Hamster-powered phone charger

This isn’t really amateur radio related, but Ralph KB8ZOY thought this item about a kid building a hamster-powered cell phone battery charger was amusing. He says, “The bummer is the grade this kid got for his project.” (He only got a C for this project and a D for the course.)

My question, though, is what’s a sixteen year old kid doing with a Winnie-the-Pooh cellphone?

New Stuff from Elecraft

Elecraft’s just announced a couple of new kits that builders and experimenters will find intriguing. Like their other products, they’re not cheap, but I’ll bet you get what you pay for.

I’m seriously considering buying the XG2. I would have loved to have one when aligning my KX1. That was the step that I had the most trouble with. I may even buy a couple of them, and sell them. Let’s see. If I bought five of them, and sold four of them for $75 a pop, I’d basically be getting mine for free. :)

The first new product is the XG2, a three-band, receiver test oscillator designed to help you measure receiver sensitivity. The Elecraft propaganda says:

The XG2 is a fixed-frequency signal source with switch selectable oscillator frequencies on 80, 40 and 20M. Its highly-accurate precision low-level crystal oscillator generates 1 microvolt and 50 microvolt output levels with an absolute output accuracy of better than ± 2 dB, and an extremely small unit-to-unit variation of typically ± 1 dB.

The 1-microvolt level can be used to determine a receiver’s MDS (minimum discernible signal), as well as its overall receive gain. 50 microvolts is widely used as the standard “S9″ reference, so this level can be used for S-meter calibration. Step-by-step procedures are included for receiver performance measurement and S-meter alignment. In addition to receiver testing, the XG2 can be used as a reference to calibrate other lab instruments.

The XG2 also includes an on-board 3-Volt battery (standard coin cell) and a low current power-on LED. The XG2 typically draws 250 uA, resulting in an estimated battery life of 850 hours. The unit is protected against brief accidental transmit, and has been tested at up to 10 watts for 2 seconds.

The XG2 can be set to operate on 3.579.5, 7.040 and 14.060 MHz. It also provides reduced output levels at harmonics of these operating frequencies, so it can be used for receiver alignment and qualitative tests on or near most HF ham bands.

The XG2 is quite small: the PC board is just 1.5″W by 3.5″L. You can use a BNC male-to-male adapter such as Elecraft model BNC-MM to eliminate the coax cable and directly connect the XG2 to the back of a receiver or transceiver. Rubber feet are also included so the unit can be used on the workbench.

The XG2 is available now, and is priced at $59. The BNC-MM adapter is $5.

The second new product is the 2T-gen Two-Tone Test Generator, a module designed to help you make transmit intermodulation distortion (IMD) measurements. Elecraft says:

[The 2T-gen provides] a standard 2-tone (700 and 1900 Hz) audio source for testing of SSB transceivers and linear amplifiers. This type of testing is almost universally used as a measure of transmitter linearity for amateur radio equipment. (Linearity impacts both SSB fidelity and the amount of SSB splatter that causes adjacent channel interference.) Results of 2-tone IMD tests can be found in every ARRL review of new transceivers and power amplifiers.

The 2T-gen is battery operated and provides sufficient output level (0-200 mV) to be connected directly to the microphone connector of almost any transceiver. Transmitter linearity can then be observed either by observing the transmit signal 2-tone envelope on an oscilloscope or station monitor. For more exacting IMD measurements the output can be measured using a spectrum analyzer.

For the 2T-gen, F1 is 700 Hz and F2 is 1900 Hz, which results in a 3rd order product of 3100 Hz and a 5th order product of 4300 Hz. The amplitude of these undesired outputs is usually increased as the transmitter output is increased, and is caused by various transmitter amplifier stages beginning to operate in compression.

The PC board is just 2.5″W by 3.5″L. Rubber feet are also included so the unit can be used on the workbench. The 2T-gen is available now, and is priced at $59.

For further details on both products (including downloadable manuals), visit the Elecraft website.

I’m Official Now

I got my letter from the ARRL confirming I am a candidate for Vice Director of the Great Lakes Division. I had a bit of a scare as I was at first disqualified because I had at one time operated an Internet bookstore that sold amateur radio books. After notifying the Ethics Committee that QTB.Com was no longer in business, they rescinded the disqualification though.

Let the campaign begin!

Who the Heck is KB6NU?

updated 2/8/13

I got an e-mail from a guy who noted that he couldn’t find my name anywhere on this website. I looked and he’s right. So, here’s a little bit about me. I’m going to figure out a way for a link to this post to appear on one of the nav bars so that readers can find it more easily….

My name is Dan Romanchik, and I’m just a guy who’s having fun with ham radio.

I’m 57 years old, and have been a ham for 42 years, although for most of those years, I wasn’t very active. I have been very active since the summer of 2002, after I got the bug again after working some CW at our club’s Field Day. Since then, I have:

  • made more than 12,000 contacts, mostly on CW,
  • increased my code speed to 30 wpm or so,
  • built a bunch of kits and other stuff (including an Elecraft KX1 handheld HF transceiver),
  • worked a bunch of contests and have even garnered a few certificates from doing so,
  • taught Tech and General class course,
  • written five amateur radio books, including license study guide for all three license classes,
  • set up an amateur radio station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (WA2HOM),
  • served as president of ARROW, a club that serves ham in and around Ann Arbor, MI, and
  • served as Affiliated Club Coordinator and ASM, Training for the Michigan section.

I’m no “super ham.” I don’t have a 120-ft. tower with a three-element 40m beam on it. I don’t own a $10,000 transceiver, and I haven’t yet been on a DXpedition. I am having a lot of fun, though.

Strange QSO

I just had a strange sequence of events occur on 40m CW.

I called CQ on 7.030 MHz. No one came back right away, but after monitoring for a minute I heard K9CGD call CQ. So, I answered his call. Well, as soon as I finished calling him, AA1LL calls me.

I asked AA1LL to stand by and then called K9CGD, who unfortunately either disappeared or had not heard me. I then called AA1LL again, but in the meantime, he disappeared.

Then, I hear XE3HRP calling CQ. I returned his call and had a nice QSO. It’s too bad we couldn’t have all worked the Mexican station.

Sobering Statistics

Ralph KB8ZOY emailed me this morning with the following.

I have the Buckmaster HamCall CD dated 5/3/04 and have been doing some exploring. It is possible to query the database and export the results, say, into MS-Access. Here are some counts of hams in various Washtenaw County cities:

  • Ann Arbor – 369
  • Chelsea – 42
  • Dexter – 51
  • Lincoln – 9
  • Manchester – 27
  • Milan – 35
  • Salem – 1
  • Saline – 80
  • Whitmore Lake – 45
  • Willis – 11
  • Ypsilanti – 193
  • Ypsilanti Township – 1
  • Total – 864

Now, if you consider that half of those licensed are inactive (or maybe even SK), and that the ARROW membership is about just over 100, then our membership is about one quarter of all the active radio amateurs in Washtenaw County. That’s not too bad, especially when you consider that the Chelsea club also has a membership of 30 – 40 members.

Even so, think of how much more fun we could have–and how much more effective we could be in providing public service–if we could get up to 200 members. It’s something we have to work on.

The Warm Glow of Vacuum Tubes

Without a doubt, today’s solid-state equipment performs much better and is easier to use than the earlier generations of ham gear that used vacuum tubes. Even so, there are still many amateur radio operators and electronics hobbyists who are building circuits that use tubes and enjoying their warm glow.

One of the reasons for this interest is nostalgia. Many of us grew up with radios that used vacuum tubes, and it takes us back to use them even today. Another reason is that the technology is simpler, making it easier for hobbyists to design and build their own circuits.

Some of these hobbyists call themselves “glowbugs.” The Glowbug website contains a wealth of information about tubes and tube circuits, including:

  • receiver Circuits and Accessories,
  • transmitter Circuits,
  • VFO Circuits,
  • interesting Links to other’s pages,
  • excerpts of books online and more.

The Glowbugs also have a mailing list, on which they talk about all manner of things relating to vacuum tubes. I have been hesitant to actually subscribe to this list and add to the already high volume of e-mail that I receive daily, but I may succumb and sign up anyway.

A New Battery Pack for the KX1

Vector Pocket PowerSome time ago, on the Elecraft mailing list, someone mentioned that an outdoor supply house was selling lead-acid battery packs for $15 or $20. That sounded like a decent deal, so I bought one, and as soon as it arrived, stuck it on the shelf.

I didn’t have time to futz around with it during the maiden voyage of my KX1, but yesterday, I charged it up. Today, I built the cable to hook it up to my KX1 (ligher plug to small DC connector).

Fully charged, the output of the battery pack, which consists of two 6V, 4.5 amp/hr batteries connected in series is about 12.5 V. With this supply, the KX1 puts out 4.0W. Very cool.

The disadvantage, of course, is that the battery pack is much bulkier than the internal batteries, but it’s a tradeoff. If you don’t plan on taking the KX1 backpacking, it’s a tradeoff you might want to make, too.

In surfing around for information on the battery pack, I notice that the manufacturer is selling reconditioned units for $18. That’s a pretty good deal considering that it comes with all the accessories, including a wall charger, a car charger, and a carrying case and shoulder strap.

I’m Now Officially a Pig

From time to time, I’ve been called a pig in the past. I think my mother was probably the first after getting a look at my room. I’m sure my wife has called me that at one time or another, too.

Well, now I’m officially a pig–a Flying Pig, in fact. I’m now a member of The Flying Pigs QRP Club International, #1171 to be exact.

It looks like a fun group. Their motto, for example, is ” No Dues, No Rules, Just Fun – and if we don’t like it we fix it!” How can you argue with a motto like that?

Even surfing their website is a lot of fun, although some might find the animated flying pigs to be a bit obnoxious after a while. It’s chock full of stuff, including a newsletter (named Bacon Bits) archive, a Builder’s Corner with links to construction data, and a bunch of photos from pig events.

Update 9/7/05:
I’ve also just applied for membership in the Second-Class Operators Club, whose motto is “Because so few are really First Class.” Think of it this way–this is an elite group for the rest of us. :)

Does This Make Ham Radio “Better”?

Here’s an editorial by Ward Silver, N0AX from the August 10, 2005 Contest Rate Sheet. It’s reprinted here with permission from the ARRL. About the only thing I’d change is his translations of the purposes of amateur radio as set forth in Part 97.1. Other than that, he’s right on….Dan

In preparing a presentation for the Pacific NW DX Convention on new ways of visualizing radio information, I felt that it was important to evaluate the ideas for their possible effect on ham radio. After all, if new technology, techniques, or activities don’t make ham radio “better”, then why implement them?

The implied part of that question is that we actually know what “better” is. The quick reply is usually, “Well, of course I know!” But when pressed, it can be difficult to say exactly where the Good Arrow points. A legalistic definition would be to point to the FCC’s Part 97.1 – the Basis and Purpose for the Amateur Service, paraphrased here as:

  • Voluntary communications, particularly emergency communications
  • Advancement of the radio art
  • Advancing skills in the communications and technical phases of the (radio) art
  • Expansion of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts
  • Enhance international goodwill

Those are a little dry, so translating those principles into more personable statements in no particular order:

  • Increase understanding of the physical environment of radio
  • Improve an operator’s efficiency, accuracy, and breadth of expertise
  • Encourage technical learning about communications systems
  • Develop new radio services and techniques
  • Create new opportunities for building and innovation

These are pretty much where my particular Good Arrow points. I don’t expect every possible change to ham radio to score a plus on every one of those five points, but if a change can’t muster a little enthusiasm in any of those areas, then maybe it’s not going in the direction of the Good Arrow. Conversely, the more goals a change promotes, the better the change may be.

Some changes have uniformly good effects, but most will be of the “some steps forward, some steps backwards” variety. This leaves us to count the steps, weigh them, and decide whether there is a net benefit. Things get even more complicated when combinations of changes are occurring. Two rights might make a wrong! Then there is the fact of having thousands of humans all acting and reacting at once – that makes life genuinely interesting, doesn’t it?

When presented with such a rich and frothy brew of possibilities, it’s usually easiest to just pull the covers over one’s head and reject them all. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that radio and radio operators are continually changing, whether we embrace change or not.

Undoubtedly, amateur radio is in a watershed period, just as it was in the years following World War II, a period of dramatic technical change and a rapid change in the population of amateurs. While there was a lot of complaining, that upheaval seems to have turned out OK. Today, the rapidly hybridizing Internet-Radio combination, changing license requirements, and accelerating technical evolution of radio will probably transform ham radio to the same degree as before and after WWII. Radio in 1960 looked an awful lot different to an amateur that got started in the 1930′s – a situation in which many of us find ourselves today.

As you browse the Web, read the magazines, and kick things around with your friends, you’ll encounter divisive and difficult topics such as CW testing, spotting networks, digital radios, bandwidth and band plans, and on and on. Even in such an environment, where it’s difficult to know the long-term benefits and costs of changes, one can still apply Good Arrow measuring sticks and support the aspects of change that line up closest. Then it becomes a question of whether you choose to dwell on features that measure up or the ones that don’t. Ham radio is molting – all we have to do now is decide which parts will make up the new lobster and which parts the old shell.