Gear and Gadget Notes – 9/10/11

Here are some gear and gadget notes:

  1. Ed, WA3WSJ, has opened up the Hot Water Corner, a website devoted to Heathkit HW-xxx radios.  He says, “If you have any pictures of your Heathkit HW-xxx radios, please send then to me with a story about the rig(s). I’m sure others would like to read your story.” I need to dig out my HW-101 and take some pics of it.
  2. On the AMRAD mailing list, Terry, WB4JFI recommends the SDR Cube.  He says,

    I wanted to say how impressed that I am with George Heron’s (and OH2NLT) SDR Cube kit. I have an SDR Cube Development setup sent by George, as I am considering how to interface it to the Charleston SDR & Digilent FPGA boards. I have since ordered and received a complete SDR Cube kit, less the Softrock 6.3, which I already have. I anticipate cutting some traces, and soldering additional wires directly onto the dsPIC chip for the Charleston interfacing, so I needed my own boardset.

    The kit has excellent instructions, see the sdr-cube.com website. Each board comes prepackaged with its own parts, with SMT resistors and capacitors taped to a paper sheet, and ICs in a small anti-static bag. I have put together almost two boards so far, and everything went together very nicely. Almost Heathkit quality instructions and construction techniques.

    I normally don’t like to push a vendor, but this kit is very well done.

  3. Looking for a club construction project? Consider the Sure PS-LP11111 5~16 VDC linear DC voltage power supply kit. I think this fits the bill perfectly for a club construction project. It’s inexpensive, relatively simple to build, and when it’s complete, the builder has something useful. As one of our club members pointed out, this isn’t actually a complete power supply—it’s missing a transformer and enclosure—but it costs less than $9 in quantity. Suitable wallwart transformers can be purchased for about $5 mail order, probably less if you snoop around the next hamfest.

Heathkit Getting Back into the Kit Biz

Larry, KD8MZM, recently pointed out on our club mailing list that Heathkit is getting back into the kit business. Their Web page says:

Heathkit News

 

 

 

In late August, Heathkit will debut their new line of Do-it-Yourself kits for common around-the-house items. The first kit will be a Garage Parking Assistant (GPA). The Garage Parking assistant kit lets you build your own system that uses ultrasonic sound waves to locate your car as it enters the garage. The system signals to the driver using LED lights mounted on the wall when the car is detected and in the perfect spot for parking.

The GPA-100 kit consists of two primary assemblies – The LED Display in kit form and the pre-assembled ultrasonic range module. the kit will include everything you need to complete the project except a soldering iron and hand tools.

Next on the market will be a Wireless Swimming Pool Monitor kit followed by many more. Heathkit wants to continue to bring to its customers interesting, unique Heathkit products. Heathkit is interested in learning what types of products kit builders would like to build. Kit builders can submit their suggestions through this website using the Contact Us email.

Make: Magazine Editor Looking for Heathkit Memories

Do you have fond–or even not so fond–memories of making Heathkits? If so, Make: magazine wants to hear from you. Editor Phillip Torrone is writing a Heathkit-related column and wants to include comments from folks who grew up making these or have/had interest in them!

My first Heathkit was a DX-60B transmitter that I bought when I got my Novice ticket. Unfortunately, it didn’t work correctly after I finished it, but after a trip to one of the local Heathkit stores (there were actually two of them in the Detroit area at the time), it worked like a champ until I sold it to help finance my HW-101. I can only imagine the number of wiring errors and/or cold solder joints that the technician found.

Touch Keyer Really Works

A couple of months ago, I realized that I hadn’t really built anything in a while. About that time, there was yet another discussion about whether to use a straight key or a paddle. The difference this time was that someone mentioned the Touch Paddle. These are devices that sense when someone touches a metal pad and electronically switches an output. There are two outputs, one for the dit and one for the dah.

The company that makes these devices, CW Touch Keyer, have a whole range of different products. Some have a built-in keyer. Some are just the paddles that you then have to connect to a keyer.

They even have a kit, the P3, which is what I opted to buy. At $20, it seemed a little steep, but what the heck. If it worked, it would be worth it.

What I received is different from the kit shown on their website. Mine uses surface-mount caps and resistors that were already soldered to the board. Assembly was really easy as I only had to solder in the two, eight-pin ICs; two transistors, a diode, an electrolytic cap, and a voltage regulator.

The hard part was figuring out how to make the dit and dah contacts. As shown in the photo above, I cut out a hunk of PC board material, and used a Dremel tool to file off some copper down the middle, creating two contacts. I hooked up 9 V from my bench power supply, and I had a working touch paddle.

Sort of, anyway. The problem with the setup as it is is that the touch pads are just floating. To work really well, I’m going to have to figure out some way to mount them somewhere, so that they don’t move around.

One funky thing about this kit is that the company has painted over the markings on the ICs. I guess he figured that since the circuit is so simple that someone would steal the design. I tried scraping the black paint off one of the ICs, but didn’t have any success with that.

A little Googling did the trick. I found the article, Touch Paddle Keyer, published in the March 2007 QST. The circuit shown in this article is almost identical to the circuit of my P3. The chip used in the article is the Atmel QT113-G, and while that part is no longer manufactured, DigiKey carries various types of the QT110, which would also work, if you wanted to roll your own.

I plan to figure out a good way to mount the paddles and then use this for the CW demo at the upcoming Mini-Maker Faire here in Ann Arbor. Kids should have fun playing with it.

Four State Kit Update

From Terry, WA0ITP via the qrp-l.org mailing list. I’m thinking about getting an HF Test Set myself:

With the Holiday season upon us, it seems appropriate to provide an update of the Four State’s kit status.

AAØZZ EZKeyer. These have been selling like Snow Cones in the Sahara. The first run sold out in less than a week and another run has been made. This is an ideal first time builder’s kit, and we have plenty on hand to fill your orders. Order from the EZKeyer Web page. They are being kitted and shipped by Rex Terry, N5KDO, Tulsa, OK. Thank you Rex!

VRX-1 DC Receiver. Another run was made recently so we have a substantial number of kits in inventory. This Manhattan kit builds quickly and performs very well. A Manhattan layout template is provided, insuring correct parts placement. This kit is an excellent first Manhattan project.

Clear Top Tins. Another large quantity has been purchased, so these are still available. Larger than an Aloids tin, they showcase your projects nicely, and they are a bargain priced. They are being shipped by Dennis Smith, W5VAF, Jonesboro, AR. Thank you Dennis!

Enhanced Manhattan Audio Amp. This is the ideal first Manhattan kit.We still have some of these left, and may make a 3rd run if demand. is sufficient.

SMT Dummy Load. This is the ideal first SMT kit. We still have some of these left, and may make a 2nd run if demand continues. These are being shipped by Dennis Smith, W5VAF, Jonesboro, AR. Thank you Dennis!

NS-40 Class E Transmitter. Our best selling kit to date. The 4th run has just been completed so we have plenty on hand. This is a perfect first kit. Low parts count, a very easy build, and works on power up.

HF Test Set. Many on hand and more are being kitted at the regional meetings in Seneca, MO. Many thanx to the Barney’s gang and Dave Bixler, WØCH, for handling the shipping.

More kits are in the planning stage, and will be announced asap.

As always all profit is applied to funding OzarkCon. Thank you all for supporting The Four State QRP Group, it is greatly appreciated.

New Kit from 4SQRP

Terry, WA0ITP, reports:

The Four State QRP Group is very pleased to announce the availability of our new AAØZZ EZKeyer kit.

This full featured PIC-based iambic keyer features 3 memories, 12 direct entry commands, and is very user friendly. It has many of the features of the high end keyers while maintaining ease of use. The PIC chips have been programmed by
Craig Johnson, AAØZZ, of PIC-EL fame.

There are only 10 parts to install on the quick build pc board, and the extensive manual features an Altoids installation tutorial.

The kit is is reasonably priced at only $17.

Please check out the details and order information at http://www.wa0itp.com/aa0zzkeyer.html

Thank you for supporting the Four State QRP Group and OzarkCon.

Stuart’s First Kit

Many of you are familiar with Stuart, KD8LWR, my newest Elmeree. Since visiting us at Field Day, he’s gotten his ticket and made many contacts on 2m FM and EchoLink, and we’re working on how to get him on HF CW.

Well, yesterday was another milestone. He attended his first ham club meeting and built his first kit. Yesterday, we built things at the ARROW meeting.

We started Stuart out with a Wee Blinky kit from DaleWheat.Com. This is a great little kit for beginners. It consists of 11 components—two LEDs, four resistors, two capacitors, two transistors, and a 9-V battery snap. There are only 24 solder joints to make.

I had to show Stuart how to form the leads and insert the components, and I also showed him how to solder them to the board. These steps were a bit awkward because I didn’t think about providing some kind of fixture for holding the board. That really would have been a help for someone building his first kit.

Even so, Stuart did a great job, and when we connected the battery, it worked! That’s more then I can say about the first kit I built.

Plug for Dale Wheat
Since Dale Wheat donated a bunch of the Wee Blinky kits to the recently-held A2 MiniMaker Faire, and ARROW benefited by getting passed a few of the extra kits, I thought I’d give Dale a plug here. Thanks, Dale!

Dale has another kit that may be of interest to radio amateurs. His Smart Battery Meter “measures the ‘state of charge’ of a 12 volt or 24 volt sealed, lead-acid battery system. It uses a multi-color array of LEDs to give an instant visual indicator of the remaining charge, sort of like a gas gauge.”

Cheap Sig Gen Kits

On the qrp-l.org mailing list, someone asked about signal generator/function generator kits. Ken, N9VV, came up with the following list:

As always, there was a lot of back and forth on the topic. One guy noted that none of these were really “good” function generators. My comment was that for such low prices, they might be fun to play with.

A third commented that by looking around at hamfests one could probably purchase something much better for just a little more. He’s right about that. A couple of years ago, I scored a 2 MHz B+K generator for about $120. It even does amplitude modulation.

Of course, another approach is to use your PC’s sound card as a signal generator. This works fine if all you need is audio signals. You could even get fancy and do modulation or other types of arbitrary waveforms. Two software packages that will allow you to do this are Marchand Function Generator Lite (free) and NCH Tone Generator ($20).

Finally, someone suggested using an iPod for audio test waveforms. Using a computer’s sound card, you can generate all kinds of test waveforms, record them on the iPod, then just select the tracks you want when you want them. That’s a neat idea. Someone should prerecord a bunch of commonly used waveforms and make them available on a website somewhere.

Small Wonder PSK31

A couple of years ago, I bought and built the SST-20 20m QRP rig from Wilderness Radio. While I haven’t had that much success with this rig–I attribute this to my poor antenna skills–the kit went together pretty easily and was fun to build. (If anyone wants to buy this from me, you can have it for the kit price: $85)

Now, I’m thinking of trying it again. This time with one of the PSK31 rigs from Small Wonder Labs. They make several different models, including one for 10m that looks relatively easy to put together. Apparently, these rigs interface directly to a 16-bit sound card.

As for the computer, I have an old Windows box that I was thinking of converting to Linux. Another possibility is to buy an old laptop for use in the shack. The advantage of the laptop is that it would take up less space in the shack. A third option is to try to get one of the Linux PSK31 packages to run on my Sharp Zaurus. A Google search for “linux psk31″ turned up quite a few references to PSK 31 software running on Linux machines.

I have a couple of questions:

  • Has anyone built one of the PSK31 units? Having any success with them?
  • Am I crazy for thinking about the 10m unit? Should I go with one of the other bands?
  • Is anyone running PSK31 software on a Linux box? Which package do you think is best?