Last Weekend in the Shack at KB6NU

Saturday, I actually spent most of the day out of the shack attending a meeting of the ARRL Michigan Section leadership. Being the state’s Affiliated Club Coordinator, I am a member of that team. Attendees at this year’s meeting included the:

  • Section Manager (SM),
  • Asst. Section Manager (ASM),
  • Section Traffic Manager (STM),
  • Section Technical Coordinator (STC),
  • Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC),
  • Public Information Officer (PIO), and
  • Affiliated Club Coordinator (yours truly).

Overall, it was a great meeting. It’s good to get together as we did, swap ideas, and discuss how we can help one another. For example, we discussed how we could hook up the STM with the clubs to help him recruit more traffic handlers.

One thing we all agreed on is that we’re going to have to work on getting more volunteers to help us in our efforts. Michigan is one of the largest sections, and it’s really impossible for us to keep up with everything going on in the state. For example, the idea of finding and appointing Assistant ACCs came up again. This is an idea I am going to pursue.

Making Way for a New Antenna
Sunday afternoon I cleared away all the branches that fell during the ice storm two weeks ago. That was a lot of work. After sawing up branches and hauling them out of the yard for two hours I was too pooped to do any antenna work, but I should be able to get something back up in the air next weekend.

Back on the Air
Sunday night, I actually applied some power to the W3EDP antenna I strung up a couple weeks ago. I had some funny results, but I actually made a contact. First of all, I set up the tuner on a window sill, and brought the random wire in directly to the tuner. I then connected the 17-ft. counterpoise to the tuner’s ground terminal and laid it out on the ground. I then connected my antenna analyzer and adjusted the tuner for minimum SWR at 3530 kHz. I was able to get it down to about 1.20:1.

Next, I connected the coax to the IC-746PRO and cracked the power down to about 20W. WHOA!! The rig said the SWR was more than 3:1! I switched in the rig’s tuner, which brought the SWR down to 1.1:1, but I didn’t think that I’d have to use the 746′s internal tuner.

I wasn’t sure that I should try to operate with this configuration, but I figured I’d give it a go. I tuned around and heard K2PMC calling CQ. He was 599, so I called him back. He copied me, and said I was S5-6. We had a nice QSO, but I cut it short, as I was still not very comfortable operating this way.

The source of my unease is that never before has the SWR measured with the antenna analyzer disagreed so wildly with what the SWR measured by the radio. I’m not really sure what to make of it. One thing I’m going to try is to use a 66-ft. counterpoise, and if I get similar results, then connect the counterpoise to the 8-ft. ground rod I have just outside the shack window. As always, I’ll report on it here.

UPDATE: 1/31/07
Monday night, while gabbing with the guys on our club’s 2m net, I measured out 66 feet of wire and crimped a spade lug on it. Tonight, I ran outside, laid it out on the ground, and poked the lug through the hole in the window where I have my antenna tuner.

What a difference this new counterpoise makes! The settings for lowest SWR are quite different than when I had the 17-ft. counterpoise connected, but this time, the SWR that I measure with the antenna analyzer agrees with the SWR measurement that the rig is making.
At 3530 kHz, I was able to tune the wire so that the SWR was 1.1:1 and below 1.5:1 from 3500 to 3560 kHz.

I made two contacts tonights. Both responded to my call of CQ. The first was with K1ARO in CT, running less than 20W. He was 599, and he gave me a 589 report.

The second was with N8DJ in Edgarton, WV. He was 459, and he gave me a 559 report. Both QSOs were around 3530 kHz, and during both contacts the SWR measured by the rig was solidly 1.1:1 with the IC-746PRO’s internal tuner off.

I don’t think this antenna is the world’s best performer—it’s kind of noisy, for one thing—but it’s very cool that I can get on the air again. It’s also very cool that I was able to use this antenna tuner that I’ve had kicking around my junk boxes for decades.

Code Proficiency Programs: Do We Really Want/Need Them?

In the wake of the recent decision to eliminate the Morse Code requirement, there have been several proposals to set up code-proficiency testing programs. I just got an e-mail today from our division director proposing a pilot project that VEs would be responsible for running in the communities they serve. And there has been some chatter on the Fists mailing list that Fists should set up its own code testing program.

My reaction. Who cares?

For one thing, the ARRL already has a Code Proficency Program. Those who really want to be able to brag about their code speed can already get a piece of paper to prove it.

Secondly, while a certificate may be a nice thing to hang on a wall, it is hardly proof that a ham is a good operator. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and for CW ops, the proof of their competence is in making contacts. Instead of encouraging people to pass a proficiency test and get a nice certificate, we should be encouraging them to get on the air and talk to one another.

Theoretically, the goal of these code proficiency programs is to encourage hams to become better CW ops. Do they? I doubt it. I think we’d all be better off if we used this energy to help new hams get on CW rather than pass some test. No proficiency program is going to help a new ham decide what paddle to buy or how to use Q-signals properly.

I don’t need a piece of paper to prove how good a CW op I am. Rather than point to a certificate on the wall, I’d rather point out the number of contacts I’ve logged or to the number of other hams I’ve helped get on CW. I think ham radio is better served by those activities than by participating in yet another code proficiency program.

EEs in Training Get Some Hands-On Experience

When I was an electrical engineering student back in the 1970s, I was surprised at how many of my peers had little or no practical experience with electronics. Of course, I had the jump on them since I got my ham ticket when I was 16.

Well, apparently, times haven’t changed a bit. At Berkeley, some members of the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have come up with a class to teach freshmen and sophomores some of the basics. And apparently, it’s quite popular.

Of course, getting an amateur radio license serves much the same function, and it’s a lot more fun than building a circuit that simply flashes an LED.

Yet Another Take on SMT Soldering

Here’s yet another take on SMT soldering using a convection oven: SMT Board Fabrication Project. What makes this page nice is that KD5NWA, the author of the page, includes lots of pictures.

Even More Fun With Baluns

After my successful experiment with winding a 4:1 balun, I started to think about how to package the balun. One of the problems with the Ruthroff design is that the input and output are close to one another. In the Sevick book, all of his Ruthroff baluns are shown packaged in square or rectangular boxes, with an SO-239 on one side and a pair of binding posts on an adjoining face, at a 90 degree angle from the coax connector.

So, I began reading about the other types of baluns. The one that seemed most promising is the Guanella current balun. Unlike the Ruthroff, the input and output are on opposite sides of the core, making it easier to package in a PVC pipe. Sevick also claims that the response is flatter than the Ruthroff balun as well. One disadvantage is that you need almost twice as much wire, as there are four windings, instead of only two. Here’s the schematic:

4to1guanellabalun.jpg

It took me about a half hour to unwind the first balun and rewind it with two bifilar windings instead of just two. I then connected it up to my antenna analyzer, and found that the response did seem to be flatter, the impedance measurement varying between 58 and 60Ω from 1.8 MHz to 18.1 MHz, then dipping to 56&OMega; at 28.0 MHz.

Although I wound my balun on a 2.4-in. core, the Sevick book shows a design wound on a 1.25-in. core. This core should be substantially cheaper than the 2.4-in. core, and the design uses 20-ga. hookup wire, which is certainly easier to get than magnet wire. Sevick notes:

They are conservatively rated at 150W of continuous power and 300W of peak power. They have been exposed to 500W of continuous power (in a matched condition) for a considerable length of time with virtually no rise in temperature.

That’s plenty good for most ham radio applications.

Assuming that these baluns actually play nice with some real RF, I was thinking about possibly even building a bunch and selling them. RadioWorks charges $60 for a 1.5 kW 4:1 current balun. I should be able to sell a lower-power version for half that or less. And not only would it be cheaper, but it’s smaller and lighter, too. Why pay for something you’ll never need?

Links
Here are a couple of links that look useful:

Codeless Amateur Radio testing tentatively begins February 23

SB QST @ ARL $ARLB004
ARLB004 Codeless Amateur Radio testing tentatively begins February 23

ZCZC AG04
QST de W1AW
ARRL Bulletin 4 ARLB004
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT January 19, 2007
To all radio amateurs

SB QST ARL ARLB004
ARLB004 Codeless Amateur Radio testing tentatively begins February 23

The ARRL has learned that the FCC’s Report and Order (R&O) in the
”Morse code proceeding,” WT Docket 05-235,

http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-06-178A1.pdf,

is scheduled to appear in the Federal Register Wednesday, January
24. Assuming that occurs, the new Part 97 rules deleting any Morse
code examination requirement for Amateur Radio license applicants
would go into effect Friday, February 23, 2007. The League cautions
that this date is tentative, pending official confirmation and
publication.

”This change eliminates an unnecessary regulatory burden that may
discourage current Amateur Radio operators from advancing their
skills and participating more fully in the benefits of Amateur
Radio,” the FCC remarked in the Morse code R&O.

Publication of the R&O in the Federal Register starts a 30-day
countdown for the new rules to go on the books. Rules and
regulations that appear in the Federal Register constitute their
official version.

Deletion of the Morse requirement is a landmark in Amateur Radio
history. Until 1991, when a code examination was dropped from the
requirements to obtain a Technician ticket, all prospective radio
amateurs had to pass a Morse test.

On or after the effective date of the new rules, an applicant
holding a valid Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination
(CSCE) for a higher license class will be able to redeem it for an
upgrade. For example, a Technician licensee holding a valid CSCE for
Element 3 (General) could apply at a VEC exam session, pay the
application fee — which most VECs charge — and receive an instant
upgrade. A CSCE is good only for 365 days from the date of issuance.

The new rules also mean that all Technician licensees, whether or
not they’ve passed a Morse code examination, will gain HF privileges
identical to those of current Novice and Tech Plus (or Technician
with Element 1 credit) licensees without having to apply for an
upgrade. Novices and Technicians with Element 1 credit have CW
privileges on 80, 40, 15 meters and CW, RTTY, data and SSB
privileges on 10 meters.

The FCC R&O includes an Order on Reconsideration in WT Docket 04-140
– the so-called ”omnibus” proceeding. It will modify the Amateur
Service rules in response to ARRL’s request to accommodate
automatically controlled narrowband digital stations on 80 meters in
the wake of other rule changes that were effective last December 15.
The Commission designated 3585 to 3600 kHz for such operations,
although that segment will remain available for CW, RTTY and data.

The ARRL has posted all relevant information on these important Part
97 rule revisions on its ”FCC’s Morse Code Report and Order WT
Docket 05-235” Web page, www.arrl.org/fcc/morse/.
NNNN
/EX

More Fun With Baluns

I’ve written about building baluns before. I’m still quite proud of myself that I was able to build and deploy a couple of nice 1:1 baluns.

Of course, the next challenge is the 4:1 balun. I even bought a couple of AB240-125 kits to build one. Since my 40m dipole came down in the ice storm we had here over the weekend, I couldn’t really get on the air, so I decided to try it tonight.

The book Building and Using Baluns and Ununs by Jerry Sevick, W2FMI, has a whole chapter on building 4:1 baluns. After reading through it, I decided to build the Ruthroff design. Here’s the schematic:

4to1balunschematic.gif

The book shows several different designs, but the one that caught my eye was the low-power version on page 24. What I liked about it was that it was built with hookup wire instead of magnet wire. Using some cheap hookup wire, I could play around without possibly ruining the magnet wire.

One problem with using hookup wire is that it’s not as ductile as the magnet wire. This means it has a tendency to want to unravel. I did finally manage to get ten turns around the core, though. Here’s what it looks like:

4to1balun011707.jpg

Next, I clipped a 220-ohm resistor across the input and connected the output to my antenna analyzer. Here’s what I measured:

MHZ Z
1.9 57
3.7 58
7.1 59
10.1 58
14.2 56
21.2 53
28.2 53

Amazingly, the thing actually seems to work! Not only that, it’s relatively flat over the HF frequency range. The next step is to package it into a nice enclosure, then put it to work.

I think my next antenna project is going to be the Cobra Antenna. They use a 4:1 balun to get the impedance of the antenna into a range tuneable by a common antenna tuner. K1JEK sells the antenna for $90-100, but you can build the thing for about a quarter of the price. More on that this weekend.

Two UTC Clocks

On one of the many mailing lists I’m on, someone asked if there was a simple clock program out there that would display UTC. Well, it just so happens that Vic, K2VCO, one of the regular contributors to the mailing list had written one. You can find it at http://www.qsl.net/k2vco/. It displays both the date and the time.

Someone else mentioned a program written by SV2AGW. AGWClock also looks like a good program, but I couldn’t get it to install on this old Windows98 laptop. Hopefully, you will have better luck with it than I did. You can find it at http://www.elcom.gr/sv2agw.

Make: Teaches Us How to Solder

The January 15, 2007 issue of Make: magazine’s newsletter proclaims, “It’s Learn How to Solder Month!” Included are links to the following:

There’s a lot more in the newsletter, but it won’t be available online until next week.

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

I wasn’t all that active this weekend, and in the next week or so, I’ll be even less active, on the air anyway. Let me explain…

Contests and More Contests
Last weekend was the CW portion of the North American QSO Party. I had several things to do on Saturday, including helping to get our latest Tech class underway, so I didn’t get to operate very much. I did, however, manage to make 34 contacts in about an hour.

To be honest, though, there are so many contests that I’m kind of burning out on them. I suppose it would help if I had a more competitive station, but I don’t have the time, or the motivation, to do a whole lot more.

Ice and Ham Radio Don’t Mix
While some of us do enjoy ice in an adult beverage from time to time, in general, ice and ham radio don’t go together very well. Let me show you what I mean:

AntennaDown2007

Sunday evening, we had an ice storm here that coated everything with about a half inch of ice. The trees in my yard lost several branches. This one fell on my 40m/30m dipole, bringing it down. You can see the balun/center insulator in the foreground.

So, I’m off the air for a while. I probably won’t be able to fix it and hoist it back up in the air until this weekend. I guess I’ll use the time to work on some of the construction projects that I have waiting for me on the bench.