Dave Richards AA7EE

November 15, 2011

The 2011 Zombie Shuffle

Filed under: Ham Radio,QRP,Uncategorized — AA7EE @ 9:04 pm
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This post is rather late coming, but better late than never. I’ve been busy building a K2 which I finished on Friday.  I owe you at least one more blog post on the building of the K2 but after finishing it, was a bit wiped out and just wanted to use it and also chill out a bit and regain some of my sleep. I still haven’t regained the mojo required to make the remaining K2 posts but that will happen at some point.

This will be a short post, but I just added some text to a photo I took of my operating set-up for the 2011 Zombie Shuffle.  Rem K6BBQ is making a video of his operation in this wonderfully fun event and asked if I had a photo I could contribute. After taking it, I figured I could also send it to NA5N for the Zombie Shuffle web page, and post it here too. Might as well get some mileage from it 🙂  I hadn’t yet built the K2 when the Zombie Shuffle was happening, so this picture is a little innacurate, but it’s more of an “in the spirit of things” shot than an accurate record of my station set-up.

My assistant CW op, Chloe-Rug, also known as Rug, Ruggie or “The Rugster” is also pictured. She really comes into her own on Hallowe’en!

Thanks to Paul NA5N and Jan N0QT for putting together such a fun event. Some people even operated from cemeteries. I’m already thinking of ideas for places to operate from next year.

November 7, 2011

First Stage Of K2 Building Completed – More Pictures

The missing part arrived from Elecraft yesterday (the day after I called).  The fact that I live just 50 miles from them helps in getting things delivered swiftly. The part was a 20-pin connector for connecting the main board to the front panel board. Once that was installed, it didn’t take long to partially assemble the case and plug the completed front panel and control boards into the RF board – which at this stage had just the DC power, latching relays and the I/O controller circuits installed. Before performing testing on this stage of the build, I had to install the bail on the base of the case – a procedure which some builders have had trouble with.  Following the procedure in the manual requires you to compress the bail which, if you have a vice, can probably be accomplished without too much bother, but if like me, you’re trying to do it with your hands, could be quite difficult.  It was in my case, at least.

This is what we’re trying to accomplish:

The method I used, which was adapted from one I found described on the Elecraft reflector, was to install one of the oval feet and place one end of the tilt bail in it. Then I rummaged around in the junk box and found a machine screw that fitted through one of the holes in the other foot but was longer than the supplied screws. I installed this screw through one of the holes in the remaining oval foot, but only screwed the nut on a little, allowing me to lift the foot enough to get the end of the tilt bail underneath it (you do have to compress the tilt bail a bit but nowhere near as much as you would if you had followed the procedure in the manual). Then I installed a regular length screw and nut in the other hole and screwed it down fairly tight. The next step was to replace the long screw and nut with the supplied (shorter) screw and nut and screw it all down tightly.

The first IC to be installed on the main board (called the RF board) is U1, the I/O controller. It controls all the latching relays for the micro-controller, as well as other input and output functions.  You can see it here, flanked by some of the latching relays:

A similar view:

The control board plugged into the main (RF) board:

A view from above:

It passed all the tests. The band changing relays work. The display does too, as do the circuits that drive the signal strength bar-graph LED meter. I can twist the tuning knob and the frequency readout counts correctly. The keyer and keyer memory work and sound great. It even looks great from the front. We know, of course, that at this point it is a gutless wonder; it really needs a synthesized VFO, as well as transmitter and receiver circuits. As gratifying as it is to play with it at this stage, the result of the next stage will be to have a working receiver on 40M.  I’ll talk to you next when I’m at that point!

November 5, 2011

Getting Started With Building The K2

I’ve been wanting to build an Elecraft K2 for several years now, but the desire has been getting stronger, until maybe a year or so ago when I started seeing it as the logical endpoint in a progression that has included the Norcal 2N2/40, the Fort Tuthill 80 and the CC-series of transceivers (which is ongoing, as we are still in beta-testing.)  At some point I realized that if I could successfully put all these kits together, there was no reason I couldn’t build a K2 as well.  If you can solder pretty well, can identify parts, and can follow written instructions, you can put a kit together.

A number of people have asked why I would consider a K2, now that the KX3 is about to be released. The answer is that I wanted to build myself a multiband full-featured HF rig from a kit at the component level, which I wouldn’t be able to do with the KX3. The K2 has been around a long time now – something like 13 years. It doesn’t have the cutting edge SDR technology that the KX3 will have, but it’s still a solid performer and very capable. If you want to build a full-featured HF rig from a kit containing individual components (as opposed to modules that you connect together), the K2 is the only choice out there. I had no problem with the fact that the K2 has no direct competition in the kit world, as from everything I’ve read, it seems to be such a great-performing transceiver – especially for the QRP CW enthusiast.

I’d been umming and aahing about ordering the K2 for a while and although the plan was to wait until the new year, the recent increased sunspot activity and excellent propagation on the upper HF bands prompted me to hurry up so that I can get in on a bit of the DX action too (as my current station consists just of 3 monoband QRP rigs on 80, 40 and 20M).

I ordered the basic version of the K2 (no options) online last Sunday evening. They shipped it on Monday, and the $12 Priority Mail option got it to my door the very next day, as I only live about 50 miles from Elecraft.

I know that the K2 has been extensively documented over the years on many blogs and websites, but allow me the obligatory “I just opened the box” shot:

I’m not going to go into great detail about the K2 kit as that has been done on so many other websites over the years, but I will offer a few of my thoughts and share a little of my experience.

Documentation is great. The manual is a lot like I imagine one of the old Heathkit manuals would have been like – very detailed with clear, step-by-step instructions. For the experienced builder, some of the descriptions and suggestions on how to install components will not be needed, but it’s definitely a good thing to have all that information there. In fact, I found that some of Elecraft’s suggested methods for mounting components differed from my preferred practices, in which case I opted for my way. More on that in the next blog-post.

There are 3 boards in the basic K2, the control board, the front panel board, and the RF board. The first board to be assembled was the control board; the brains of the transceiver:

You can see the multi-pin connectors at the bottom of the board that are used for all inter-board connections in the K2. That represents one big difference from the Heathkit days – no complex wiring to route around the inside of the enclosure. Not only does it simplify construction, but it must contribute a great deal to reliability too. On the reverse side of this board, you can see the extra caps that have been added (as recommended in the manual) to improve the keying waveform:

The control board wasn’t particularly exciting to build – just a board that needed filling with components.  However, the next stage – the assembly of the front panel board, felt a lot more engaging, as I got to slowly see the front panel of my new transceiver take shape:

To aid in making sure that all switches are mounted at the same height above the board, Elecraft include a really neat little spacer tool that you place underneath the switches before soldering them to the board. This ensures that all the switch buttons protrude an equal amount from the front panel to give a nice, uniform appearance.  A small PCB is supplied for constructing an RF probe to help with alignment. Attached to this PCB are two small strips of board that are broken off to make the switch spacers. The manual instructs the builder to snap the protrusions at 4 points as indicated in the manual, to make 4 spacers.  As well as being used to set the switch heights, the spacers are used later to set the exact height above the board of the LCD backlight. Although not mentioned in the manual, I found that it would be easier if I initially broke the PCB at only 2 points, to make 2 long spacers for setting the switch heights. This way, each spacer could fit under 2 switches at a time.  On reaching the stage where I installed the LCD backlight, I snapped each spacer in half to get the 4 spacers required for setting the height of the backlight.

I also want to talk about soldering, but first of all, another view of the front panel board just for the heck of it:

The back of the front panel board (with the front panel attached):

When installing the encoder, Elecraft recommend that the 4 wires that attach to the encoder are wrapped around the connection posts before being soldered. I didn’t do this because I figured that if the wires were wrapped around the terminal posts, it would increase the chances of a short between the posts on the encoder. The other reason was that it felt like overkill to me.  While I like to make solid electrical connections, I also like to plan for the possibility that I might need to disassemble parts of the transceiver in the future.  Here’s how I made the connections to the encoder:

If I ever need to de-solder the encoder, all I have to do is hold the iron to each post and move the wire away with a small screwdriver – or wick the solder away with de-soldering braid.  Job done – and personally, I think it looks neater than if the wires were wrapped around the posts.

While I’m on  the subject of soldering, take a look at how I soldered the IC to the left of the encoder. I’m not claiming that it’s the neatest or prettiest soldering job in the world. I’m still trying to find a pair of flush cutters that will cut a wire completely cleanly and horizontally, without leaving a bevelled edge on the wire. Does such a pair exist? If I have to spend a lot of money to get such a pair I’ll do it, as I’d like to have my PCB’s look neater if possible. Anyway, what I wanted to point out is the fact that I have filled the plated-through holes with solder but have not allowed the solder to build up on top of the board. Many people when soldering boards with plated-through holes like an accumulation of solder on top of the board, and it is just not necessary. Depending on your personal taste, I can see that it might possibly make your joints look nicer to have a little build-up of nice shiny solder around the wire on top of the board. Thing is, if you ever have to remove a part from the board in order to replace it, that’s a whole lot more solder you have to suck up or wick away with desoldering braid.

I think one of the reasons folk often put more solder than is necessary on joints is to “make sure” that it’s a good connection, and if they can’t see solder on a joint because it’s in the hole, they perhaps think that it’s not there, so they put a little more on top “just to make sure”. It’s kind of like putting one sugar in your coffee, and then adding an extra one (actually, I’m not sure that it is, but I’m feeling a bit sleepy and am in stream-of-consciousness mode). If you’re dealing with plated-through holes, all you need do to make an excellent connection is make sure both the tinned pad on the board and the component lead are hot so that the solder will melt onto them, then hold the solder close to the top of the hole and experience a wonderful moment of zen as you see the solder wick down by capillary action into the hole. If you use a nice thin solder (I use .02″) then you’ll be able to apply just the right amount to get the job done. If you’re fairly new at soldering, allow me to give you a tip. Once you’ve made sure the tip of your iron is clean (I wipe mine before every joint, unless I’m soldering several in a row one straight after the other), then a great way to ensure maximum heat transfer from the iron to the pad and component lead is to melt a very small amount of solder onto the iron. The solder melts, makes contact with the iron, pad and lead all at once, and you’ll notice the solder suddenly wicking down into the hole and making a perfect joint. Bingo. It’s a beautiful thing!

Incidentally, if you’re soldering on a board that is single-sided without plated-through holes, then you do need a little fillet of solder on top of the board.

EDIT:  I just read a short essay on soldering on the Elecraft site in which “Dr Solder” at Weller says that you should never have a solder joint in which the hole is slightly under-filled, leading to a dimple in the hole. This is what many of my joints in the above photo are like. Hmmm…..now I’m wondering if I should have put just a touch more solder on those joints.  I think I’ll leave them as they are and only resolder them if they are problematic.  I have a sneaky feeling they’ll be fine though.

Here’s what that front panel board with the front panel attached looks like from the front:

It’s really gratifying seeing the transceiver slowly take shape. The whole process of putting this together has given me even more respect for folk who put kits like this together – or who design any product like this.  So far, almost every component has fitted the corresponding holes on the board exactly – and with the rate at which these things change, it’s something of a feat to make a kit available – and have it still available for purchase 13 years later. Every single fastener, spacer, enclosure piece – they are all part of a whole, and it takes a great deal of creativity and engineering experience to fashion a product like this.

The next step was to assemble the DC and control circuits on the main board so that the transceiver case could be assembled and all the boards plugged into each other to ensure the correct operation of the control circuitry, before proceeding with the build of the receiver and transmitter circuits. I got very close to completing this step when I came across my first missing part, and kicked myself for not doing a complete inventory earlier.  I had performed an inventory of the control board and front panel board parts, as well as the bag of miscellaneous parts. On looking at the sheer number of parts in the bags for the RF (main) board, I decided to wing it and hope there was nothing missing, which there was – a 20-pin connector for mating the main RF board to the front panel board, a rather essential part.

At this point, it was late on Sunday evening, so I decided to conduct a complete inventory of all remaining parts so that when I called Elecraft in the morning, I could put in one order for all the missing parts.  As it happened, that was the only part that was missing. Only one missing thing out of many hundreds is pretty good. There was one other part which, although present, I wasn’t completely happy with, and that was the main tuning knob. I’m fine with the weight, feel and look of it, but the machining of the one I received was a little substandard; one of the holes for the set screws had a very ragged edge, and the knob looked like it had bumped up against some hard object or sharp edges, as there were a number of marks on the side. It wasn’t terrible but compared to the high quality of everything else in the kit, it looked a bit shabby. Madeleine at Elecraft was very helpful and suggested that they send me another tuning knob.  I may end up getting a different knob, but would like to start out with the stock one.  I’ve spoken to Madeleine over at Elecraft a number of times now and she’s great. It’s a real pleasure to call a company and have my phone call taken by someone who is articulate, friendly, and communicative.

So I spent part of yesterday taking pictures of the progress so far and writing this blog-post.  Later today when the 20-pin connector arrives, I’ll finish off the DC and control circuits, assemble the enclosure, plug the boards together, and run the first tests. Fingers crossed – hope there’s no blue flash or whiff of smoke 🙂

November 1, 2011

Buying and Selling Stuff – and Meeting People

Filed under: Uncategorized — AA7EE @ 9:28 am
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been selling and giving away things in fits and starts for about 10 years now.  The first big downsize was in 2001 when I moved from a 3 bedroom house in the hills above Los Angeles to a 1 bedroom apartment in Hollywood. Many large pieces of furniture were shed in that move, but I still managed to cram a lot of stuff into that apartment in the slightly funky end of Hollywood across from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Then a move in 2008 to San Francisco, where you get less apartment for the same money, necessitated the shedding of still more belongings. Successive moves from San Francisco to a studio in Oakland, and then to a room in a lovely old house also in Oakland meant even more downsizing, and opportunities to turn all the expensive gear I’d been accumulating while I was making money, back into cash.  I figured that as much as I enjoyed photography, I didn’t really need the set of pro-level portable lighting made by German company Hensel, so I sold it to an Australian photographer who was visiting the Bay Area and saw my ad on Craigslist. That put some very welcome cash into the coffers and freed up some space. While testing out the lighting gear, we set up an impromptu photo shoot outside on the street and he shot one of my neighbors, a young aspiring hip-hop artist, who was very happy to get pro-quality promotional photos taken for free while the buyer was making sure my lights performed well (they did.)

Buying things and selling things.

Our lives go through many changes, and in the course of these changes we acquire and shed belongings. I think that it’s important to constantly take stock of our “stuff” to see what what we need and what is merely taking up space and not serving us. In the course of selling things, I’ve met some really interesting people.  When I’ve owned and taken care of my possessions, it’s gratifying to pass them on to people who will also look after them and get good use from them. A few months ago I sold my FT-817 to Frank KA8SYV. Frank’s a bit of a tinkerer and home-brewer, and we talked on the phone about our home-made construction projects.  He told me about an indoor loop he had constructed, the performance of which he was very impressed with.  He has a curious and active mind, and I remember thinking to myself that it felt good to be selling my FT-817 to him. We’ve spoken on the phone a couple of times since then and it’s always a pleasure. Another thing about Frank – he has just about the coolest QRZ profile picture I’ve ever seen (which he has now turned into a QSL card.)  Get over to his QRZ page and take a look for yourself.

More recently, I sold a W4RT One-Touch Tune for the FT-817 to a gentleman through the FT-817 Yahoo Group and a set of Mountain Ops cases for the FT-817 and LDSG Z11 Tuner to Jim KB0JTC.  Jim’s been interested in getting a set of these for his FT-817 and LDG tuner for a while and, as Mountain Ops have been out of business for years, they’re not easy to come by.  Although Jim owns a slightly later model of LDG tuner, he already has a plan on how to make his tuner fit the Mountain Ops case and I can tell that he’s going to get some good use out of the TacPacks and wraps.

I have a couple of items listed on my local Craigslist too, a digital calibration target, which is useful for setting your white balance in the field, rather than doing it after the fact, and a Tamrac Expedition 5 camera backpack:

This backpack is in great condition – no tears or damage. I think a local sale will be better, as the cost of shipping might not make it worthwhile to a buyer. I’m asking $70 for it, but might let it go for $65 to an online buyer, provided packing and shipping is paid for in full:

This backpack will hold a DSLR with lens attached, as well as several accessories. All the original dividers  come with it, which can be configured to accommodate a wide variety of storage needs.  The backpack fits snugly on your back and makes carrying while protecting your camera gear quite easy.

My main motivation in selling this stuff has been to help me purchase a K2. While the funds raised will only be a fraction of the money needed, it will be enough to push me over the psychological barrier and get me to the point where I can click on that purchase button.

In fact, it did the trick. Early yesterday morning I went to the Elecraft site and purchased a K2. I ordered it shipped via USPS Priority Mail and because I live only 54 miles from Elecraft, it is scheduled for delivery later today (Tuesday).

Thank you Frank and Jim for helping set me on the path to another chapter in the odyssey of my QRP life, and I’m glad that the need to sell some of my stuff caused our paths to cross!

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