Building Circuits

As I reported in my last entry, I put together a small interface circuit to key my rig using the parallel port of my laptop computer. I built the circuit on a little piece of perfboard that fits inside the DB-25 connector shell.

The first circuit I built consisted of one resistor and and one transistor. Bending the leads on the resistor just so pretty much kept it on the board, but I had no way of affixing the transistor to the board very well. I bent the leads so they would go through the .100-in. holes and tacked the wires from the cable and the connector to the leads. That worked OK, but it really wasn’t the best solution. As luck would have it, I put the transistor in backwards and probably destroyed it when I powered up the circuit.

Before building the second circuit, I came across some adhesive-backed pads and traces that I’d purchased years and years ago. The brand name of these products is E-Z Circuit, and they were manufactured by a company called Bishop Graphics in Westlake Village, CA. These are very cool, actually, and pretty easy to use. See the photo below.

For the second circuit I built, used a 4N33 opto-isolator in a six-pin DIP package. I didn’t have any six-pin DIP sockets, but I did find an eight-pin socket. Using the pads on one of the strips that were laid out specifically for IC sockets, I cut out two strips of four pads, lined them up properly with the holes on the perf board, and pressed them onto the board. I then inserted the IC socket into the holes on the board and soldered the pins to the pads.

Connected to each of the IC socket pads is a strip of two or three more pads that you can use to the IC to other components. Using the E-Z Circuit pads, I put the thing together in about 15 minutes. Nothing needed to be tacked together, and the circuit worked right the first time.

Now the problem is that I’m running out of these pads and traces, and apparently Bishop Graphics is no longer in business. A Google search turned up only one reference to the company, and that page belongs to an idustrial electronics distributor in WI. I’ve emailed them about availability, but am not getting my hopes up.

If any of you out there know where I might be able to get more E-Z Circuit supplies or something similar, please e-mail me with the information.

A Silly Mistake, But a Nice Recovery

Earlier this week, I decided to put together a circuit to key my transmitter from this laptop. Since I’m using N1MM logging software, I searched the N1MM website and found a simple circuit using a 2n2222 transistor on this page. It looked simple enough, but after wasting more than an hour searching through my junkbox, I gave up.

The next day I went to the local Radio Shaft and bought a 2n3904. It had about the same specs and was a dime cheaper (59 cents vs. 69 cents). Last night, I finally got around to building the silly thiing. Unfortunately, I soldered the transistor in backwards. I must have fried it, because when I pulled it out and wired it correctly, it was partially on even with no voltage on the base. Since I only bought one transistor, and still can’t find the other one I know I have somewhere, I gave up again. What looked to be a pretty simple project was turning into a real pain.

About an hour and a half after going to bed (around 12:30 in the morning), I felt hungry, so I got up and made myself a snack. While I ate, I fired up my web browser and surfed over to All Electronics to see how much a handful of transistors would cost. While browsing, I came upon some 4N25 opto isolators, and it struck me that I may have some of those in my junk box. Not only would that work, it would also provide some isolation between the computer and the rig.

I didn’t have any 4N25s, but I did have some 4N33s. I did a Google search on “4N33″ and found not only the data sheet for the part, but also a pointer to a thread on the WriteLog mailling list discussing the kind of circuit I wanted to build. To find the circuit they were discussing, I did a Google search for “4N33 WriteLog” and quickly found the page describing how to do this.

By this time, it was about 2:30 am, but I figured what the heck, I might as well stay up and build it. I pulled out my breadboarding supplies and built it on a little piece of perf board that’s small enough to fit in the DB-25 housing. This time it worked right off! So, now all I need is a contest to use the thing. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be operating the CW SS next weekend as a friend and I are supposed to be going to the Holland hamfest. If that falls through, however, I’ll be all set to operate it with the N1MM software and my keying circuit.

Tell Us About Yourself!

Like many hams, I now have a computer in the shack. One of the really cool things I can do with it is to type in the call of a station I’ve just contacted, and if he or she has a page on QRZ.com, find out some information about them. My page, for example, has a little bit about my ham radio interests and a link to this blog where they can read more. I have also posted a picture there so people can see what I look like.

I only wish that more hams would post their information. For one thing, posting that information is a good conversation starter. Yesterday, for example, I contacted a guy who lived in the area of southeast Ohio where my grandparents grew up and also was an electronics engineer. Because he had posted that information, I was able to mention those things that we had in common and that started off a nice QSO.

So please, if you haven’t done so already, go to QRZ.Com and tell us more about yourself!

Breaking Through Another Barrier

I hate to say this for fear of jinxing myself, but I think I’ve broken trhrough the 20 wpm barrier. For the longest time, I seem to have been stuck at the 20 wpm level, but now I’m able to copy and maintain a CW QSO at 22 wpm. I’m still a little sloppy with the paddles at 22 wpm, but with more practice I should get that down pat.

Again, it was the contesting that helped me break through the barrier. Over the last two weekends, I’ve participated in three contests: the Fists Sprint, the PA QSO Party, and the IL QSO Party. The first two were a bit slower than the IL QSO Party, which took place this weekend. The IQP had a bunch of operators chugging along at speeds over 25 wpm.

For contesting, I’d like to get a keyer that allows me to change speeds more easily. With this Heathkit keyer that I’m using, I have to hit three keys to change speeds. For example, to set the speed to 18 wpm, I have to hit 1-8-WPM. That’s not a big deal for ragchewing, but in a contest you want to be able to slow down quickly to work the slower stations and then quickly speed up again. What this keyer should have is a set of function keys that could be programmed to do simple operations like that.

Too bad this keyer is so old, or I might even be able to figure out a way to do just that. Probably easier, though, to just get a microprocessor experimenter board and program a whole new keyer. The NJ QRP club has something the call the QuickieLab for only $25 that would probably would work.

A Little Ham Humor

Gwynn, W8BY, is our club comedian. Every Monday night, he comes prepared with a few groaners to amuse those foolish enough to check into our club net. Tonight, he had a few ham radio jokes. This one was the best:

After an antenna-raising party, Ham 1 says to Ham 2, “Hey, we’re all done. Why are you still on the roof?”

Ham 2 replied, “Well, Joe said that after we got his antenna up, the drinks would be on the house.”

Aren’t you glad I’m not posting the others?

Mixed Results So Far on 40m

Last Saturday, I tuned the Slinky dipole to 40m so I could work the FISTS Fall Sprint. While I did OK in the Sprint, I’ve had mixed success on 40m since then. For one thing, the Slinky is acting much more finicky on 40 than it did on 30. The SWR is much more dependent on how low the antenna hangs on 40m than it was on 30m, and the lowest I seem to be able to get the SWR is about 1.2:1. On 30m, I was able to get it practically down to 1:1.

I’ve made some nice contacts so far on 40m. For example, I had a nice long ragchew with N4YX on Sunday. And I worked some DX last night (if you count Cuba as DX, anyway). Mostly, though, I find the band unremarkable. Right now, the band is relatively quiet; either everyone has gone to bed or conditions are really bad. Just for kicks, I tuned up to 30m, and didn’t copy any QSOs at all there.

As far as DX goes, there’s some. I’ve heard a few European stations, but they were rather weak, and I didn’t even try to contact them. There certainly is a lot less DX here than on 30m.

I did make one interesting contact this evening: K5FLU, Martin F. Jue, owner of MFJ Enterprises. Unfortunately, QSB got us before we were able to get much further than exchanging signal reports and equipment descriptions. I was going to complain about the 941D antenna tuner I bought many moons ago and never got to work right.

One thing I was surprised to hear him say was that he was using a loop antenna thumbtacked to a wall in his shack. At the very least, you’d expect him to have an MFJ vertical up on his roof.


I really have to get that Gap Titan built so I can operate more than one band…

A Better Idea

About a year ago, I bought a “bullet weight” from Radio Works for getting lines up into trees. The weight has a hole through the center, through which you thread the rope or the wire or whatever. The problem, of course, is what happens when the line gets snagged in a tree?

This happened to me about three months ago, and no amount of pulling on the rope was going to get it to come down. In fact, what happened is that the rope broke, and now the weight is stuck up in the branches.

Recently, there was some discussion on the Elecraft mailing list on how best to do this. To date, here’s the best response:

From: tjmc
To: Alfred Lorona
Subject: Re: [Elecraft] antenna wire

If you must sling a weighted wire into a tree, use a fishing weight. They are rounded and have a small metal loop onto which you can attach the wire.

Better yet, wrap the wire one time around the object ( I use a rock ) and secure with a wrap of elec tape….

The reason is, if the thrown object get hung up in the tree ( which happens offen ) a good pull on the wire gets it out of the tape and the object will drop and wire retrieved.

best
Tom aa2vk

Thanks, Tom!

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Contest Fun

Today, I took part in two contests. Actually, I’m still working one of them.

The first contest was the FISTS Fall Sprint. To be able to work this contest, I needed to retune the Slinky dipole to 40m. tAfter playing with that for about a half hour, I went downstairs, hooked it up to the rig, and tuned around for a QSO to test it out. What I found was the PA QSO Party, so just before the FIST Sprint got started, I made a few QSOs in the PA QSO Party.

At 1700 UTC, the Sprint started. I got out of the gate pretty well, but then after about 45 minutes, it slowed way down, and I had to really work to make contacts, even though I was able to camp on a frequency. I guess all the guys who just showed up for a short time had enough and QRTed.

The next two hours things were relatively slow, but steady. At this point, I really should have QSYed to 20m or even higher, but, of course, I really don’t have an antenna for those bands. I gotta get that Gap Titan up real soon now. :)

At about 1900 UTC, I started getting a little thirsty. I had meant to bring down my bottle of Gatorade, but in my haste to get set up, I forgot it. I kept telling myself to go get something to drink, but every time I’d decide to do it, I’d get a call and make a QSO. When the clock hit 2000 UTC, I just told myself I’d have to tough it out.

After 2000 UTC, things picked up again. Although not as busy as when the Sprint started, it was decent. I made a bunch of contacts, then was able to actually camp out on 7.058. I couldn’t believe my luck, but as soon as I changed frequency, it slowed way down again. I called and called, but made few contacts on what I thought would be a “golden” frequency.

It was so bad, I only made one contact in the last ten minutes. I thought about changing frequencies, but I didn’t want to give up such a “good” frequency. I really have no idea why no one came back to me.

All in all, I did pretty well. 322 QSO points x 20 multipliers for a score of 6,440. I probably would have done better if I could have worked 20m for a while, although I’m not sure how band conditions were on 20.

PA QP
After working the FIST Sprint, I tuned down the band (~7.040) to see what was happening with thePA QSO Party. Things were going gangbusters, and I worked a few guys just for the fun of it. After racking up 5 QSOs, I went upstairs to have some dinner. Now, I’m back down here again, and will probably try to work a few more PA stations.

The PA QSO Party seems to be a very popular contest. There are many stations on and many out-of-state stations seem to be calling CQ as well as the PA guys. Some of the stations I worked have some very impressive QSO counts. K3ONW, for example, gave me a serial number of 661; N3SD 530.

Oh, well, Back to it….

The Polish Connection

On Monday, I had a visitor from Poland, Jacek SP1EHI. I took him out to lunch and we had a nice chat about how they practice ham radio in Poland and how it’s different from how we do it here. For example, their 2m band is only 144 – 146 MHz, meaning that there are fewer 2m repeaters there than here, as repeater activity is restricted to the 145.5 – 146.0 MHz subband. Most repeater activity is on 440.

One similarity is the lack of activity. Jacek says that while there are a good number of licensees there, only about 1/4 of them are very active at all. That’s probably similar to the situation here.

I don’t know if Jacek was my good luck charm, but this evening I worked three SP stations in a row. Just after getting down to the shack and putting on the headphones, I heard SP1DPA calling CQ on 10.1175. I called and quickly got a 579 report. After our short QSO, I tuned down the band and came upon SP1EUS calling CQ on 10.1145. I got a 589 report from him.

Finally, after tuning around and not hearing any other CQs, I decided to blast one out myself. That drew a response from SP2SV, who also gave me a 579 report. This short Slinky dipole is really doing the job into Europe tonight! This is the first time that I ever worked three stations from the same country in a row like that.

K1 or K2?

I’ve been thinking for a while about building an Elecraft K1 or K2 transceiver. The K2 is really a full-blown rig, especially now that you can add on a 100W amp, but I’m not sure I want to spend that much or take on the more complicated building project.

Well, about a week ago, I worked Bill K4KSR. He was using a K1, and we struck up an e-mail conversation about the K1 vs. the K2. He sent me a nice comparison of the two rigs, which he agreed to let me share with you:

K2

  • Evidently a world class, awesome receiver. This matters if you are a serious contester.
  • Can upgrade to 100 watts, thus using RX for really serious DX. Evidently trickier to do than meets the eye, however.
  • Fully digitally controlled. Can add DSP and other cool RX things.
  • Can add SSB board and thus PSK-31 or other computer controlled modes.
  • All HF bands, entailing antenna expense thereof.

K1

  • About half the build time compared to K2
  • 4 band filter board a must choice unless 80 meters critical to you. Can only do 80 with the 2 band board. Changing between 2 band and 4 band boards doable, but not easy. Non standard band combinations can be conjured, but 80 requires the 2 band board.
  • Microprocessor controlled single conversion analog radio. Very careful attention to IF freqs and premix. All mixing done on main board. All premix osc, bandpass filters, low pass filters on plug in filter board.
  • Latching relays control all the choices.
  • Extremely clever 3 stage xtal filter with 3 selectable bandwidths (800-200 Hz), each of which is tunable from panel in setup.
  • Filter tuning is touchy, but DOES work.
  • Having to choose between 15 and 17 meter bands is tossup, but choose you must. You must also choose between nominal 80 KHz and 150 KHz tuning range.
  • Only advantage to 150 KHz is that you can hear WWV on 30 meters, but that calibrates only one band.
  • Each band calibrated separately, but super easy.
  • RX will hear a lot more than you can work.
  • RIT/XIT range enough for ordinary splits, not enough for those demanding huge splits.
  • ATU board (extra) said to be awesome. Am building. Don’t really need with current dipoles, but it opens up all sorts of possibilities. The ATU plugs on top of the filter board, worsening the task of changing filter boards.

Bill’s obviously a big K1 fan. He also notes that Elecraft’s customer service is world-class.

I think I’ll tackle the K1 first, and depending on how that goes, sell it at some point and then tackle the K2.