FT WAYNE HAMFEST ADVENTURE

The weekend of November 16-17 was the annual Ft. Wayne Hamfest and Computer Expo.  It’s also the annual ARRL Indiana Section Convention.  For my friends and I it signifies the end of the yearly hamfest circuit until the “Big One” in Dayton.  I try to attend when I can.  It’s held at the Allen Co. War Memorial Coliseum and is all indoors.  A real bonus this time of year in Indiana.  My travelling buddy, Nick N9SJA accompanied me to the event.  We didn’t go to any of the convocation lectures that were held, but did enjoy looking at all the wares on display.  There was quite a variety of new and used radio gear and accessories for sale.  I somehow managed to spend a couple hundred dollars on random goodies.  Nick had more self control than me and only came away with a neat book on cold war missiles.

In addition to the commercial vendors and swap meet sale tables, there were several displays.  I enjoyed the FlexRadio display since I’m a proud owner.  That new 6000 series SDR is really something.  One display that really caught my eye was an APRS demo.  I think their main emphasis was targeting the EMCOMM community but it’s applications are far reaching.  As we were watching the display we saw the Purdue University AMET high altitude balloon beacon come across.  The students are doing upper atmosphere and near space research.  The W9YB Purdue Amateur Radio Club was partnering with them to provide tracking and comms.  As members of the Purdue ARC, Nick and I were quite interested.  The members had texted us earlier to let us know when it launched.  It was really neat to actually see the W9YB balloon beacon on the screen as it floated through the area.

The Purdue chase team already had two van loads of students on the way to track the balloon to the landing point.  Since The Nickster has a Yaesu FTM-350 mobile in the mighty F-150 we would be able to directly intercept the APRS packets.  We decided to join in the hunt.  Off came the shorty dual band antenna and on went the big 5/8 wave for better signal reception.  It also turned out to be of assistance in comms with the other chase team since they only had HT’s.  We were able to access good maps using our smartphones and aprs.fi.

After a hearty dinner we headed out on our adventure.  The last beacon was heard just south-west of Kalida, Ohio.  It was just under 3000 feet in altitude and travelling about 40 MPH.  We estimated where it might go down based on it’s direction of travel and approximate rate of descent.  You can’t believe our surprise when we saw the first directly-received packet come across the display on the Yaesu!  We were only a half mile away.  Soon after that we got a call on the radio and the AMET/PARC students had recovered it in a field.  They had thought ahead and covered the payload with blue LED’s in addition to multi-colored flagging to make it easier to visually locate.  An excellent idea as it was fully dark by this time.  They saw a glowing blue light in the field that led them right to it.

If you’ve read this far you might be interested in some further information.  Here’s a nice article and video from the local station WLFI TV18.  The AMET crew has loaded several videos from the on-board GoPro camera on their Youtube channel.  A lot of this was boring as there wasn’t much to see besides clouds.  I skipped a lot of them but really enjoyed the take-off and landing.  Warning!  the camera spins around a lot and can actually make you dizzy just sitting on the couch.  Still, pretty neat to actually see the curvature of the earth from so high up.  Finally, there are some nice pics on the TechPurdue flickr page.  They show some really great detail.  This was probably the most enjoyable ham radio activity in which I’ve participated in a long time.  Nick and I definitely want to do this again.  Now I guess I’m going to have to start building an APRS station for the “Zed Sled.”

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LINEAR AMP HV POWER SUPPLY

I’m still sorting through the colossal stack of ham stuff I collected from Mark N9EKG.  One of the more interesting items is an Amp Supply LK-500NT.  Here’s a pic of the amp in my cluttered shack not long after I brought it home.
N9EKG gear4
This amplifier uses a pair of Eimec 3-500Z tubes to operate on 160-10M.  It differs from most traditional amps in that it’s designed to be no-tune.  There are no Plate Tune and Loading knobs.  All you have to do is select the correct band for operation and go.  There is a fine tuning knob that may be used for making minor tweaks but it’s not always needed.  Inside there are banks of air variable caps for each band that are factory adjusted as presets.  Another nice feature is that it’s capable of QSK keying for those high speed CW ops.  I’m guessing it must’ve been fairly expensive back in the early 1980’s when it came out.

The Amp Supply was pretty clean outside and in, but the high voltage power supply was a little weak.  The High Voltage meter was reading about 1000V low.  Some of the components definitely looked suspect.

LK old4LK old3

To remedy this, I purchased a rebuild kit from Harbach Electronics.  I have to say that I’m very impressed with the quality of this kit.  The circuit board and components are top notch.  I found the instructions pretty easy to follow.  I didn’t have any issues building or testing it.

LK old2

The size of the new components were much smaller when compared to the originals.  This made it a lot easier to fit it back into the chassis after landing all the wires in their appropriate locations.

LK new1LK new2

Now my High Voltage meter is reading 2800V while idling.  I’ve been testing it into the dummy load and seeing around 1000W.  The engineers must have been constantly changing the plans because I’ve found multiple different versions of the manual on the web.  I’m currently checking to verify what the max currents should be for the Plate and Grid Meters.  Don’t what to tear it up.  I’m making some final tweaks and it’ll be ready to button up and put into service.  If a ham was really motivated, I think this amp could be modified to operate as a traditional amp.  With the stock tubes and HV power supply It should be capable of legal limit.  But for now it makes a great instant-on no tune amp providing a solid 10db boost when conditions require it.

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POWER UP

One of the radios I received from Mark Quebe N9EKG was an old Hallicrafters S-40B.  I was hanging out with my buddy Nick N9SJA and we decided we should fire it up.  Seemed like a good idea since he was there with me when I got the radio.  I used my trusty method of bringing up the power slowly by inserting various wattage light bulbs in series with the hot lead in order to drop the voltage.  This is a crude method but it works.  I’m pleased to say that Nick and I both now have proper 20A variacs for this chore in the future.  I haven’t done anything with the radio but wipe it down with some Armor All and blow out the dust.  It isn’t perfect but it plays pretty well on the AM broadcast band.  The caps definitely need replaced and the pots need sprayed with some DeoxIT but you have to love it when a radio from the early ’50s is still working with no catastrophic failures.  It’s fun to listen to some old AM on the boatanchor radio.

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SOME NEW-OLD GEAR

I recently received an offer to remove a tower/antenna system and a collection of amateur radio gear from a ham in my old hometown of Indianapolis.  Actually, he’s the father of a high school classmate of mine and his wife is a former co-worker of my mom.  Mark N9EKG and his wife Susie got in touch with my mom to see if I was interested.  This was an offer too good to refuse for a cheapo like me.  Sometimes telling everyone you’re a ham can pay off.  I did a little Google Map recon and determined that it was a little more than I might want to tackle alone.  So, I enlisted the help of Nick N9SJA and also my trusty Old Man.  There was a narrow window of opportunity to pull all this off so we hit it hard and managed to knock it all out in one long day.

Originally, I’d hoped to save the tower but it was not in very good shape.  At least it was safe enough to climb on.  It did have a nice tribander on it and a Cushcraft R7 vertical.  The beam will need a little refurbishing but the vertical looks great.  I think it might be fun to try it out and see how it compares to my hexbeam.  It might be nice to have a multi-band omnidirectional antenna for listening and the switch to the beam if there’s a station I want to work.  We were actually able to dig a little around the base and pull the whole thing down while pulling the concrete base out.  My Old Man working the saws-all made short work of the tower and it can now be scrapped out.
N9EKG tower

After lunch we headed to the attic.  There were boxes full of treasures and some of the older radio gear.  This had been the original station while the kids were growing up.  He build a custom bench with many electrical outlets and a panel to fish the wires through.  He’d even had an air conditioner up there to keep it comfortable.  Unfortunately, that A/C was long gone.  We put some real sweat equity into retrieving that gear and hauling it down the spiral staircase.  Especially the Viking Valiant transmitter!

When the kids got older he was able to move his operation into a spare room on the main floor.  I bet that was a welcome treat!  He had a nice Kenwood TS-450 and TS-930 down there.  There was also an Amp Supply LK-500NT no tune amp.  This must’ve been a nice little station as he was able to work over 300 dxcc entities operating cw and phone.

It was a lot of work, but we still had fun.  I always enjoy visiting with another ham.  Thanks go out to Nick and my dad.  I also have to thank our hosts Mark N9EKG and Susie for their generosity and hospitality.  They provided some tasty sandwiches and chips and refreshing iced tea.  I hope to get as much enjoyment from the gear as Mark did.

I included a few shots of the gear all over the floor of my living room and then when I finally got it moved out to the shack.
N9EKG gear1N9EKG gear3
N9EKG gear5

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HAMVENTION RECAP

Dayton 2013
Dayton Hamvention 2013 is now a memory for the mental log book.  Only a matter of weeks has passed since the annual pilgrimage of hams, tech geeks, and wearers of tin-foil hats to a wonderous, though aged and smelly, facility named Hara Arena.  We battled some rain, we battled some hot sun, and even a bout of Dayton Flu.  We must’ve picked it up from some crotchety old geezer pawing our stuff only to complain that he could buy it brand new for a mere $300 more.  With the exception of feeling like crap by Sunday it was a nice trip.  We sold most of our wares and made enough money to pay for expenses.  Even in a weakened condition we managed to enjoy some excellent dining and cold beverages.
Rye

Some highlights

I found a Baofeng UV-5RA dual hand HT complete with drop-in charger, earpiece mic, and USB programming cable for $46.   That was a deal too tempting to resist even though I have a perfectly usable Yausu VX-7.
Baofeng

Bob Heil personally signed my copy of his Heil Ham Radio Handbook second edition.

HHH sig
 

I met Tommy Martin N5ZNO, one of the hosts of AmateurLogic.tv.  He was very friendly and personable.
Tommy M

The new IC-7100 was on display in the Icom booth.  I really want one of these when they’re cleared by the FCC.  The touch screen worked better than I’d anticipated.
IC-7100

By Sunday the Dayton Flu had weakened us to the point that even sleeping in and a big Waffle House breakfast couldn’t overcome.  We returned early back to Hoosierland with some goodies in our bags and lots of stories.  I already can’t wait for next year!

Categories: Activities, Amateur Radio | 1 Comment

DAYTON BOUND

Only days remain until the largest ham radio convention, flea market, commercial display in the nation begins.  Yes, it’s once again time for the annual Dayton Hamvention.  The event formally begins Friday, May 17 this year.  There are actually several groups that are starting their get together a day ahead of time like the ARCI QRP group’s Four Days in May.

I’ll once again be attending with friends Nick N9SJA, Dave KF9IZ, and Craig KB9JDW.  Nick and Craig have been going for over ten years now.  Dave and I just started tagging along a couple years ago.  It’s now turned into something of a tradition for us.  Unfortunately, Craig will have to catch up with us a day late do to work responsibilities, but he’s still planning to meet up with us when he can.

Each year we hope to sell enough stuff in the flea market to pay for our trip.  And since we cleaned out room in the shack, it must be filled with new gear to take it’s place.  Who really needs an excuse to stimulate the economy with the purchase of cool ham stuff!  We pull out in the Mighty Ford on Thursday afternoon.  Come and visit us in the flea market.  We’ll be in section F, spaces 521, 522.  In the past we’ve seen local friends stop in for a chat.  Namely, Tabb W9TTW, Bobby KP4CI, and his son Michael KC9MOD.  Weather forecast only looking so-so, but spirits are still high.

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AUDIO SETUP

Everybody wants good audio.  I know we’re not DJ’s and communications grade audio is from 300-3000 Hz according to Bell Labs, blah, blah, blah.  Even if we’re not on the cutting edge of high fidelity it’s still important to be clearly understood.  I bet even those guys who claim the don’t care are still pleased if they get an unsolicited comment of clean audio.  At some point many hams will decided they want to do something a little better than a stock hand mic.  There are many good mics out there and inexpensive mixers that can be added into the equation.  There are plenty of people out there running full pro audio setups and pushing the limits of the 3 KHz SSB signal, too.

One of the nice features of the Flex Radio and PowerSDR is the ability to tailor the transmit audio.  My Flex-5000A has line level and mic level balanced and unbalanced inputs.  The software also has a leveler, 10 band EQ, two different compression options and a downward expander.  Fortunately, it also has the metering to allow you to set these items correctly.  This is quite important as these are digital stages in the radio and will cause distortion if over driven past the 0 dBm level.  When each stage of the audio chain is properly adjusted there should be nothing but clean audio transmitted.

Flex Radio has a pretty good internet knowledge base as well as a couple email reflectors to help us out.  They also have a pretty good owners manual to assist in configuring the radio.  Audio seems to be something of a fuzzy area, though, to many of us who haven’t worked in the business.  We kinda know how we want it to sound but not necessarily how to get it that way.  We know we shouldn’t over drive or over compress it but we want to be heard over the noise.

Nige Coleman G7CNF has recently posted a few PowerSDR tutorial videos on Youtube since the newest version 2.6.4 was released.  It’s fairly long, but I guarantee you’ll learn something from it.  Of course it’s geared toward audio setup of a Flex-5000A using all the PowerSDR features.  He makes very good examples and clearly displays how and why he’s changing settings.  At the end…wow, what a difference!  I only hope I have mine setup that good.  If you have the time I can recommend it.  Enjoy the show.

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SOME NEW SDR

Everyone knows I’ve been a big fan of software defined radio (SDR).  My first taste was with the G4020 kit from Genesis Radio of Australia.  It was a neat kit, though a little quirky, but it opened my eyes to the possibilities.  That experience let me to purchase my current main station radio, the Flex-5000A.

I follow their mail reflector for all manner of news and info pertaining to Flex Radio’s products.  I was surprised to hear mention of a company called Apache Labs out of India.  They offer some impressive SDR products that I think will be of interest to my blog followers.  I’m a loyal fan of Flex Radio and their PowerSDR software, but I think that competition in the marketplace is good and raises the bar.  Usually the consumer wins.

I’ve been reviewing the material on their website to learn more about the radios.  From what I can tell they’re using the open source technology from TAPR and the HPSDR project to produce a viable commercial product.  Their implementation of SDR is considered fourth generation.  They’re using a digital down conversion/direct up conversion scheme.  The Flex-6000 series also uses this architecture.  It brings the RF into the digital domain practically right after the antenna.  This eliminates the losses and noise artifacts and distortions caused by chains of mixers, op amps and other active components in traditional radio designs.

As far as hardware goes I think Flex has the edge.  There’s no antenna tuner option and it doesn’t appear to be quite as refined.  Both have 100W PA’s but but the Flex is more robust.  Perhaps it’s made with some more high end components.  The pricing is very competitive, though.  I also has the ability to run using different software and other operating systems.  This should make it attractive to the hams that aren’t fans of Bill Gates’ products.  A feature that I really like is that it interfaces to the computer through a standard ethernet connection, either directly or through a LAN.

I think this is really exciting technology.  I’ll be following these products as they become available here in the United States.  I understand that they’re going to be a the Havmention this year.  Hopefully they’ll have some display units up and running.

Categories: Amateur Radio, News | 1 Comment

SB-1400

SB-1400

A little over a year ago I purchased a Heathkit SB-1400 HF radio and matching power supply with speaker at an SK sale.  It was in unknown condition but the price was right so I took a chance.  It also came with the original manual and hand microphone.  Pretty much ready to go, needing only an antenna.

It seems that this radio is the same as the Yaesu FT-747GX of the same vintage and wasn’t offered as a kit.  From what I can see, differences appear to be purely cosmetic.  Mine had the MARS mod done as the previous owned had been number two in the state for Navy/Marine Corps MARS in years past.  I chose to return it to original and reset the CPU since the radio acted buggy.

After hooking it up and making several contacts with it I can offer some opinions on the rig.  This is probably the most basic radio I’ve ever operated.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  It would probably suit a beginner just fine since there are no extraneous issues to deal with.  Every operation is completed with a button push or knob…no menus at all.  No keyer but it does have a factory-included CW filter.  It’ll accept CAT control but Ham Radio Deluxe doesn’t support it or the Yaesu twin.  One neat feature is a line level audio out RCA jack on the back.  I wish more radios had this.  For fun I plugged it into the computer soundcard and was able to easily copy psk-31.  However it appears transmitting in digimodes must be done through the mic jack.  No DSP, but the noise blanker is effective to a noticeable degree when activated.

I cruised around the bands over the weekend and scored six contacts in some spare time.  Worked a station or two in the Rookie Roundup and also a random state QSO party.  I had the hexbeam pointed south and heard some DX so I gave that a shot, too.  Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Saint Lucia are in the log.  You can check out the info from my HRDLog.net page.

All seems to be in order with the radio so off to Dayton it goes this year.  I’m hoping to sell it in order to finance a mobile radio for my new Subaru Crosstrek.  I’m also spoiled by the Flex to the point that operating anything else just isn’t the same.  I hope to send it away with someone in need of a simple, basic 160-10 M HF radio.

Categories: Amateur Radio | 1 Comment

COMPUTER REVIVAL

A couple years ago my parents’ not-so-old Dell crapped out on them.  They ended up replacing it and getting it fixed up for my dad’s man cave.  Well, Dad’s resurrected desktop died again last weekend.  Fortunately, he decided to buy a new one rather than spend any more cash on the old one.  I helped him set it all up and get the basic configuration going. For my reward I kept the old one.  Jared and Logan helped me disassemble it and rob the useful parts.  Once I got it open I found the reason for failure–many popped caps on the mobo.  Who knows what else might be bad.  I was able to salvage 2GB DDR2 memory, Intel CPU and a cooler assembly with a couple fans, 250GB HDD, video card, and a power supply.  I’m not really sure what to do with the case.  It’s fairly heavy duty.

The kids don’t really use my old Gateway desktop anymore.  I turned it into a linux box years ago after the Windows rot kicked in on the Vista OS.  Mainly it just sits around.  I decided it needed a new life.  I’ve been wanting a NAS box here at home for file storage.  Something network accessible rather than just an external USB HDD.  The factory units are pretty expensive and building up a dedicated machine, though powerful, would be even more so.  Price and quality seems to be all over the place on external HDDs and NAS boxes.  I managed to stumble across a cool piece of freeware on the net called FreeNAS.  It will turn an old desktop or just about any machine into a capable server.

The program works by loading the open source FreeBSD OS onto a 4GB flash drive.  After setting the BIOS to boot from the flash drive it allows the entire capacity of all HDDs connected to the mobo to be used for storage.  Pretty clever arrangement.  It has a lot of feature on what type of file system to use, configuring sharing, global settings for access by the web, and plugins.  It will even do multi-disk RAID arrays of multiple types.

I configured one HDD to be a backup location and mapped it as a network drive.  Now my computer backs up the whole system disk to one HDD.  The other HDD is setup for storing media.  I can now save all my episodes of amateurlogic.tv and Ham Nation to it, or any other videos I like, without filling up the HDD on my desktop.  This is nice since I like to view the HD versions that are around 1GB file size.  I loaded a program called minidlna on there and it will stream the videos to my Blu-ray player so I can watch them on the TV.  It’s been a little challenging to get it all working but I’m pleased that it’s been a successful learning experience.

Categories: Computers/Software | Leave a comment

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