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Great Group – 3905 Century Club Net 25 - February - 2010

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Operations, K9ZW Recommends.
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3905 Century Club Logo

3905 Century Club Logo

Last night I spent a couple hours working on my station, and had first checked in on the 1.895 Every Night 160m Net, then the 1.871 160m Net run most nights by Tom KC8QGJ and stumbled on a friendly net I had forgotten about, the 3905 Century Club 160m Early Net.

  • Extremely Friendly!
  • Very Well Run!
  • A Good Time Had By All!
  • The Nicest Folk You Might Meet on the Air!

Any of these would describe the Net to the Tee!

This time participating I downloaded the 3905CCN Logger (links on their website) and got it up and running during the net!  SQL based task-specific the Logger is impressive!

In short order I made contacts with several states I previously did not have 160m Phone contacts with. Lots of fun!

Of course the 3905 Century Club operates on more bands and other modes.  Currently they have Fifty-Four Different nets each week, spread from 160m to 20m, in SSB, CW, PSK and RTTY flavors!

Link to the 3905CC Website is:  http://www.3905ccn.com/

And a direct link to the Net Schedule is:  http://www.3905ccn.com/newsite/netsched.htm

Great People and a Highly Recommended Radio Experience!

73

Steve
K9ZW

Excess Gear for Sale 22 - February - 2010

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Items For Sale.
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I’ve not been very good about getting rid of excess gear, and I’m overdue clearing several excess rigs & bits from my shack.  I want another new rig and much of this gear really should find a new home:

  • TenTec 1253 Shortwave Receiver – Built from Kit by an SK, looks unused – $75 plus shipping
  • QRO King 6 meter full Kilowatt Amp built on a Heath SB221.  I lack the room for this outstanding amp in the shack.  – $1200 plus shipping.
  • ATS 909 SW Receiver – Like New – $150 plus shipping
  • NCS-3230 Multi-RX – as delivered new – again won’t fit in my present shack – $350 plus shipping
  • W2IHY 8 Band Audio Equalizer/Noise Gate and EQplus set with Ten-Tec Cables – $550 plus shipping
  • TenTec Pegasus Transceiver – Excellent NOS Like New Condition – Purchased as NOS and only Tested on air – original box, manuals and disks. Includes a 302 remote tuning pod. (This Pegasus does not have the internal AT, but is like new) $600 plus shipping [Retaining as a Back-up, having sold the other two Transceivers]
  • TenTec Pegasus Transceiver – Excellent Used Condition – Has the TenTec Internal Antenna Tuner – Case has light stacking scratches. Includes a 302 remote tuning pod. Manual & disks. $550 plus shipping [SOLD]
  • TenTec Jupiter Transceiver – Excellent Used Condition – was my main rig until I bought the Flex-5000 – original version w/o AT – $850 plus shipping [SOLD]
  • TenTec 1251 RF CounterpoiseThree Available One Left- Excellent Condition – $75 each plus shipping [Sorry, Error in Listing as unit is incomplete]
  • Henry 2K Amp, Original Teardrop Model – with extensive documented added protection circuitry, with roller cart and manual, one meter cover is in shabby shape, otherwise Good Condition. Unable to move down into my shack for complete workout – duplication of the professional upgrades would cost more than my asking price – $800 picked-up, or plus Palletization & Freight costs. [SOLD]
  • Dentron MT-2000A Antenna Tuner – Good Condition – $150 plus shipping [SOLD]
  • Drake TR-7 Transceiver and PS-7 Power-Supply, with a Drake W-4 Watt Meter – consignment from family friends has full filter board and full set of manuals (user & service) – appears in excellent condition – $550 plus shipping  [SOLD]

Contact me for more details. You can find lots of information on these tuners, including photos, at eHam, the manufacturer’s websites and by google.

I’ll leave these posted here for a couple weeks or so before putting out eHam & QTH ads.

73

Steve
K9ZW

How to Vibroplex – Outstanding How-To Video 21 - February - 2010

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, K9ZW Recommends.
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Jim WB8SIW has done an outstanding YouTube video on “How to Properly Adjust and Use a Vibroplex Bug.”

Direct link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qekmyx31Uxw

The Michigan Radio Manual Jim WB8SIW mentions is at: http://michigannet.org/_wsn/page2.html

The quick few pages on Vibroplex Set-Up extracted as a PDF are:
Vibroplex Key Adjustment by Jim WB8SIW

Very well done and recommended!

73

Steve
K9ZW

Safety Training – Like Writing Words in the Snow 20 - February - 2010

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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Just finished an OSHA safety course for work. It was a general construction safety program (the OSHA 10 hour one) and gave me a chance to review safety focuses in related and some cases unrelated trades.

As I have often taught classes much like this, it was at time a tedium – especially with the focus in much training being “hours in training” rather than what was covered & absorbed. The lecture staff were professionals from work’s insurance carrier and really did a fine job of perking up interest in those attending.

Reflecting on this course it struck me how in our Hobby seldom do we do safety training, and almost never do we do any recurrent safety training.

Yes, we all are supposed to have done our RF Exposure calculations – but when was the last time you back-checked even those simple calculations as your home station evolves?

And what about all the other bits of safety – electrical, fall-protection, lightening… not to mention the human factor safety issues – ergonomics, fire & first aid… even down to having a safety plan for someone to check on you if you don’t reappear from your ham room after a certain amount of time, or having access to a 911 able phone in the ham shack?

Safety Training and Planning is about being prepared for the unexpected. Rather than being like a character Monty Python skit about “Not Expecting the Inquisition” we should plan & train to be ready for a wide range of possibilities.

The planned repeating of Safety Training is important, as bluntly we forget & become complacent about safety issues. I’ve often heard analogies like “Safety Training is like writing words in the snow, you have to keep retracing the letters & words as whether it is more snow, the melting from the sun, drifting from the winds, or those tracking through them, the words will soon be lost without repetition.” Many training authors use simeilar analogies – snow, beach, words in the wind – to the same effect – repetition is an integral part of Safety Training.

I will be talking to our club’s program coordinator about adding a series of Safety in the Ham Shack mini-programs for our members.

Who knows, being prepared might just keep someone from a world of hurt.

73

Steve
K9ZW

To SDR or To Not SDR? Follow Up and Personal Observations 12 - February - 2010

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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This is a second post expanding on To SDR or To Not SDR? Is That Really Even a Question?

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

A few thoughts on Bleeding Edge vs Leading Edge, Connectivity Issues, and the reality that part of the SDR is a personal computer who’s hardware & operating system will be evolving.

As a lead in, I want to be clear I am writing about “Full SDR (Software Defined Radio)” technology, not receive only processing of intermediate receiver products, CAT-less (Computer Aided Transceiver – basically full control of the Transceiver from the computer desktop) or receive only components that maybe part or all SDR, but lack SDR transmit capability.

I’ve had people comment that their “IF-tapped XYZ Transceiver plugged to a computer soundcard with their PC running audio processing of that analogue tap’s output” is somehow an SDR, and even more an SDR equal to the big-boys.

Sorry, it isn’t.  It is a neat thing, to computer process an IF-tap’s receive output – very cool!  But it is not a full blown SDR transceiver.  If you differ, lets set a Sked and talk SDR to SDR on the air… oh woops, sorry I forgot these “SDR” lack SDR-transmit….  Well maybe we can email…

All humor aside, there is a real risk in adopting a lifespan-limited SDR offering – of buying into a Bleeding Edge design that will be come unsupported.

That same fear of buying into a dead-end bound design was the number one reason I had never given serious thought to the first SDR products.

What made the SDR platform come into focus for me personally?

Two items – Ultimate Performance and Economics

Ultimate Performance in not only has SDR evolved to meet every technical achievement that conventional transceiver designs offer, but arguably the state of the art has been moved & improved upon by SDR. Having had extended opportunity to use the top of the line conventional gear I had developed pretty lofty tastes for performance, especially in receiver ability.

I’m not the only one to identify the unique, and software improvable performance lead of SDR – well known testing labs have documented the measurable figures and even our government has jumped onto SDR for mission critical intelligence work by adopting the FlexRadio Systems CDRX-3200 32-receiver 100kHz to 100MHz streaming Channelizing Digitizer Receiver.

In the case of the SDR design I am using the SO2R (Single Operator – Two Radio) design is integrated into one device in way not available in a conventional transceiver pair with SO2R interface.

In terms of station integration, including bringing other station components like rotor control, antenna switching, audio recording, Watt/SWR Metering, Digital Mode, Amplifier, Logging Programs, DX Spots, and audio processing under control, the SDR opportunity allows a single shack interface through the computer. If you noticed I mixed hardware items and station software in my list – on purpose as once put to the machine their virtualization becomes an interoperability playground independent of whether the components are hardware, software or a mixture. That the various programs can share control hooks to work together is an opportunity in interoperability very difficult to achieve in the shack with non-computer based assistance (please be certain that the stand alone station aids for integration are actually small purpose built interfacing computers, or distributed processing if you will.)

In the area of Ultimate Performance there is little opportunity to implement certain SDR features in the shack on a practical basis.

Binaural audio features make use of the human mind & ears ability to gain intelligibility by the way of the head-related transfer function or HRTF, an improvement in reception not available at this time in the hamshack other than through SDR.

Having built in diversity reception is otherwise presently not achievable in the hamshack with mass market single transceivers.

The transmitted voice processing, equalizer, compender, compression and other tweaks is available in the hamshack in stand alone gear, though three pieces of specialist kit would be needed.

Economics then comes into play. With computer my present SDR setup investment is around 1/3 of what would have been spent to achieve the same feature set, the few unique SDR features set aside, at the same performance levels. When used in the SO2R configuration that 1/3 drops to more like 1/5th the investment.

That isn’t to say that a good station with conventional gear couldn’t be put together at a similar price point as my SDR setup, but such a station would not share either the performace specifications, much of the feature set, nor a fraction of the station integration.

Even when evaluating Ultimate Performance and Economics, a fear of buying into a limited life product and the knowledge that the operating system & hardware of the PC portion would be evolving played heavy on my mind.

That was before I realized I was holding more a fear of uncertainty, as the updatability is the most significant product feature of SDR.

True that someday down the road, ultimately my particular SDR purchase maybe tomorrows “boat anchor.” Actually I rather hope that our hardware keeps advancing, and I would obviously be 100% assured of having bought tomorrow’s “boat anchor” if I were to purchase any conventional transceiver currently made.

So perhaps my fear was of having a “short cycle” to obsoleteness? What sort of timeframe should I plan to “amortize” my SDR purchase over, predicting the future as best one can?

Contemporary conventional transceivers seem to be roughly on five-to-eight-year, give or take, manufacturing life-cycles before upgrades & model improvements overshadow the previous offering. Recently influences like the RoHS rules and earlier than expect processor end-of-life announcements & subsequence unavailability have modified this with a couple of premium transceivers going short cycle.

In the case of some of these rigs they are now basically unrepairable if they were to loose one of their embedded processors – onboard computers on a chip – and have become bargains for those willing to take the risk.

Did I mention that virtually none of the current conventional transceivers have a significant feature upgrade path (I would argue that the Elecraft transceivers are one of the exceptions to the locked design)? Maybe the SDR having the option to adopt computer improvements (there is no obligation of course) is an asset, rather than a liability?

The PowerSDR software, as it moves into “Deep Impact” (the working name for the newest versions) is multi-platform for both software operating system and hardware.

So it is unlikely I will find my investment seriously painted into a corner anytime soon.

Of most concern is the IEEE 1394 Firewire Port of the present design. The PC industry has an on/off history in supporting Firewire, as many clone manufacturers did not want to apy the small licensing fee, nor comply with the QC standards of Firewire. Currently some makers don’t offer it, some add it to their premium – especially media server type – PCs, and many offer it either as standard or a factory option.

Perhaps down the road a future version of USB might be more desirable (though I would think not until its throughput exceeds Firewire and until it moves its I/O overhead off the processor), which gasp – gasp – might mean I would need to update my SDR unit if I wanted to directly use say USB 6.0 as the native SDR-PC interface. Try updating your 2002 mainstream transceiver’s hardware to update connectivity – it isn’t going to happen.

Now to be fair I do want to be clear that as much as I am pleased to be operating with the Flex-5000A SDR radio I bought 18 months ago, I do enjoy being on the air more than worrying about on what specific radio, I have kept a full complement of conventional transceivers & computer controlled transceivers (not SDR, just controlled), have homebrew & QRP radios, and am in the midst of setting up a 1970’s style vintage station.

Adopting the leading edge doesn’t mean you have to forego the legacy gear that pleases you.

My question is what delights does the future offer that put my SDR transceiver into that revered status as a legacy? And how rewarding it is to be using that technology today!

73

Steve
K9ZW

To SDR or To Not SDR? Is That Really Even a Question? 8 - February - 2010

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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8 comments

Debate about SDR (Software Defined Radio), like the Flex-Radio, Genesis Radio, SoftRock and the many other SDR offerings has been in our hobby magazines, nets and blogs.

Many of the arguments go on in length to explain why this or that author is not adopting SDR and why they are staying/clinging/satisfied with some various past generation of radios – whether their prized Collins Gold Dust Twins, their 1990’s Contest worn FT-1000 (but only after and only before certain factory mods), or even new IC-7800 class rig – and many go to explain that SDR isn’t what amateur radio is about in their estimation.

Discussions fall into at least a couple groups:

  • “Real Radios” have knobs (guess the TenTec Pegasus, the Kachina and the computer only Kenwood TS-B2000 weren’t real, despite having been around for years….).
  • It has to live in just one box to be a “Real Radio” (How does the Yaesu FT-2000 type system, with the DMU and external DX Tuning Coils fit as a “real radio” much less the TX/RX/VFO/Exciter stations of years gone?)
  • Computer, Computer – a real radio don’t need no stinkin’ computer! (not understanding that embedded processors are also computers?).

Ever since the spark & crystal gave way to tubes, then to transistors, then to IC Chips, there has been those who argue that the next wave of technology was somehow “Bad” or somehow “less good” than the “old way.”

It is easy to dismiss these opinions as the incantations of technological Luddites, but they hold some truth – that usually with each step forward we do loose something. There is a trade-off in innovation that does have a cost.

Often though what is seen as technological innovation is really nothing more than our being exposed and allowed to “touch” components that have been part of our radios for years, and secondly bringing expensive established technology to the hobbyist affordable price point.

Even though they have knobs, many modern transceivers are largely software driven, and some do signal processing partially using the same technologies that SDR offers. It is just that their “computer(s)” live inside the box with knobs.

Reading current transceiver ads you’ll notice  a focus on what main processor a particular brand’s “box” has, and how many DSP IC Chips it uses.  Advertising responds to the market’s perception that the imbedded computers have become important marketing material.

Didn’t we go from factory-upgradable firmware, to user replaceable PROMs, then to EPROMs we could use a special connection & process to update, then to Flash Updates, on to the SD-card personality Updating, and now system updating by built in internet ability?

Who would have thought when we were building the wonderful radios we now call “boat anchors” that tomorrow’s radios would share audio & RF input/output connection types, but otherwise little else?

The IP Address many new fully with-knob rigs would have you configure so they can exist on your network, wasn’t even being talked about as fantasy just a couple product cycles back!

SDR is here to stay.

The real question is not whether to SDR or Not SDR, but rather a series of questions about architecture and man/machine interface.

While the Panadapter band view of many SDRs is a huge tool, it has existed in some form for decades. The very advanced SDR processing again is accessible to regular hams, but also has existed in other forms for those able to put together a serious station.

Current SDR has brought these sorts of features to a technological access point and economic cost/benefit point where any Radio Amateur could implement the technology in their shack.

Of course no one needs to adopt the latest technology the instant it appears on the horizon. To be realistic the current SDR user group has expanded to include “regular hams” who are implementing rather than experimenting.

Isn’t that what most of us do anyway? We pick and choose various station components, many of them “black boxes” we will never open up, modify or develop any further than flashing someone else’s updated software/firmware into, and assemble the pieces into a station.

Even in the “old days” we sourced parts – tubes, transformers and whatnot – to build usually following fairly well established circuit designs.

In each case we follow paths well worn, with books, best practice manuals (and now the internet) to guide us, and basically do little more than acquire a taste of knowledge while building what amounts to “adult Lego building” in assembling a station.

It is the uncommon radio amateur who knows the block diagram of his knobs & buttons transceiver, much less the detailed circuit layout – IF the manufacturer even provides a copy.

It will become that way for SDR too, through time. Those hobbyists less interested in “how it works” than they are in “just make it work for me” will be served by the marketplace with non-technically demanding SDR offerings. Even now the present level of SDR offerings include all-in-one-box SDR with on-board computer rigs like the Flex-Radio 5000C, which basically becomes a high end radio sans-physical controls.

At the other end you can build modules and assemble your own SDR from offerings from TAPR, Genesis Radio and others. You can roll-your-own software, again using modules or starting from your own source code.

In many ways the current state of SDR amateur radio is embracing experimentation, individual development and the intense learning that characterized the very essence of the nostalgic memories of some anti-SDR sentiments.

A pragmatic development, there is an interesting development in the SDR world addressing the no-knobs machine/interface debate, with the offering of several tuning-pod and faux-frontplate knob & switch offerings.

These offerings, just like the current all-in-one-box mainstream transceivers, use rotary digital or optical encoders to tune, and translate your knob movement into digital commands.

The same technology, but somehow different? Seems more ironic the clinging to the past when you realize the past is the same (albeit more expensive) as this (affordable) SDR future.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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