Tag Archives: goals

In the works

Mid May, two months since the last post. What have I been up to?

Of course, I have been doing the regular VE sessions, but other than that… Packing. Lots of packing. We have been planning on relocating for several years now but time has finally arrived that we are moving forward pun intended.

We don’t want to move in the winter and we don’t want to wait another year so… we are gearing up for a move sometime soon. One of the best ways to get ready is to start filtering through all of the stuff that has accumulated over the last 21 years we have been here.

As we shed truck-loads of stuff we just don’t need to Savers and Goodwill, we have been packing up the things we can do without for a few months. Having a bunch of other stuff on the brain, the ham shack, or most of it anyway, was one of the first things to get boxed. So for now, no electronics lab. Nearly all of my test equipment is boxed up. We are up to 40 boxes, filtering and packing more every day.

Lest you think I’m ignoring radio, I have been gearing up to be more active in ARES, RACES, NTS, Skywarn, and CERT by taking a lot of FEMA/DHS classes that are prereqs for various organizations. I am also scheduled to take a BLS class in two weeks which includes CPR, AES and more. I want to add a variety of EmComm instruction to my growing list of classes offered in the near future so I am ticking down the long list of prereqs and associated training.

In a somewhat side related area, I also recently acquired my Remote Pilot certificate with Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems rating. Basically, a commercial UAV pilots license in addition to my commercial airplane pilot certificate. This will allow me to do aerial photography and inspections for pay with a UAV/UAS. And what might I be taking pictures of and inspecting, radio towers???? Possibly.

Anywho, I wanted to post an update so you didn’t think I had abandon radio or the site. I just don’t have a lot to post about other than classes and ratings. I will be doing a mobile install of my FT-817 with a quad-band antenna sometime soon so I will plan on posting about that soon. I may also be posting some short subject videos in the near future as well.

Til next time, 73

Another successful class

Just a short post today. This weekend I held another Technician license class, and it went great!

Another small and diverse class, best of all everyone passed with flying colors. I really do have a lot of fun doing these; by Sunday evening I am wired, completely exhausted, and absolutely fried mentally, I love every minute of it.

Two more classes in April, one Technician and one General, and that ends my currently posted calendar. I may be adding more classes after a visit from out of state family. We shall see.

In other radio news, I have been busy building dipole antennas. I am up to a 6 meter, 10 meter, and a 20 meter. I will definitely be adding a 40 meter to that soon. I have been looking for steel materials suppliers for 1/4 λ verticals. I want to build individual 70cm, 2m, 6m, and 10m. I think I may have found one. If so I will be working on a vertical array in the near future.

After I get all of the bands covered with basics, I want to start working on directional beams, at least for the main bands. I will wait for a while on these. Down the road, I also want to build some of the more exotic antenna varieties, including multi-bands, and arrays.

Antennas are usually relatively quick builds, which is great. Radio builds tend to take a bit longer. I have a couple of radio projects in limbo at the moment. Once I get some cabling projects finished for digital modes, I will also be getting back to the radio projects.

The build that seems to be taking forever is the Beach 40 project. This one needs to get back on the priority list. I should be able to get back to it this fall.

In VE news… This weekend will be my 54th VE session with the Silicon Valley VE group, something else I truly enjoy doing.

That’s it for now.

~Jon KK6GXG 

July? Has it really been that long?

Wow, yes it has in fact been that long.

20151104_161606From a building stand point… nothing new has been going on. I am still working on the Beach 40 and the Bitx 20. The Beach 40 still needs the audio section rebuilt and the Bitx20 needs some troubleshooting . I don’t have the facilities to put up a 20 or 40 meter antenna and since both radios are QRP(p), a good antenna is vital to making any contacts.

20151121_072647From an operators perspective… ya, nothing going on there ether. I need to pull down my Frankenstein/Hill Billy mast because we are having our building painted soon. I have plans for a simpler replacement that should work out fine. I’ll post about that if and or when that happens.

From an experimenters view point…  I have been kind of busy lately. Many of the newer radio projects I have been looking at use micro-controllers and embedded Linux systems. All of which I am totally fine with. There are so many other applications besides radio that I can employ these technologies. The only impediment is getting some play time in with these technologies and getting familiar with there capabilities, use, and programming.

arduinoEarlier this year I picked up some Arduino hardware. I haven’t had much time to work with it yet as the Day Job has been keeping me hopping as well as a lot of stuff in the personal life, nothing bad, just a lot of changes and preparations.

Many projects are done with the Arduino and various shields. Some require a little more direction in the form of an embedded system with a true OS. Enter Raspberry Pi and Raspbian.

rpi3bLast week I added a RPi 3B to the hardware pile and began working with it. Along with the Pi I picked up a copy of Exploring Raspberry Pi: Interfacing to the real world with embedded Linux From Wiley written by Derek Molloy.

Linux doesn’t worry me at all. Many moons ago I was a Solaris 7/8 admin as well as a RedHat 7 admin. The problem is that well over a decade has gone by since I actively worked on those systems. I have been in a Windows only environment for so long my Unix brain has turned to mush. So now I’m re-learning the Unix command line and re-acquainting myself with the Linux directory structure along with some all new unique elements of embedded systems and the Raspbian OS in particular.

With all of the projects piling up and now adding a lot of general computer stuff to the pile, Arduino Sketches, Python, C/C++, and picking up where I left off with Perl, it almost feels like I should go back to school and get credit for all of this work. I could pick up a CS degree with everything on my “tech to learn” plate right now. Add in all of the projects and an engineering degree (EE or ME) isn’t far behind. Thoughts for another time.

Radio specific plans are to read and build along with Crystal Sets to Sideband by Frank W. Harris W0IYE, and then get back to Experimental Methods in RF Design and do the same. I don’t expect to do a lot of operating other than 2 meter until we have the facilities to put up a real antenna, and there is no solid timeline for that.

Life outside radio has taken all of my time lately and I am just now slowly getting back to things. Most of it is general electronics/computer experimentation and adding to the knowledge pool right now.

So in conclusion, no I haven’t been busy, I’ve been too busy.


hamverseryP.S. Today’s post is brought to you by Hamversary. On this day in 2013 I received my license grant about a week after I walked into the Saratoga Fire Station a non-ham. Since then I have worked my way up to Extra Class, begun teaching license preparation classes to prospective hams, and I have been a Volunteer Examiner for 42 exam sessions, most of them at the Saratoga Fire Station.

I have learned so much in so many ways in this short period of time. Thank you Amateur Radio.

~Jon KK6GXG 

First week of April

Here we are, the first week of April. What has KK6GXG been up to since posting last month. Not a whole lot.

ARRL-VEC VEOne significant note, I have surpassed the 25 session count as a Volunteer Examiner! I am now up to 27 sessions. Yesterday (4/4) was also my 1 year anniversary with the Silicon Valley VE Group. I have been a VE since December 2014, but I didn’t begin working sessions until April 2015.

Working the sessions as an examiner is something I enjoy a great deal and I am always excited to see who shows up to the sessions. It is such a diverse group of people coming together in a common interest. Amateur Radio is all about diversity, and sharing common interests often regardless of  geopolitical boundaries.

I love to see youngsters at sessions pursuing their ham radio licenses, especially young ladies. While there are a lot of women in radio of all ages, it’s nice to see girls getting into radio at a young age. Radio is a place that tends to level all socioeconomic and cultural playing fields. A fellow ham is a fellow ham, period.

A couple of things have been nagging at the back of my head as of late. One is to get back to homebrew projects; get that 40 meter DSB finished and on the air. Another is to get back to studying CW, and of course build transceivers for more bands. Lastly, for now, is to get involved more.

With our QTH situation in flux for the next 6 months, it makes more sense to be involved in something less geographically ridged and that doesn’t require operating capabilities I don’t have right now or can’t build quickly and inexpensively.

This points to something administrative rather than operational. One place I would like to be more involved is with the VEC. I love being a VE, but I would like to be more involved with the process. I have no idea how I could be of service to the VEC, but I would like to.

Another thing I want to do before we change QTH is get back to the Bay Area Builders Club monthly meetings. Fortunately this one is just a matter of making the time to get over to the meeting. See you guys on Sunday 😉

KK6GXG-MakingWavesNo concrete plans, just some aspirations. For the moment that’s all I can muster. Life and the Day Job have been at the forefront but no playtime makes for cranky-pants, so I need to figure out a way to make some time. This post is one attempt at making some time.

Til next time… 73.

Solder-less Progress

Some good stuff got done this week even though I didn’t melt much solder.

I had an amateur radio testing session on Saturday. It was a busy day with lots of new hams passing there Technician, some going on to pass the General exam, and even an Extra! We also had several upgrades to General and Extra.

For me the session was also a good learning experience as a VE because I had the opportunity to get some training in another job with the group.

We basically have three jobs split among the VEs present at any given session; two administrative jobs, and a panel of test examiners.  I have been participating as an examiner for the last several months. Today I received some training for the administrative side of things.

I have been putting off the testing on the Beach 40 until I get the last few details finished on the audio and RF amps as well as the LP filter. This week I am playing beginning of the month catch-up with the day job so time is short.

Also tied to everything else is the change over from Windows to Linux. I have deleted the Win partition on the laptop and am now running full on Linux. I am loosing two programs I liked but just couldn’t get them to work with Linux native or emulated and I don’t want to run virtual machines. I still have all of the data, and I do have a Windows 7 laptop in the shop I basically only use for the web browser.

The programs I am loosing are Quicken and Business Plan Pro. BPP will just go away. I exported all of the business plans I have put together over the last decade to .doc files which I can access through OpenOffice. I can use the previous plans to build new ones as needed in document formats.

Quicken is the one giving me headaches. Supposedly you can export the data to a file for import to Skrooge. No joy. After several exports and several hours I made the contagious/stupid decision to just go back and reenter all the data for this year.  It sounds a lot worse than it is. I will just do one month at a time and by the end of this month I should be all caught up. Not to mention very familiar with the new software.

I have found replacements or versions that will run on Linux or in emulation for all of my radio software an in fact found some new stuff that looks mighty interesting. Big plus here.

Along with the radio specific software, I found gEDA Schematic Editor. WOOT! It took a little getting used to the interface and component placement, but I like the results a lot. I have been redrawing the schematics I originally did on schematics.com for the Beach 40 and think they look much better. I will be posting them soon to the build page. A good thing too because there are some errors on those schematics. Ooops!

One last update before I go, I was working on test prep for my commercial radio license a while ago but got sidetracked by all of the build projects and the day job. One of my goals for second/third quarter is to take my commercial radio exams, at least two of the three anyway, and get my commercial license. So I will be committing some of my limited time to that endevor over the next few weeks. The build will continue, I still hope to have the Beach 40 up by Field Day, but I need to budget more time to the Day Job/Future Day Job.

Anyway, I have 0.5TB of files syncing with Google Drive and a pile of accounting stuff that needs to find a new home in Skrooge so that’s it for today.

Until next time, 73,

Back to the radio

KK6GXG-MakingWavesTo keep domestic peace I have not been building on the Beach 40 non-stop as I might otherwise do and there is a side benefit… By taking some time away from the build I can clear out the cobwebs and refocus on the greater project to check my thinking and my work.

I still need to do testing on a few of the sections. However I have all but two sections assembled with only minor followups. I need to figure out the value of the common emitter voltage limiting resistor on the Audio Amp and I need to wined and connect the two bifilar toroids in the RF Amp.

T_R Switch
Not a literal schematic, just a rough idea

The last two sections to build are the Low Pass Filter and the T/R Switching sections. The bit that I have been burning cycles on is the T/R Switch. I want to do something that consumes the least power overall at-rest, something basic and bulletproof.

My current thinking on the T/R Switching is a pair of relays, one NO and one NC. RX on the NC and TX on the NO. This way everything is normally in the at-rest state and I only need to run one power lead from the TX momentary switch to both power leads on the relays. Since I don’t have the relays in stock I will need to go get a pair. Sounds like a trip to HSC. 🙂

Once I have the relays I will draw up a new schematic for this section and get it posted on the project page.

While not working on the Beach 40, I did do some radio stuff. I picked up some parts for stock from Jameco one day, a bag of varactor diodes, then two days later went back to pick up voltage regulators, a bag each of 5, 9, and 12 volts.

The XYL went with me to a local Radio Shack that is closing down. We picked up a bunch of zener diodes, a pair of bridge rectifiers, and some mechanical connections at 80% off. There wasn’t much left to pick through. I also found a pair of NO SPST relays which got me thinking more about the previously mentioned T/R switching circuit.

I also ordered a few bags of various op amp transistors that are frequently used in radio circuits. Purely a stock order, and I’m pleased to say the parts bins are slowly filling up and I am getting to the point I think I could actually build my next radio without going out and buying any parts. This is a good thing and I’m fairly certain my wife will agree.
Sneak Peak: I’m thinking about a Beach 20…

Also radio, not Beach 40, the beginnings of research on VFOs. I have been looking at a lot of material on VFOs without finding what I am looking for. I want something small physically, low power consumption, as close to all discrete components as possible, all readily available parts, stable, and a wide tuning range. A tall order I think.

First pencil sketch, next into the lab book and beyond

A first design only slightly out of specifications is this one I worked up from a test circuit diagram from N6QWs VVC page and the NE/SA602 spec sheet. It will be my VXO-X01 build. 😉

An Experiments page has been set up to keep a log of these kinds of long-term projects. I haven’t created the page for the VFO research yet but that will be up shortly after I update the Beach 40 build page.

One other non-radio, well mostly, is the slow planned migration to Linux. I have been wanting to this for a long time but the last time I tried it wasn’t so well planned. This time I am running both Linux (Ubuntu) and Windows (8.0) side-by-side rather than one virtual. It will be a long protracted process this time but it should result in a much better transition.

That’s it for now. Trying to keep the smoke inside the parts where it belongs until next time,


40 Meter Antenna

With the direct conversion receiver now working and tuned into the 40 meter band, it’s time to get to work on a better choice of antenna. The dipole would be great if it were in the proper environment, but this indoor, RF noisy environment is not conducive to picking up much.

Since tuning the receiver to the band I have been picking up both voice and cw transmissions but they are deep in the band noise. The other issue is portability. While the dipole can be pulled down and packed up for field use, it won’t work well in a mobile environment and would be a chore at home to pull down and put back up. So a whip makes the most sense for now. If the whip works at home I can wind up the dipole and keep it in the ready for field use.

Right now my focus is on getting the receiver, antenna, and any needed matching equipment in place. Once that is all together I can turn my attention to filters, amplifiers, and a transmitter.

Scan from the 1975 ARRL Handbook, page 606.
Scan from the 1975 ARRL Handbook, page 606.

The antenna is a helically wound vertical that I mentioned in a previous post All Aboard the Project Train. I ordered a six foot fiberglass safety flag whip for the core and a fresh 1.5 pound spool of 14 AWG copper magnet wire to get the project going.

Yesterday I started the antenna construction by unrolling the 66.5 feet of copper wire and marking it every five feet, mostly so I didn’t lose my count. After dinner I started winding the coil onto the fiberglass in a tight coil. The picture in the header for this post is the fiberglass with about 30 feet wound on.

66.5′ of 14 AWG copper wound onto a6′ x 3/8″ fiberglass rod

After winding the rest of the wire onto the fiberglass I threaded a dentists tool in between the wire wraps up the full length of the rod to create the uniform spacing for the coil.

On reflection at this point I think I might have opted for an 8 or 10 foot rod. For most applications it might be a better choice but neither would fit well indoors so 6 foot it is. I may build another antenna like this if it works well and try different lengths and diameters for different applications. A 10 foot whip would be better with a 1/2″ core and any longer would need 3/4″ or 1″ to remain stable unless it were placed inside a tube and filled with epoxy resin, another option. I haven’t tested any of these, I’m just spitballing with the structural integrity issue and weather resistance.

20150421_220832Now that the coil is done, the most difficult and time consuming part I think, it is time to move on to the spike and the base.

The plan for the spike is to pick up a small piece of 3/8″ copper tubing about 4″ long and use a coax crimping tool to mechanically center and attach a 1/4″ steel rod to about 2″ then sweat solder it together. After the spike is properly affixed, scoot the coil up a bit and solder the copper wire to the tube, add some epoxy inside the tube and scoot it back onto the fiberglass rod. This should give plenty of mechanical stability to both the spike and the rod as well as a good electrical contact. To help prevent galvanic corrosion I will coat the steel/copper interface with a few coats of lacquer.

The base is where I am going to have to think some more. The diagram calls for a variable inductor at the base of the antenna. I don’t think I will need this because I am planning on using an adapted Z-Match antenna tuning unit from chapter 23 of QRP Basics but that is for the next project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the mean time I am thinking about using a PVC/ABS 90º conduit fitting with an access panel, cutting off and sealing up the right angle (on the bottom of the image), inserting the bottom of the antenna with the wire sticking up out of the box a little and filling the cavity with epoxy resin, leaving enough room to install an exterior lug fitting to attach the wire to on the inside.  For mechanical stability and to provide a secure mounting point I was thinking about using 6″ of conduit around the antenna and filling that with epoxy resin as well.

I hope to get the spike done this week and the base over the weekend. While out and about getting the final parts for the antenna I will be hitting HSC for the parts for the Z-Match. Another busy week for radio. 🙂


All Aboard the Project Train

Sometimes it is indeed a project train, not just a project; occasionally a train wreck, but it’s early so we’ll hope for the best.

Now that I have built several receivers and a transmitter for 40 meters, I probably should have an antenna that does more than pick up all the RF noise around the shack. The antenna, and I use the word loosely, is nothing more than a dipole of 26 AWG insulated wire strung around the house. While it might work well if the wire was straightened out on a hill top, or even in a backyard, elevated 15 feet or more above ground, in its current incarnation, in a word, it sucks.

Next up on the project block, an antenna, sort of…

I have been looking at several small footprint antenna options like spiral coils that look like those God’s Eye yarn and popsicle stick things you may have made as a kid,  the one in the movies from the 40s when the resistance spy transmitting Nazi secrets and the SS storms in. It looks like a X and has thin wire wound around it.
288And Small Loop antennas that look more like old direction finding antennas on aircraft. And by the way, according to the formulas and general information, for 40 meters, not so small, 10′ diameter.

Now there are lots of variations and tons of experimental configurations to run with, and I do want to play with many of the possible configurations, but I need a stable, small, portable option for the immediate future. Something I could mount on the car, throw up on a pole, or stand up on the back porch, all without much effort. I also need to keep the cost down.

Scan from the 1975 ARRL Handbook, page 606.
Scan from the 1975 ARRL Handbook, page 606.

Enter the Helically-Wound Short Vertical. I ordered some 14 AWG lacquered copper magnet wire and a 72″ long 5/8″ diameter fiberglass rod, I need to learn to make these so I also ordered a How-To book on making composite fishing rods, and I’m in $20 so far. I have all of the hardware items including the 12″ spike for the top. What I don’t have is the variable inductor, or a tuner.

Whooooo Whooooo! Here comes the train.

RollspuleLets start with the one I haven’t done any research on yet, the variable inductor. The mechanics are fairly simple, rotate the coil and the follower moves up and down the coil creating a tap point. As long as the coil is perfectly cylindrical, the follower makes good contact, and smoothly moves down its axis rod, no sweat. he he he, no sweat I only need the one variable inductor according to the diagram so I really need to find out what value I need. I already have several small value iron-core variable inductors so I may not need to make this one, but if I do, it will be a homebrew. These things are a high-dollar item otherwise.

Moving on to the antenna matching unit. I have plans for one that is fairly simple and straightforward, I even have most of the parts on hand. What I don’t have is the variable capacitors. Sensing a theme here? Variable…

cav-167-205-71_lgBA funny coinky-dink on capacitors; while I was doing research on the Small Loop antennas I came across several websites that went into some lengthy discussions on making variable caps. Turns out, they aren’t that hard to make, I even have nearly all of the materials to make several. Not only are they fairly easy to make, but the formulas for calculating the capacitance based on the area of the plates, number of plates, and the distance between the plates is also fairly straight forward.

So lets see where we are now…
I have three receiver and one transmitter for 40 meters. There is an antenna for them, but it sucks particularly in this location. My next project is to build another transmitter, But I will need a better antenna first…

  1. Antenna
  2. Resonator for antenna (variable inductor)
  3. Antenna tuner
  4. Variable capacitors for the tuner

Now, after these are done I can move on to the new transmitter. As a side note, with the next transmitter project I wanted to pump up the power all the way to a couple of watts, not just miliwatting it. I also want to include SSB (Single SideBand, voice) as well as CW so I can incorporate digital modes into the shack. For all of this the antenna really needs to be better than what I am using.

That’s all for now, 73,

Radio Goals

I tend to view “goals” as an intermediary point, even a starting point in many cases. They are rarely endpoints, and when they are it’s usually only an end in an administrative sense, like earning my Amateur Extra license. Administratively I reached an endpoint because it is the highest level in the Amateur Service, but in reality it’s a beginning. There is so much to learn that requires I earn the license first.

My current goals in radio are much the same. They are the getting-to-the-starting-line kinds of goals. I started studying for my commercial radio license shortly after I earned my amateur Technician class license. Well, that is to say I bought the study guide and began reading it. I also purchased some test prep software. While I have been poking at it off and on, I hadn’t made any serious efforts to study until this week.

Earning the GROL (General Radio Operators License) has been a goal since I started studying for my Technician, I just hadn’t set a hard date for it. I am still refining the hard date, but it will be this year before the end of June. I also have a goal to get the RADAR endorsement added to the GROL license, this year.

Another goal is to get on-the-air using CW (Morse Code) at 10-15 wpm (words per minute) by the end of the year. This is most definitely a starting point. It is the lead in to getting my commercial Radiotelegraph license.

GROL and RADAR are personal goals that also have a pragmatic side. With these licenses I am authorized to work on most marine and aviation radios and RADAR. This includes mobile (in the craft) and land based comm, RADAR, and navigation radios. A big boon for the aviation pilot/mechanic/instructor. This also opens up some doors in the commercial and government radio services.

Learning CW is purely personal. The CW requirement for an amatuer radio licenses went away entirely in 2007 but it was one of the factors that kept me away from ham for 30 years. Now that it is gone from amateur radio requirements my only way to concor that obstacle is to learn it, practice it, become proficient in it, and get the only class of license that still requires it; a commercial Radiotelegraph license.

The Radiotelegraph license process has four components, two written test elements, one of which I will have already passed with my GROL, and two code test elements. The code tests are 16 code groups per minute, and 20 wpm at 100% copy accuracy.

Like some other commercial licenses there used to be different classes of license, now there is only one radiotelegraph license and this consolidation happened relatively recently. I want to be sure and do this before the class goes away altogether; so my goal for this license is to take the code exam elements before the end of summer 2016. This should give me plenty of time to build speed and proficiency.

Fortunately the amateure radio service has lots of room for code practice and plenty of cw hams to keep practicing and improving the skill. I am looking forward to learning the code well enough to get on the air soon!