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Storing Spare Radio Gear – Preparing for Long Term Storage 24 - October - 2012

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Learned.
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Almost every one of us has some spare radio gear. Sometimes it is gear we would like to set aside and store for a “rainy day” or hoping that our youngsters might want it. Of course there is also gear set aside purely as back-up if our main gear took a lightning strike or was otherwise damaged.

I asked several preparedness types, a couple ex-military gear service techs, and looked around for other’s recommendations – all distilled into a protocol.

Step One – Selection and Completeness

Gear to be stored usually is working gear, though I do know people who set aside projects for the future. There are a couple points about selection that were pointed out to me:

Will it work in the future? No point in storing gear that requires a computer that is likely to be obsolete unless you store a working computer with it. Nor is there much sense to store a project without the needed spares if they are likely to be unavailable in the future.

Then pay attention to completeness – you want the gear, all accessories, critical spares, paper manuals, service/tech manuals if you can get them, consumables and printouts of support notes from the internet if they are useful. You want it all much like if you were shipping the radio to a remote Island where you would be setting it up without any outside resupply. Pay attention to special connectors – Molex variations come to mind – and any add-ons that can be found now.

The object is to have everything you need to get the radio up and going, AND take care of it, when you open your storage parcel years later.  Obviously be prudent – example,  I wouldn’t store oils/lubricants with the radio.

Don’t forget to really make sure what you store works well, and is up to snuff.  One ham I ran into sends radios in for full service and alignment before storage.  Really nice to get some of his gear when he decided he didn’t need everything he had stored.

The Dry-Wrap

Treat the radio like you were wrapping fresh room temperature meat. Bring the gear up/down to room conditions, clean and dry. Then wrap it twice in food grade paper. Butcher Paper and Parchment paper (used for baking) have been suggested. The idea is a pH neutral paper unlikely to take-up or give-off chemicals which could damage your stored radio.

The Piggy-Back

To the wrapped radio add the manuals, accessories and spares if being stored as one. Some units will be stored in partial units – which even at this stage would then be marked 1-of-4, 2-of-4 and so on.

The add-ons can be in their own paper or bags.

To these add several large desiccant sachets, which you should prepare by oven-drying them to a very dry state.

The First Vacuum Pack

Using Food Grade plastic, heat seal and vacuum pack everything. You do NOT need to crank the vacuum up high, just bring it down. Some preparers suggested pre-filling the plastic bag with nitrogen or CO2 from some dry ice.

Once you have some vacuum the heat seal the bags completely closed.  They shold not puff back out.

The Anti-Static Nod to Mr Faraday

Double wrap the vacuum pack with commercial grade aluminum foil (this is much heavier) or electronics industry anti-static conductive materials. Use conductive tapes if possible.

The Final Vacuum Packaging

The foil-wrapped unit is put into another Food Grade Plastic Bag and like the bag under the foil vacuum heat-sealed everything again.

The Importance of Labels and Instructions

Make sure to label the unit, and if you have any short instructions for storage or opening attach them.  I’ve put labels so they can be seen through the Final Vacuum Packaging as well as an outside label – hedging again the plastic wrap fogging over time.

The Box or Can Over-Packaging Question

At this stage advisors were split – several suggested boxed up the package in a storage box, and few wanted to store it in a metal garbage can out of EMP fears. There is no civilian authority to reference on whether EMP threats are real enough to protect against, and whether the double foil-wrap is enough protection without a metal casing.

Regardless of your personal decision, make sure you box/store the package in way that you won’t drop it when handling. No point in doing an awesome storage job to fumble the radio putting it on the shelf – or even having it walk off the shelf in tremors.

If you do some planning you can use the original OEM packaging, even if you have to include it inside one of the Vacuum Packing layers.

Duplicate, if Required

The saying is “Two is One, and One is None.”  This reflects the idea that you have a high likelihood of havinga working station if you have spares to swap in, but if your only unit goes down you are off the air.  The same applies to spares.  Consider if you want duplication of stored radio gear.

All this is a lot of work, but I am told that those with experience have found it worth the effort. The protected radio gear has a high likelihood of being servicable after lengthy storage.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Collins S-Line Station Interconnects and Connects…. 10 - October - 2012

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Learned, K9ZW Shack.
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For those of you who grew up with separate Receivers and Transmitter what I am working through is likely going to get a “Duh K9ZW, what did you think?” response, as I am learning all about the interconnects and connections of a Collins S-Line Station.

Black-Box radio users are accustomed to hooking up the power, the microphone, maybe a headset, the ground, and the antenna. If running an amp, tuner or SWR meter there is only a very few additional connections additional.

Not so with an S-Line Station. While possible to run the station with fewer interconnects the classic set up when a 30L1 Amp and 312B4 Station Control are added, the full complement is a whopping 18 cables!

Collins S-Line Full Interconnection Chart

Collins S-Line Full Interconnection Chart

There are four low-power RF connections using RG-58C/U terminated RCA-to-RCA. Yes those RCA connectors like a budget speaker system uses.

Then there are ten RCA-to-RCA patch cables, plus one RCA-to-bare-wire to connect your CW key.

Your microphone will need to terminate with a PJ-68 plug if your setup is a “S-1″ like mine.

You will need an odd RCA-to-90 degree N-Connector RG-58C/U cable if you want to skip the amp. May as well get one and have it on hand in case I want to operate sans the Amp.

Otherwise you need a N-connector-to-90 degree N-Connector RG-8/U cable between the Amp and 312S4 meter. To get from the meter to your usual station connections (Antenna Switches, Tuners and such) you will need a 90 degree N-Connector to usually a PL-259 RG-8/U type cable.

If you add that all up, it is actually 19 cables, but the odd RCA-to-90 degree N-Connector RG-58C/U cable is a spare if you want a no-amp configuration.

The high count excludes a ground and three electrical plug-ins! And there is a cable from the 516F2 Power Supply to the 32S1 transmitter as well. If we were really counting we should include the Twisted Pair from your POTS Telephone Line to the 312B4 if the Phone patch were hooked up. That I think brings us up to 25 cables plus the spare one for that no-amp reconfiguration!! Whew!

As I had on hand but half of the needed cables, I’ve gone internet shopping to fill out the cable set I actually needed.  Have sorted out adding the cables I need with again Mark KE9PQ supplying the additional newly fabricated cables I need and some spare/optional cables I wanted.

I should mention not all connections are on back plates, with several of the RCA connections inside the radios on the chassis. The units have a nice pass-through to allow the cables to get inside.

The 90-degree part on N-Connectors is to do with the limited space inside the 312B4. Straight N-Connectors will work if the coax is flexible enough.

While I’ve not yet put the Collins S-Line station on the air, I am having fun learning about another time’s technology in Amateur Radio.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh My! – Serial Ports in the Complex Ham Software Setup 24 - April - 2012

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Learned, K9ZW Uses.
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I’ve been amazed, and deeply frustrated, at the complexity of a full software defined radio software suite setup. I expect mine is tad bit more complex than some, but nothing extraordinary.

Behind the scenes two vital software utilities have to be fully fired up – VAC (Virtual Audio Cables) which manages audio connections “in the black box,” and a Serial Port Manager (I use VSP Manager which is further managed by DDUtil) which manages “Pairings” of virtual serial port assignments.

It is at the DDUTIL level that complexity is the greatest.

VAC – Virtual Audio Cables

Ok, inside your computer you don’t have the ability to “patch” audio to the various programs like you would if each “piece” of the Audio Chain were a separate physical component.  Unlike putting together a stereo rack where you can cable the tuner to the amp, the CD player to the Amp, the CDRom Burner to perhaps all, and those legacy Turntable & Tape Decks to the amp – or in cases where the tuner  acts as the “hub” they get hard cabled there… in the SDR software suite software has to patch the audio to where it needs to flow or return.

Eugene Muzychenko has created the needed software, his product being what 99% of radio amateurs working with this problem use.

The Wiki Page on VAC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_Audio_Cable

Eugene Muzychenko’s VAC page: http://software.muzychenko.net/eng/vac.htm

VAC is audiophile grade software, with oodles of configuration selections that arguably are best left alone or setup in known working configuration for our purposes.

Please note that the free demo version of VAC is unsuitable for anything other than setting up basic configurations.  Do not use it on the air as the Demo Message will raise havoc.  VAC is a 22 Euro or USD $30 investment that being rather unique should be planned as part of your setup costs to do complex SDR.  Actually you can buy VAC from the developer for $25.20 to $50.50 depending on the level of support you want.  He also has a number of resellers.

One reseller has a nice page explaining what this VAC thing is all about:  http://www.fox-magic.com/vac.php

In my case I have only one pair of VAC Cables setup, though technically I would benefit from a second set connected to the RX2 (technically third receiver) in the Flex-5000A.

VSP Manager

K5FR is the person behind the next two parts of the puzzle.  VSP Manager creates pairs of virtual serial ports.

VSP Manager is available on request from K5FR for non-commercial use.  Details are at:  http://k5fr.com/ddutilwiki/index.php?title=VSP_Manager

There are alternatives to VSP Manager, and various technical reasons bantered about why this or that Virtual Serial Port is better.

Working well and being highly compatible with the real gatekeeper – DDUtil – is reason enough for me to stick with VSP Manager.

DDUtil

Now we get to the “switchboard, Router & patch panel” hub of the whole setup.

DDUtil by K5FR is found at:  http://k5fr.com/DDUtil.htm and http://k5fr.com/ddutilwiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

In Steve K5FR’s own words:

…..DDUtil, which is short for Data Decoder UtilityDDUtil was designed to enhance the operating experience for Flex Radio users by providing advanced connectivity to peripheral equipment and Radio Control Programs (RCPs) not before available.

DDUtil provides the automation required to decode and present transmit frequency data to select frequency sensitive devices such as linear amplifiers, antenna controllers (SteppIR), antenna tuners, antenna band switchers, etc. DDUtil may be used in a stand-alone mode or with up to four (5) Radio Control Programs(RCPs) running simultaneously.

DDUtil automatically senses when a RCP is trying to communicate with PowerSDR and modifies it’s mode of operation accordingly.

AnXMLfile is used to provide the reference data needed for the BCDoutput data. A sample file is included with the distribution files to serve as a guide. This file may be created from scratch or modified from the sample provided and then saved with an appropriate user name. All file modification may be accomplished within the program or may be done in any XML file editor of the users choice. But, unless the user is familiar with XML file editing it is recommended that XML file modification be confined to DDUtil until proficiency is obtained. Please note that this file requires a specific format see the BCD Data File Format topic in Setup / Other Topics for details.

The initial release is designed for the Flex family of radios including the SDR-1000, Flex-5000, Flex-3000 and Flex-1500 series…..

The DDUtil Block Chart perhaps explains it best:  DDUtil Flow Chart  (also at http://k5fr.com/ddutilwiki/images/DDUtilFlow.pdf )

Setting up DDUtil is a bit of a fiddle unless you make time to read the Wiki and the excellent articles at the Flex-Radio Knowledge-Base.  I would roughly estimate that the time I didn’t invest reading first cost me 4 to 5 times as much time fiddling & fixing later.

The Enemies of SDR Software – Latency and Conflicts

First of the two big enemies of “Radio in Computer” seem to be Latency – the delays introduced by hardware & software in audio streams, program functions, program-to-program data transfer, or between the SDR hardware (the “physical radio”) and the Computer (the “Software Radio”).

Tweaking in software design and optimizing components can make a huge reduction in induced Latency.

I’ve fought issues with software not in the SDR suite of programs dragging my system down – an early version of TeamViewer and various software update nag-ware programs have been the worse.  Adobe products and some Anti-Virus packages can be a problem as well.  Flex-Radio includes in its PowerSDR and Flex-Radio software a program simply called “Flex-Radio” which can be used to closely monitor system Latency.  The software will help you configure the software to optimize given your computer’s measured latency.

The second bugabo is the Conflicts can occur and are such a devil to sort out.  Things like various software fighting to access the same Serial Port, creating more than one Serial Port assigned the same number, fights between port assignments with expansion software, programs that are “just crabby” and don’t play well with others….  The list is fairly long and sticking with known compatible combinations can help you get up and running easily.

If you are like me and want to fiddle with other software while running the station – a browser, an editor to make notes, a call book lookup program, some space weather, weather, and time programs…. well it can be a fiddle sorting things out.  Several browsers seem to “bloat” while running the SDR suite and specially Safari for Windows seems to hog system resources upsetting the rest of the system.

I’m looking into replacing the several year old Dell Windows-XP dual core machine I am using with a new Windows-7 Multi-Core machine with its greater capabilities.  One of my Dayton 2012 goals was to talk with Neal K3NC  the PowerSDR Computer guru at the Flex-Radio booth, though Neal has had to take a pass for Dayton this year for health reasons.

How do you get enough physical ports to plug in all your stuff?

I faced this right away.  Most new machine have at best one or two serial ports.  Hardly enough to run a serial cable to each of the station components.  Presently I have serial cables to:

  • An SPE Expert 1KW Amp
  • A Palstar AT-Auto Antenna Tuner
  • A Begali CW Machine
  • A Green Heron RT-20 Rotor Control
  • An Array Solutions PowerMaster Watt & SWR Meter

And I want to reserve future ports for:

  • A computer controllable remote antenna switch
  • Power Control Hardware for the Flex-5000A Unit

So how does one hook up seven serial cables to a machine that came set up for two?

I bought a Serial Port Expansion Module that had formerly been used as part of a commercial Point-of-Sale setup.  This added eight assignable ports easily and with high reliability.

Word of warning, one has to again read the directions in assigning port numbers to the expansion unit so they neither conflict with existing port assignments or overlap your VSP Manager assignments.  Some of your software may require specific restrictions on post assignments you need to work around as well.

More esoteric deep in your machine USB and Serial ports can interact as well. Consider this an advanced subject!

What do you get for all this?

What do you get for braving all the “Lions and Tigers and Bears” of doing a full SDR software suite?  As it is easy to chronicle the woes of getting (and keeping) the software running, one forgets that their is some real joy to be gained in doing all this.

What you end up with is:

A DX Chasing “Machine” that has integrated rotor, amp, tuner and wattmeter displays & controls.  In my case the SPE Expert 1KW Amp, Palstar AT-Auto Antenna Tuner, Array Solutions PowerMaster SWR Meter and Green Heron RT-20 rotor controller are all integrated.

Quick switch between a QRO SSB setup to a digital mode station running JT65-HF or fldigi(Win) seamlessly.

Integrated logging (though I do have to manually add into my master log adi logs from auxiliary programs).

Receive performance rivaling top shelf dedicated monitoring receivers costing more than my entire station investment.

An “If you can Hear it, You CAN work it” capability – for a simple station I catch a lot on the air even when other area hams say the “bands are dead.”

What’s Next?

Other than the likely computer system update, the biggest forward change I see is to replace the Array Solutions RatPAK remote antenna switch with a configuration that can be controlled by the software.  I can either reconfigure feed lines to cover 160m-10m without an external antenna switch, or find a remote switch that can interface.  Looks like a Dayton 2012 “to do list” item to figure out what remote switch would work.

Through using the DDUtil suite I have learned that under certain circumstances my Flex-5000A’s power supply is underperforming, and that is on the upgrade list.

Remoting everything is up there.  Likely to wait until the Computer Update is done, this involves a small hardware hack of the Flex-5000A itself to allow remote power switch control.

Making use of a multi-antenna “diversity” listening configuration – as mentioned if I can hear the DX station I can usually work them, so further improving the stations “ears” only makes sense.  Power SDR has built-in features that I haven’t even begun to exploit when it comes to using the RX2 receiver and multiple antenna configurations.

All in all a lot of fun, easy to set up if you bite off small chunks at a time and read the instructions, and well worth the effort in results.

73

Steve
K9ZW

About RadioReference.com 21 - December - 2011

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Learned.
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Picking up where published guides once covered, and where formerly easy to access web databases once ruled, RadioReference.com is whole lot of information cleanly put together online.

RadioReference.com

RadioReference.com is the world’s largest radio communications data provider, featuring a complete frequency database, trunked radio system information, and FCC license data. RadioReference is also the largest broadcaster of public safety live audio communications feeds, hosting thousands of live audio broadcasts of Police, Fire, EMS, Railroad, and aircraft communications.

With hundreds of thousands of members, RadioReference is a world leading collaboration platform for public safety communications professionals and hobbyists.

via RadioReference.com.

As a heads-up the Mobile version http://m.radioreference.com is hand and shows very cleanly on my phone, though it is a limited portion of the whole website.

73

Steve
K9ZW

QRPme Kits featured in QRP Ham Radio Station Setup and Operation Video by Jeff VE3ICH 25 - April - 2011

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, K9ZW Learned.
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QRP Ham Radio Station Setup and Operation

Videos that take you through the steps, and don’t assume that you have experience or access to knowledgeable Elmer are always a huge help – Jeff VE3ICH has done the QRP community a great service by doing a QRP Station “Setup and Operation” video, and putting it on Youtube:

    Messages from the QRPme Kits and Stuff Yahoo Group Email Reflector:

Jeff VE3ICH announcing his Youtube Video:

Video of QRPme.com QRP Station Setup
Posted by: “Jeff Tranter” VE3ICH
Sun Apr 24, 2011 7:51 am (PDT)

I made a little YouTube video showing how to set up and operate a complete QRP ham radio station using the Two Tinned Tunas ][ transmitter, Sudden Storm ][ receiver, and Tuna Helper T/R switch.

You can view it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zyxl7cciq3Q

Rex W1REX the man behind QRPme responding:

Jeff’s U-Tube video
Posted by: “Rex Harper” W1REX
Sun Apr 24, 2011 5:03 pm (PDT)

Fans,

Jeff, THANK YOU for posting that tuna can setup video!

Jeff’s video on setting up a tuna can station is EXCELLENT! If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. Jeff did a nice job running through setting up and tuning a station made up of separate components, just like the good old days.

He just happened to have used a complete set of station components that fit inside tuna cans…. I even learned some good tips about my own kits! He has a pretty good collection of QRPme tuna can kits but not all:

  • The Tuna Power System (TPS) kit is both a power distribution system for powering 5 tuna can kits AND an intelligent gel cell battery charger. It uses a UC3906 intelligent charger chip to keep your gel cell in tip top shape. It performs the same function as the Penguin mint tin shown in the video …but more. Of course, if you like the Altoids size… the Picnic Table Outlets (PTO) kit could possibly fit the bill. It only has one RCA outlet but you could make a special cable to daisy chain the tuna can power feeds. Just don’t include the Tuna Topper in that chain. The Topper requires a cable that is HEAVY and as short as possible to avoid any voltage drop in the cable.
  • The new Tuna Tunah is a switched inductor antenna tuner with LED matching indicator.
  • Also, If you happen to have the Tuna Topper 5 watt RF amp, it includes an automatic RF sensing T/R switch which will perform the same function as the Tuna Helper shown in the video.

    Rex

    Hope you have enjoyed and get as much from this video as I have!

    73

    Steve
    K9ZW

    The Trouble with Toroids – Getting all Wound Up Apparently About Nothing… 31 - October - 2010

    Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, K9ZW, K9ZW Learned.
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    1 comment so far

    When you run across a well done article on a topic we all tend to need every bit of help on, well you share the link to that excellent bit of work.

    I’ve had more trouble with winding toroids than any other aspect of kit building, excepting fussing with surface mounted components too small to see without a glass.

    Mike VE3WDM has done an excellent write-up of how he conquered the toroid problem, with very helpful onwards links.

    “VE3WDM’s HAM RADIO BLOG: Are toroids getting you all wound up” at:

    http://ve3wdm.blogspot.com/2010/10/are-toroids-getting-you-all-wound-up.html

    Hope you find this useful!

    73

    Steve
    K9ZW

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