Recycling Batteries

While I’m on the topic of batteries, I thought I’d write about recycling them.

This summer, the city of Ann Arbor converted to “single-stream” recycling. What this means is that now we just dump all of our recyclables into a single bin and someone, somewhere sorts it all out. When they implemented this system, they also stopped accepting batteries at the curbside pickup.

At the time, I thought, “How dumb is that”? People are just going to start throwing their batteries in the trash. Well, as it turns out, I guess that isn’t so bad after all.

The latest newsletter from the Ann Arbor Public Services Department notes:

It is generally accepted that used, alkaline batteries can be placed in the trash. U.S. alkaline batteries—also called one-use, disposable, dry cells, non-rechargeables, or nontoxic “green” rechargeables—have eliminated the addition of mercury since 1995. The resulting batteries are relatively inert.

Rechargeable batteries are another matter. The newsletter says:

Rechargeable batteries contain toxic, heavy metals, such as nickel-cadmium, lithium, and mercury, and should not be placed in the trash. Rechargeables should be taken to free drop-off sites at many stores that sell these batteries, including Batteries Plus, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Office Depot, Radio Shack, Sears, Staples [[and a bunch of local stores]]. Look for drop-off boxes at the Customer Service area. Recycle Ann Arbor’s Drop-Off Station and Washtenaw County’s Home Toxics Center also accept rechargeable batteries.

I still feel kind of funny about dumping the AAA batteries in the trash, but I guess it’s OK now.

Batteries Just Cost Me Some Points!

Down at the museum today, I got sucked into working the PA QSO Party. I made 35 contacts before packing it in for the day.

This evening, I thought I’d get on and make a few more contacts. So, I set about programming my WinKeyer.

Normally, this is a no-brainer, but tonight, the keyer started acting up on me. I would get halfway through programming one of the memories, and the thing would just quit on me. It was all very puzzling. I plugged and unplugged the key without success. I had it play back its status to me, but that gave me no clue.

Then, it dawned on me that I had never changed the batteries in the thing. In fact, I couldn’t even remember what kind of batteries it used. So, I opened up the case and found that it used three, AAA batteries.

I changed them and got the thing working again, but by that time, the band had changed and there were no PA stations to be found! So, I guess the moral of the story is change your keyer batteries before the next big contest.

While I’m miffed that I missed a few points, I can’t really complain about the battery life. I built this keyer in December 2008, and this is the first time I’ve changed the batteries, so they’ve lasted nearly two years.

Are Wouxoun Radios Illegal?

IC-2ATOn our ham radio club’s mailing list, a new Tech innocently asked what kind of HT he should buy. Since he mentioned that he was going to an upcoming hamfest, he asked about used equipment, and several folks suggested that he look for an ICOM IC-2AT (see right), noting that they were ruggedly built and that many were still in service. They didn’t really not that tuning them involved flipping thumbwheel switches and that to get PL tones you have to purchase a $40 board that you have to mickey-mouse into the radio, but hey, they are built like the proverbial brick outhouse.

Wouxun KG-UVD1Some guys suggested buying one of the new Chinese HTs (see right) now being sold here. They noted that for just a little more than $100, you not only get a dual-band radio, but a boatload of accessories as well.

At this point, Jeff, W8SGZ, our self-proclaimed club curmudgeon wrote:

I’ve been doing a little research.

The US “dealer” is Ed Griffin W4KMA, owner of KMA Antennas in N. Carolina (www.wouxon.us). So at least there is a US presence. The only thing that  concerns me is one little specification : spurious emission is listed as <30dB.

Part 97 says ” For a transmitter having a mean power of 25 W or less, the mean power of any spurious emission supplied to the antenna transmission line must not exceed 25 uW and must be at least 40 dB below the mean power of the fundamental emission, but need not be reduced below the power of 10 uW.” The question is, is their 30dB enough to get down to 10 uW? With only 5 W to start with, maybe it is.

The particular model in question, KG-UVD1P, is FCC “certificated” (I love that word, it’s so nonsensical) under Part 90, so it should be at least of a certain quality level. And at half the price of anything comparable from the Big 3 (or 4 if you count Alinco), it doesn’t sound bad.

Now, according to my calculations, -30 dB, only gets you down to 5 mW. To get down to 10 uW, spurious emissions would have to be -57 dB. When I replied with that information, Jeff said:

This little radio is causing me a lot more work than I like, but once I get my teeth into an investigation, I can’t seem to let it go.

Although the sales literature (what there is of it) states 30dB for spurious emissions, the User Manual states 60 dB. From what I can make out from the test reports submitted to the FCC, the actual attenuation is in the mid 20s (depending on frequency).

And most bizarre of all is this except from a letter from Wouxon to the FCC:

We would like to have the 136-174 MHz frequency range appear on the face of the FCC Grant of Certification for our Part 90 Certification. This frequency range contains frequencies regarded as usual & customary by the United States Federal Government and its various departments, user organizations and the military.

  1. The applicant plans to ensure that USA users, other than those specifically identified in this letter, not operate within bands which are not allowed by the Part 90, as controlled by the users’ FCC station license.
  2. This devise will not be marketed to USA users, other than those identified in the letter, namely the US Government and its various departments & military, for operation in frequency range out of Part 90.
  3. The applicant acknowledges that it is a violation of FCC rules if the device operates on unauthorized frequencies

Is it just me, or does all this sound like W4KMA is in violation of FCC regulations by selling these to US hams? And are US hams who buy and use them in violation as well?

There has to be a loophole somewhere that I am missing. I mean hams are continually retuning commercial (ie Part 90) equipment to use on amateur frequencies. Why would this be any different? The applicant acknowledges that it is a violation of FCC rules if the device operates on unauthorized frequencies.

So, what do you think? It sounds to me as though the Wouxoun radios don’t meet spec and should not be allowed to be sold in the U.S.

Catalog Spurs the Imagination

Back in the day—and by that I mean before we had the World Wide Web—electronics and ham radio companies published catalogs. They were wondrous things. Paging through them, one’s imagination could run wild. As a kid, I would pore over the Allied, Lafayette, and Olson catalogs and just imagine all the cool things I could do with electronics and radio.

Real, printed catalogs have one distinct advantage over their Web counterparts&mdash;they can be browsed in a way that you can’t browse a Web catalog. The Web just can’t seem to duplicate the experience of paging through a catalog.  Maybe it takes more mental agility to point and click rather than simply flip pages. I’m not sure. All I know is that paging through a real catalog is a distinct pleasure.

I had such a pleasurable experience just recently when I paged through the <a href=”http://www.universal-radio.com”>Universal Radio</a> catalog. It came packaged with the LDG 4:1 Balun that I’d just purchased. (The reason for that purchase is another story, which I’ll tell soon.)

Just looking at the cover was a pleasure. The cover, as you can see above, is a collage of QSL cards from many different shortwave broadcasters. Like many hams, I got started in the hobby as an SWL, and the cover brought back some nice memories.

Another pleasure was being able to look at a number of products all at once, instead of one-by-one on the Web. In the shortwave receiver section, for example, the catalog has pictures and descriptions of five or six radios per page, so on a spread you can look at and compare up to a dozen different units.

I also enjoyed seeing some products that I didn’t even know existed.The specialty radios section, for example, included several models of “Internet radios,” which are capable of connecting to your home’s wireless network and connect to the digital streams of thousands of radio stations. Sure, you can do this with a computer, but these radios can also function as alarm clocks, and, presumably, have better audio than a laptop computer.

So, even though I’m a big computer and Net geek, I may just have to go request the catalogs of the other ham and electronics retailers and see how they compare to the Universal Radio catalog. With any luck, they’ll also bring back some fond memories and spur my imagination and help me look into the future.

Wish I’d Have Thought of This…

On the Ten-Tec Omni VII mailing list, Bert, W0RSB, reported on his recent experience with Customer Service. He said,

Rig came back this past Monday, a day early. The auto tuner now appears to be working correctly. Unfortunately, the invoice simply says “Could not duplicate complaint.”

Maybe being manhandled by UPS or being poked and prodded by the service tech bounced something into place. At any rate, this exercise cost me nearly $200; if the problem comes back, I can buy a decent external auto tuner for little more than that.

I had a similar problem with my Icom IC-746PRO. I sent it in, and the service tech could not duplicate the problem, and when I got it back, it worked just fine.  My guess is that it was a sticky relay that got unstuck with all the jostling during shipping.  My bill was about $170, but for that, I at least got them to fix a minor problem with the LCD backlight as well as install all of the factory updates.

I never even considered buying an external tuner instead of getting the internal tuner fixed, but this is a really good idea.  At Field Day, we used an LDG Z-11Pro  that plugged right into the IC-746PRO and was tuned by hitting the TUNE button on the radio.  Worked like a charm.  Universal Radio sells them for $170. They handle a wider SWR range, too, than the internal tuner on this Icom. If the internal tuner ever goes out again, I’m buying an LDG.

If a Nine-Year-Old Girl Can Do It….

….shouldn’t all of you?

Thanks to Jim, W8JPM, for sending me a link to this YouTube video of RZ9UMA working the recent WPX CW contest:

More Morse
And, while we’re on the subject of Morse Code, here’s another video that I found while surfing around YouTube. It’s a video of how to use a simple microcontroller to decode Morse Code. I will grant that since the input to the microcontroller in this example is a pushbutton switch, the practicality of this example is somewhat limited, but it should get you started on making your own Morse decoder, if you’d like to give it a try.

A2 Mini-Maker Faire Was a Blast…..But Tiring

Yesterday, was the second annual A2 Mini-Maker Faire. It was a blast, but man, was I beat afterwards.

One reason I was so tired, is that I stayed up kind of late Friday night working on my display. The thing I brought was an updated version of the code practice oscillator that I’ve been hauling around for the last couple of years.

Instead of the No-Solder Code Practice Oscillator that I had been using for this demo, I built a touch paddle and connected that to my WinKeyer. Since the sidetone on the WinKeyer is just a wimpy, little piezo transducer, I added an audio output to the keyer and plugged in the amplified speaker that I use with my KX-1. When I was finished with that, I had enough amplitude to compete with pretty much anything at the Faire.

I got there just a little after 8am to set up, but that was way too early. It didn’t open to the public until 10am, and way before 9am, I had my Morse Code demo set up, the literature out, and my QSL cards displayed. Dave, N8SBE, arrived about 10:45 am with his K3 and panadapter and set up a nice display on his half of the table. He ran a coax cable out to the screwdriver antenna on his car, which he parked just outside the door we were next to.

Racking Up Some Points
At one point, I just couldn’t help myself. Dave was tuning through the CW portion of the 20m band and ran across the Alabama QSO Party. This made a good demonstration of the panadapater as there were quite a few signals in a relatively small bandwidth.

I told Dave that he should work some of those stations. Instead, he invited me to sit down and work them, which I proceeded to do. I made about ten contacts before I quit. It was kind of amusing trying to explain to people about contesting, and about the Alabama QSO Party in particular, but hey, that’s what we do. :)

More Than Worthwhile
Overall, I was kind of surprised at the level of interest, to be honest. I wasn’t able to attend last year’s event, so the only point of comparison I have is the folks who come to the Hands-On Museum. At the museum, we occasionally get someone to show some interest, and even more occasionally, someone who’s really interested.

Yesterday, was a completely different experience. Just about everyone who came up to our table yesterday had a real interest, and it was a pleasure to tell them about ham radio, demonstrate the touch keyer and K3, and talk to them about our classes and station at the museum. I’m sure that as a result, we’ll have a couple more folks—including several kids—getting their licenses. I’d been kind of dubious about participating earlier in the day, but I’ve changed my mind completely on this. It was more than worthwhile.

By the time 4pm rolled around, I was pretty tired. So, even thought the Faire was supposed to be open until 5, I packed up and headed home. Dave stuck around, though, and even though the crowd had noticeably thinned, he told me this morning that our booth attracted a fair number of visitors during that last hour.

Where are the Ham Radio Hackers?

On the Ten-Tec Omni VII Yahoo Group, Bill, KZ3DX writes:

If I was 17 years-old I would be hacking I-phones and other items like George Hotz, the 17 year-old from New Jersey who was able to unlock the Apple I-phone so that it could be used on other cell service networks.

When I was his age, I was “hacking” dial telephones. Then one day the phone company showed up at my house. My parents were not impressed with my technical abilities.

This morning there is a story that George has just hacked the “un-hackable” Sony 3 Play Station. He says the hack was 95% software and 5% hardware.

A quick check of the modifications site run by that guy over in Denmark, shows that there are NO MODS for the Omni VII…interesting.

I just wonder how many strange and wonderful things can be done with those 36 buttons/switches on the front panel.

Can the O7 be made even better??

My question would be, “Why stop at pressing some buttons on the front panel”? Why doesn’t someone really hack the Omni VII and develop a completely new software package for it? Rigs like the Omni VII and the Elecraft K3 would seem to be perfect candidates for this kind of hacking.

Sure, there is an order of magnitude difference between a $300 iPod and a $3,000 radio, but we’re big boys, aren’t we? Besides, aside from overdriving the finals, what real damage can you do to the radio? It seems to me that even if you manage to screw up the software in the rig, you can get back to square one by simply re-loading the manufacturer’s software.

Ham radio operators have a long history of modifying their radios. Page through any stack of QSTs or CQ Magazines from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and you’ll find many articles describing modifications to the popular radios of the day. About the only thing hams do to their rigs today is to clip a diode to allow it to operate out-of-band.

What does it say about the technical capabilities of today’s hams that we haven’t yet done with our gear what some 17-year-old kid has done with the iPhone and the PlayStation? Why don’t we have any third-party software for Omni VII or the K3? I think if a manufacturer actually encouraged third-party software development, they’d quickly gain a following and make their brand even stronger, don’t you?

Everything is Always More Difficult Than It Seems

Yesterday’s repair of my ICOM PS-125 power supply is a perfect example of the corollary to Murphy’s Law, “Everything is always more difficult than it first seems to be.”

A couple of weeks ago, the fan in my PS-125 started making a real racket. No big deal, I thought, the fan’s gone bad. I e-mailed Icom, and they tell me the part number is 2710000701, and it costs $13.40, plus tax and shipping. (The tax and shipping for this order turned out to be $8.64, which I thought was kind of high, but they did send it second-day FedEx.) The fan sat on my bench for the last week, but yesterday night, I got ambitious ambitious and decided to install it.

This is where the corollary to Murphy’s Law comes in. There are ten screws that hold the outer case to the power supply. I say “outer case” because when I got that off, I found that there was an inner shield around the entire supply.

Removing enough of that to get at the fan required the removal of 15 more screws. Once I got that off, replacing the fan was easy enough, but then I had to to button it all back up again.

My first thought was, “Boy, all this shielding is really overkill.” On second thought, however, I’m sure all that shielding is one reason why the power supply is so quiet. I have never heard any complaints about the PS-125 generating RF noise, something which cannot be said about other switching power supplies meant for ham radio use.

I also noted that there were some serious RF chokes on the AC input. These undoubtedly help prevent any noise from getting in or out via the AC line. So, while the repair was indeed more difficult than it originally appeared, it was worth the effort.

While the PS-125 has been “down,” I’ve been using the Astron 35A supply, and even though the PS-125 is now ready to go. I have that supply connected to a DC distribution strip that uses PowerPoles. When used this way, this supply can power both my IC-746PRO and the VHF/UHF rig and an accessory or two, and I don’t need multiple supplies on the bench.

New 80m QRP Kit

John, K5JS, posted this to the qrp-l.org mailing list yesterday:

The Arizona ScQRPions are delighted to announce a new 80m QRP CW transceiver kit for 2010! This new transceiver is the creation of Dan Tayloe (N7VE) and kitted by the ScQRPions with invaluable assistance from Doug Hendricks (KI6DS) of QRPKITS.

This kit was first seen in August 2009 at the Fort Tuthill, Arizona, CactusCon 2009 conference in a presentation by Dan on the design and use of distributed active RC filters in receivers. Additional bands will be available later in the spring from QRPKITS.

The present design hardly resembles its simple Unichip+ origin as Dan includes one of his patented low noise mixers and distributed filtering throughout the transceiver to produce one of the best sounding DC receivers anywhere. The transmitter produces a clean 2.5 watts output using a pair of BS-170 FETs as the final amplifier and uses a rock solid VFO covering up to 80KHz of 80m centered where you want it. Complete specifications, pictures, schematics, board layouts, prototypes, Dan’s CactusCon2009 presentation and slides, and other information is now available at the new user’s group email list.

For the rest of the story and to see what you get for your $50+shipping, go to http://www.azscqrpions.org/Introduction_to_FT80.htm. You will also find a link to the user’s email list on this page. The new Fort Tuthill FT80 transceiver should be available about the end of January 2010 in a run limited to 100 kits.

Winter is here and this will be a great little project to introduce you to the magic of 80m QRP!!

Looks like a great kit to me!