Dave Richards AA7EE

March 6, 2011

Signalink USB Fried

I live in an old house with equally old wiring.  There is no ground anywhere in the house – all the electrical outlets have just 2 connections. I’ve thought for a while that I should drive a long copper rod into the earth outside for my station ground, and if I had done this, then the following might not have happened.

A week or two ago I noticed that when I touched the metal casing of either my FT-817 or Z11 tuner, I felt a sharp tingling of electricity – the metal cases were no longer at ground potential. If I remember correctly, we had experienced some storms recently, so perhaps there was static buildup on the cases. Shortly afterward, I noticed that the Signalink USB was cycling the FT-817 transmit mode on and off continuously. Turning the delay pot on the Signalink USB fully counterclockwise kept the PTT switched on permanently. On opening it up, I noticed the the chip at the top right-hand side of the board in the following picture (just above the crystal) was very hot:

This was not good.  On calling Tigertronics technical support, they confirmed that the symptoms sounded very much like the unit had suffered damage from static. If I shipped it back to them, they would take out the old board and install a new one with the same case and knobs for $49.95 plus the cost of shipping it back to me.  This sounded reasonable – even if they had opted to fix my board at the component level, the cost of labor would bring the final cost  to the same point (or even more).

The helpful tech gave me an RMA and I was all set to return my Signalink USB for a replacement board when it occurred to me that I haven’t actually used it in a couple of months. The most use I have made of it was when I was doing WSPR last year and the year before. Other than that, it has been useful on the occasion that I decide to fiddle around with a digital mode for fun, which I have done on occasion, but none of the digital modes have held my attention.

The only digital mode I’ve consistently used recently, in fact the only mode I’ve used recently, is CW, and I don’t use a computer to decode it – I use my head. For this reason, I think I’m going to hold back on getting the board in the Signalink USB replaced.  It’s a fair deal, but there are other things I can do with my ham radio dollars right now.

In other news, Jason NT7S hopes to ship the beta kits for the CC-40 transceiver to the beta testers this coming week.  If all goes well, you’ll see pictures and a description of the beta version of the kit on this blog in perhaps 2 – 2 1/2 weeks. I’m furiously trying to improve my sending on the paddle and wondering if my continuous mis-keying is due to operator error, or the fact that my Bencher paddle feels a little springy when set to operate from a light touch. It could well be a case of a bad workman blaming his tools, but I’m wondering what other types of paddle feel like.  I don’t think the Bencher is my ideal paddle and am wondering which other ones to try. What about a single lever paddle – does anyone have thoughts on that? I quite like the idea of the single lever paddle.

I was unable to operate the ARRL CW DX Contest due to an out of town trip. What awful timing!  I’m available almost every weekend except that particular one.  I was home this weekend for the ARRL Phone DX Contest but couldn’t make myself pick up a mic.  I did finally call a couple of stations in the contest, but was privately relieved when they didn’t come back to me, as I really didn’t want to muddy up the log with any phone contacts. Since taking up CW, phone has lost it’s appeal.  I really enjoy the mental exercise of decoding CW, and phone operation just doesn’t offer the same engagement; it seems too easy. That’s my take – I’m sure phone operators will have a different perspective.  I’d be happy to hear from you guys here.

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6 Comments »

  1. Hey, why not make a single paddle from an old hacksaw blade, a 3 pin plug (english) and a block of wood for the base..wired up to a stereo plug..It works for me !

    Comment by john branch M1EVC — March 6, 2011 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

  2. What kind of speeds are you able to send reliably at with your home-brew paddle John?

    Comment by AA7EE — March 6, 2011 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

  3. my condolences on the loss of your Signalink.

    I’m not sure exactly what my mental block is with CW paddles, but they just don’t seem to make sense to me like a straight key does. I’m probably equally lame with either – but I just can’t seem to even want to try a paddle key.

    Comment by N7LRR — March 7, 2011 @ 4:43 am | Reply

  4. I know what the difficulty is for you Dave. I think you mentioned that you aren’t comfortable with speeds much above 5WPM, and this gave me a clue. You see, at slower speeds like this, your brain has time to think about the morse code symbol before decoding it into a letter. You actually have time to think “A dot and a dash – that’s the letter a” when you really should be hearing the rhythm “di-dah” and instantly thinking of it as an a. At speeds between around 5 and 15wpm you still have a short amount of time to hear the rhythm and ponder as to what letter it is, but anything much faster than that and you HAVE to hear the rhythm and instantly just know what letter it is. There’s no special skill or magic to it – just lots of practice, because you are actually re-wiring your brain to associate certain sounds with certain letters.

    The reason I mention this is because once the association between each letter and symbol and it’s sound in morse code is fixed in your head, it should become easier to send with a paddle. Think of riding a bicycle. You don’t consciously think of what body movements you need to make in order to maintain balance – you just do it. Similarly, once you know what rhythm you need to produce in order to send a certain letter, the rest is just learning how to manipulate the paddle so that you can produce that sound.

    By the way, I’m very much a learner on the paddle, and every night have several QSO’s in which I make a bit of a pig’s ear of my sending. Don’t get the notion that I’m some kind of impresario at this. I’m just passing along what I’m learning as I do it.

    Learning the code is hard work; there’s no way around that fact, but I’m finding that at every level there are rewards, as well as glimpses of the next level of achievement which spur me on. It’s engaging. I’m not kidding you when I say that I have no desire to pick up a mic anymore – QSO’s using phone modes just don’t seem satisfying to me – I enjoy the mental exercise involved in listening to CW. It really is worth working hard at to get to that level – and besides, one of the payoffs is that it’s easier to get QSO’s with modest amounts of power. I’m working all over the US on 5W with not much problem. With 100W, it would be a piece of cake, whereas there are plenty of times when an SSB station feels underpowered with just 100W.

    OK, end of long missive. Apologies for not replying to your last e-mail Dave. No big reason. It’s been in my head to reply. Sorry about that. Welcome back to the US!

    Comment by AA7EE — March 7, 2011 @ 6:14 am | Reply

  5. Hi Dave,

    Just thought I’d check in and see how your QRP has been going lately? You’re pretty much right with CW – there are certain letters I know reflexively by rhythm, and others I listen to, count and try to remember before the next letter begins. It’s practice more than anything – and I should probably spend some times at least keeping practiced enough to do a 5 to 10wpm conversation since the opportunities are always better on CW than the other modes. I should at the VERY least be spending time getting my signalink fired up and working reliably for CW. Now that I have a job working from home, I can probably find more time for projects such as these – so we’ll see how that goes.

    Comment by N7LRR — April 28, 2011 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

  6. My signalink usb has started to the same thing…I’ll open it up and check it out. Thanks for the tips. KB6DAY

    Comment by Chris — October 5, 2013 @ 2:48 am | Reply


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