The Pizzicato Kit Now Available

The Pizzicato Pulse Generator was designed by Gary Steinbaugh, PE, AF8L. His design appeared in the March/April issue of QEX. It is essentially a very low duty-cycle pulse generator that, according to Steinbaugh, “electrically “plucks” a transmission line.” And, if you observe “the line’s reaction on an oscilloscope, you can check the line’s length, terminations, and possible defects.”


Bruce, KD8APB and I adapted this design, and in the process, making it easier to build. The Elecraft mini-modules served as the inspiration for this version of the design. KD8APB did most of the design work on this version, selecting the tools and doing the board layout.

We originally designed the kit to be built at our club’s annual Construction Night. The thought occurred to us, though, that we should perhaps buy enough parts for 100 kits and sell them the way that the QRP clubs sell kits for their projects. If you want one, we have them. :) They’re $15 USD, plus $2 s/h in the U.S., $5 s/h outside the U.S. This kit should not take much more than an hour to build for the experienced builder, somewhat longer if you are inexperienced.

If you want more information about the Pizzicato, you can download the original article (if you are an ARRL member). You can also download a zip file containing our documentation. The files in this archive include:
* README.TXT – this file
* Pizzicato Assembly Instructions.doc
* Pizzicato BOM.txt – the bill of materials
* Pizzicato Schematic.bmp – a bitmap of the schematic
* pizzicato.pcb
* pizzicato.sch

The .pcb and .sch files are the CAD files for the printed circuit board and schematic respectively. To view and use these files, you will need the free CAD software from ExpressPCB, the company we used to make the boards for us. You can find this software on the ExpressPCB website.

To order yours, send your check or money order to:
Dan Romanchik KB6NU
1325 Orkney Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48103 USA

It’s Back to School for KB6NU

Monday was my first session this year with the kids at the Ann Arbor Learning Center, a charter school here. At the end of school year in June, I was a bit frustrated that none of the kids had gotten their licenses. The teachers reassured me, though, that the kids would return in the fall, and that we could pick it up from where we left off.

I was a bit skeptical about this, but the kids did indeed return. A couple of them were missing–they had transferred to the public school–but the majority of them did return. More importantly, they seemed just as interested in learning as they were last year.

Over the summer, the family of an SK donated some equipment to the club, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to get that set up at the school. They need to get the permission of the company that owns the building before we can erect an antenna. I’m hoping that permission will come soon.

I think the kids need constant exposure to the radios to keep them motivated. For the first session, I brought in the 2m transceiver and the HF transceiver, and they were all over it.

I’m also planning another construction project. This time I’m going to try a regenerative receiver. I’ll need to build one myself first, though.

And if this wasn’t enough to keep me busy, one of our club members has a daughter who’s attending another private school. She e-mailed me saying that this school was perhaps interested in donig something with ham radio. I’m already too busy, but opportunities like this are hard to pass up.

Keeping Up With Technology

Electronic engineering trade magazines are written and edited to keep engineers on top of the latest developments. While most articles are definitely not for radio amateurs, every once in a while, hams will find something of interest. The September 14, 2006 issue of Electronic Design is a case in point. It has three articles that amateurs will find amusing:

  1. “Antenna-Analyzer Designer Bypasses the Busines Bull” discusses the process that engineer Dale O’Harra, NX6S, went through to get the AntennaSmith on the market.
  2. “Poly-Band Mobile Broadcast Tuner Makes Adding Radio/TV a Snap” describes the Mirics Semiconductor MS1001, an RF front end that covers 100 kHz to 1.9 GHz. While designed for mobile devices, such as cell phones, it could find applications in amateur radio. I even thought about purchasing the evaluation board for this devices until I saw the price: $1,000!
  3. “The Elusive Software-Defined Radio” takes a shot at describing the current state of the art in SDR. Apparently, the verdict is still out as to whether it will be used widely or in just niche applications.

A Rose By Any Other Callsign….

Last night, I worked Rose KD8EGG. It was her first QSO–she passed the test on Thursday, September 14 and just recently found out that her callsign finally appeared in the the FCC database. This is a double win for me, as I have the honor of being her first QSO, sending her her first QSL card, AND getting a card in return from a station whose call sign spells a word.

Rose is part of a whole family of hams now. Her husband is Mark WB8TCO, and her son is Brian KD8EEH. As you can tell by his call sign, Brian–who is nine years old–just got his license recently. Not only that, he upgraded to General at the test session at which his mother got her Tech license.

Congratulations to all!

40m wide open tonight

40m is wide open tonight, especially to Europe. I’ve heard a bunch of Europeans tonight, and just work EG5EIG/MM, sailing in the Meditteranean. Here’s the description of this special event station from their QRZ.Com listing:

Special Event Station: Historic Ship “Isla Ebusitana,” launched in 1856.

A group of radio operator from the EA5 district will be on the air from September 20 to September 29, 2006 using the special call sign EG5EIG/MM and working on board the schooner Isla Ebusitana.

This vessel is 150 years old and will be sailing the Meditteranean during this period. The port base is Cartagena (Spain).

QSOs will be confirmed with a special card.

The radio operators will work both CW and SSB with only 100 watts and a vertical wire antenna. Please be patient and understanding!

Don’t Like the Ham Radio Club in Your Area? Start a New One!

I’ve gotten several e-mails responding to my Op-Ed piece in the September complaining about the clubs in their area. The correspondents have tried attending local club meetings only to get the cold shoulder. This is sad, but it’s the way things go sometimes.

I am encouraging these people to start their own clubs. I know this sounds easier than it is, but folks do it all the time. You might even be able to recruit hams in your area that for one reason or another do not care to belong to the club that already exists.

One idea would be to form this club in conjunction with an organization that could use the services that an amateur radio club could provide. These include:

  • Red Cross. There are many clubs that work with their local Red Cross chapters.
  • Salvation Army. The SA actually provides a lot of disaster relief services and is quite familiar with ham radio.
  • Local community college. The local community college might welcome your club, especially if they offer technology courses.
  • Senior recreation centers. Many seniors are getting into amateur radio as they now have the time to actually pursue the hobby.

There are several advantages to working with one of these groups:

  • You would be able to use their facilities for meetings.
  • They may be able to allot some space to your club so that you could set up a club station.
  • They may have some sources of funds that you could tap into for club activities.

The ARRL website has many pages devoted to helping you set up a club and run it properly. Here are a couple to get you started:

Also, most ARRL sections have an Affiliated Club Coordinator (ACC). It’s the ACC’s job to help existing clubs thrive and hams in their sections start new clubs. They are listed on the section webpage. To find out what section you’re in, go to the ARRL Sections page.

That’s it! If you do decide to start up a club, let me know how it goes.

Were You an SWL Way Back When?

This was just posted on QRZ.Com. I got into ham radio via SWLing—like many of you probably did—so I thought you might be interested in this….Dan

Ian McFarland releases 2-CD journey into SW Nostalgia!

Colin Newell writes: Were you a shortwave listener back in 1974?

If you were a regular listener to RCI’s popular SWL Digest programme, which went off the air in March of 1991 in the wake of a devastating budget cut at RCI, then you may remember the SW station Idents & Interval Signals Series that was featured on this award winning programme.

That series featured 160 identification and interval signals from SW stations around the world. Many of the ident signals heard in that long running series are no longer on the air.

If you feel nostalgic about the “good old days” of SWLing you’ll be interested to know that this unique series is now available in a two-CD set. The CDs are fully indexable and come with a hard copy listing all of these 160 ident signals.

The cost of this 2 CD set includes first class or airmail postage to anywhere in the world:

To addresses in Canada – $10
To addresses in the USA – $12 US
To all other countries – $ 15 in US or Canadian funds
The net proceeds from the sale of these CDs are being donated to the local Food Bank in Duncan, British Columbia.

Send your order to: Ian McFarland, 6667 Beaumont Avenue, Duncan, BC V9L 5X8, Canada. Personal cheques or money orders are accepted from Canada & the USA. Money Orders only for orders from all other countries.

Two AFs in a Row

Last night, my last QSO for the evening was with K5AF, Paul in San Antonio, TX. This evening, my first contact was with Owen, K1AF, in Southpoint, NC. Quite a coincidence!

I asked K1AF if he’d ever worked K5AF, and said that he’d not only worked K5AF, but also K4AF. This kind of reminds me of how I worked two barbers in a row.

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

On Saturday, I didn’t get to make many contacts or work on any ham radio projects. I went walking in the morning, and in the evening, went to the Tigers’ baseball game. I did, however, manage to work K0AGF, the St. Paul (MN) Radio Club. They were operating a special event station, commemorating their 75th anniversary! I bet there are lots of great stories floating around that club.

On Sunday, we had my wife’s family over, so all morning, I was cleaning, vacuuming, and making an apple pie. I did, however, manage to get in an hour or so between 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm. I first tuned around a bit on 20m, and didn’t really hear much, so I switched to 40m. On 40m, I heard even less, so I switched back to 20.

On 20m, I ran across the Washington State Salmon Run, their version of a QSO party. The signals weren’t that great, but I did manage to work 16 stations in nine different counties over the course of that hour, for a score of 16 x 4 x9, or 576. Based on last year’s scores, though, that doesn’t look like anywhere near enough to be the high scorer from the state of Michigan.

How to Pluck a Transmission Line

Last year, we started devoting one of our monthly meetings to building something. Last year, we built a small keyer kit, and it was an unqualified success. All 20 people who built the kit got it working. This particular kit was a good choice because it offered something for both beginners and old timers (old farts?). It was simple enough for beginners to build, and yielded something that an old time might use.

This year, we’re doing something a bit different. We’re actually doing two kits – one for beginners and one for the more advanced. The reason we’re doing this is that I became enamored with a project in the March/April 2006 QEX, the Pizzicato Pulse Generator.

The Pizzicato generates very low duty cycle waveforms that, as the article points out:

electrically “plucks” a transmission line; by observing the line’s reaction
on an oscilloscope, you can check the line’s length, terminations, and possible defects.

Now you see why this is a project for more advanced users. Although the circuit isn’t a big deal—it consists of an IC, a voltage regulator, and a handful of resistors and capacitors—one needs an oscilloscope to actually use it.

Bruce, KD8APB, and I (mostly KD8APB) have taken the circuit and modified it so that it could be easily built as a kit. For example, instead of using perf board to build the circuit, Bruce laid out a printed circuit board. Instead of a panel-mount rotary switch, we used a PC-mount DIP switch. The cost for the kits will be $15.

I have already built a couple of them, and they go together in less than an hour. We have the parts for 100 units and plan to offer them for sale, in the same way that QRP clubs offer their kits to the general public.