that was the problem, it was the fact that my analyzer had developed a display problem. Seems that a row of bits in the second in the second line had decided to take a siesta and, on occasion, caused some ambiguity in the SWR and Z readings. Here's what I am talking about:

Quick glances at a VSWR of 1.90 might lead you to believe it was 1.00 or something. Anyway, the fact that I paid 80 Simoleans for this piece of shit and the display failed after about two-three months of minimal use and great care in a docile environment. (I was not building or measuring any antenna at McMurdo Sound or in the Sinai Desert.) So, when Dick folded up his operations, our attention turned to the Suck100 and the possibility of fixing the display. And, long story short, we reasoned that possibly one of the two-line displays I had on hand might be a suitable replacement inasmuch as they had the same pinouts and footprint.

After jimmying one in parallel with the existing display and putting power to it, we saw that it did light up and some characters seemed to appear intermittently. Anyway, it was enough for Dick to wick out the old display (he's better at that than I am) and replace it which led to success! We had a unit with both lines intact and robust and, although the backlight was not as brilliant, it was more than adequate. However, another problem arose in that the evil "Error Vf Level" message appeared and subsequent operation of the unit was inconsistent bordering on pathetic. So Dick departed for home and I spent the evening hours thinking and researching.

Luckily, I turned up the assembly manual here (the Sark100 started out life as an EA4FRB kit) and it contained some troubleshooting tips:

Well, this was at first dismaying because my Suck100 was all SMT and had four or five of those tiny chips. However, pressing further, I discovered the following video which breathed life into the process above:

So, emboldened, I took a lash at tracing the problem and found that the output of U2 -- the AD8008A dual op amp -- was pretty puny and that it would probably have to be replaced. resigned to this, I noted that the chip itself was actually pretty hefty and a second look at the SMT parts proved to not be as scary as I originally thought. Sadly, the AD8008A was not readily available. The only sources were the eBay Chinese vendors with their questionable quality and four-month delivery times or Digikey who wants $3,100 for a boxcar full of these beasts. So I decided to see if the local houses had any of these in the morning.

But, while casting around for a source for the AD8008A, I happened to notice that one of the SMT caps near a display shim nut was empty and looked as though I had excised it when I wrestled the nut off the board. So I got a through-hole replacement, tacked it in place and powered the Suck100 up -- WITH NO VF ERROR MESSAGE!

And checking the output of U2, it was restored to the 1.5 Vrms per the procedure above. However, the analyzer still acted a little inconsistent so I subjected it to a re-calibration process (the 50-ohm, 150-ohm, 274-ohm mambo) and all seems to be right with the world!

An additional note: I savaged the crappy ON/OFF switch in the process of extricating the board (to get at the display) and found that one of those small SPST switches fit precisely in the slot on the board and could be tacked into place. (Dick took care of this as he is a wizard at such things but it was pretty easy to do if one is careful.), not too bad considering 15 hours ago I was going to toss the Suck100 onto the shit heap!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Problematic Tek 7A26

I have a 7A26 vertical amp unit that is misbehaving. The symptoms are as follows:

(1) The amplitude of a given signal does not remain constant when trace is scrolled from top to bottom on CRT.
(2) Both channels behave as described here.
(3) Occurs with low frequency traces (10 KHz) AND high frequency traces (10 MHz).
(4) A signal that shows 3 div is positioned with the upper peaks at the topmost graticule line.
(5) Its position is lowered using the POSITION pot to the next lowest graticule line and still shows 3 div.
(6) Its position is lowered using the POSITION pot to the next lowest graticule line it shows 2.6 div.
(7) Its position is lowered using the POSITION pot to the next lowest graticule line it shows 3 div.
(8) Its position is lowered using the POSITION pot to the next lowest graticule line it shows 3 div.
(9) Its position is lowered using the POSITION pot to the next lowest graticule line it shows 3 div.

The rapid motion sequence of the positioning is that the trace size diminishes in the upper portion (at approximately the second graticule line down) briefly and then regains its amplitude.

The pictures of this sequence are shown below:

Monday, June 11, 2018

You know me, Al.., of course, a title stolen from Ring lardner's incomparable baseball about a rookie pitcher trying to catch on in the majors in the years before World War I. Of course, this post is for my good friend, W6AAX, who is named Al.

Basically, the crystal checker outputs the oscillator sine wave through the BNC but it also have provisions to an output meter in the form of a plus and minus set of terminals. The voltage (energy level of the crystal) can be measured by using a DMM connected to these terminals. These and some more aspects of the checker operation are depicted in the pictures below.

Note that the meter output terminals are just leftover component leads suitable for alligator clips.

Here are the clip leads in place.

Here's the unit under test,

..and the frequency and voltage output..

..and, finally, the scope output.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Dancing a jig..

The great thing about the NorCal 40A project is the stack of boards I accumulated through misuse of the PCB house's weird website. Having a passel of 'em, I figured the little rig is a great tutorial on building and electronics in general. Also, being the obsessive person I am, I scored Rutledge's Electronics of Radio, the test that Rutledge uses for his Cal Tech class based on the NorCal 40A.

Anyway, it became apparent to me that if I was going to delve into this and slam together variants of this little beast, a means of testing these without tacking on the controls making each project look like some electronic Medusa.

So, as Tim Allen famously said, "I rewired it!"

So I built a test jig (introduced in the previous pose below) that would support "plug and play" by incorporating headers and plug/connectors to the controls. (Thanks to Tom, N8TPN, for the lowdown on the connectors that led me to Pololu. A few minutes of browsing there yielded a moderately inexpensive method of implementing the re-usable setup.)

Anyway, the pictures below of my step-by-step construction of a 40 meter version are pretty self-explanatory. If you have questions, leave a comment and I will get back to you.

First, the labelled shots..

..and now the rest.

Entire test setup for K7QO's Phase 3 testing.

Add caption

This was one of K7QO's crystal checkers used in generating the 4.915 MHz signal to test the BFO.

And here's a little added bonus. When not in use, the soldering station wand cord used to get in my way and drive me nuts. So, I ran the cord through a used toilet paper tube and use that -- as shown -- as a means of gathering it up neatly.