Making use of Elecraft Mini-module Kits

Connecting the bits and bobs

I have enjoyed building Elecraft Mini-Module kits.  Now to put them to use...

Elecraft Mini-Module Kits

What to do?

I built the kits as part of my learning adventure and to improve my soldering skills.  It's also helped me learn to follow instructions better (my wife says I need to work on learning to follow instructions).  But ultimately these modules are intended to be useful, and in my case they work nicely to when operating my old Ten-Tec Century/21.

My Ten Tec Century/21 is a 1970s CW-only, low(ish) power rig originally intended for Novice license holders of the time.  It has no RF output meter or SWR meter.  It has poor filtering/selectivity compared to modern radios and its analog tuning dial is a bit vague so you generally only know your frequency within 5 kHz. 

The mini-module kits prove useful. I employ the W1 Wattmeter to determine my power output and SWR; the CP1 directional coupler is used to send a 20db attenuated signal to a frequency counter to determine operating frequency, and the AF1 Audio Filter makes operating near adjacent CW signals more pleasant by providing a narrow audio-band-pass filter.  The result signal can be transmitted through a LDG tuner into the BL2 switchable balun connected to my attic Doublet.

Bring out your cables

All these independent modules need to be connected, so tying the bits and bobs together requires a few coax jumpers to route the RF around:
  1. UHF to BNC from the radio to the W1 Power meter
  2. BNC to BNC From the W1 Power meter to the CP1 coupler
  3. BNC to UHF From the CP1 coupler J1 input to switched T1 output to frequency counter
  4. BNC to UHF From the CP1 coupler J2 output to the tuner
And other cables:
  1. Serial cable from the W1 Power meter to the computer
  2. 12v power cables for the W1 and AF1 (unless I want to use 9V batteries)
  3. Audio cable from the TenTec C21 to the AF1
So it's definitely not a neat and tidy setup at present. I plan to arrange things more neatly and possibly place the W1, CP1 and frequency counter into a single box. But for now it's fine and I like the flexibility to switch things around or pull a module out to use somewhere else as the mood strikes.

AF1 Audio Filter making crowded band operations pleasurable
  
CP1 Directional Coupler sending off 20dB attenuated signal to the frequency counter

Frequency Counter fed by the CP1 directional coupler.

W1 Power Meter sending its measurement off to the computer

W1 Power Meter Output to Computer

The W1 has a serial output to a PC for use with the Elecraft W1 software.  The software can both configure the meter and display more detail than can be determined from the LEDs.   Source code is supplied and the command set is documented so it would be easy to write your own software for this.

The W1 power meter LEDs give you relatively discrete output information for the lower two ranges (0.1w to 1.4w) and (1.5w to 14w).  But in the high range (over 14w) the LEDs are only displaying 10 watt intervals.  For instance in the high range, when the second LED is lit you don't know if your operating just 20 watts or 29 watts.  It won't trip the next LED until it crosses the 10 watt boundary in the high range so it can be useful to look at the measurement on the computer if you are operating QRO.   I'm not complaining.  I understand that the meter is primarily intended as a QRP meter and for QRP power (less than 15 watts) it offers plenty of information.
Here I brought the TenTec Century/21 up to nearly full input drive (55-60 watts) to see what it could output. The rig probably had a few more watts left in there but I didn't want to push it because I haven't gotten around to replacing some of the out of spec components in the internal power supply.  I normally use this radio under 10 watts (I look for about 30 watts input on the drive meter) but I was curious to see what the old girl could do since I had the meter hooked up to the computer display.
Measuring maximum RF output from the Ten Tec Century/21
The computer interface is a nice touch and the ability to modify the source code to suit is a plus.

Nits and Quibbles

My antenna's native SWR at 15m (~21.08MHz) is around 2.5 so it requires tuning (impedance matching).  After my LDG auto tuner spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to find a match it settles at 1.7 SWR according to the W1 Wattmeter, while the indication on the Autotuner is that it believes the SWR is 1.5 or better, while the radio on the other side of the W1 meter sees a SWR over 2.5.  I only see this behavior on 15m so I think there is some strange impedance reaction occurring in the W1 wattmeter that is changing the reactance on the jumper to the radio.  I've tried a few different jumpers, swapping jumpers, etc.  But it always presents an abnormally high SWR to the radio at 15m.  Now when I transmit into a dummy load I don't see this behavior, so it is some combination of SWR / reactance present at W1 that causes a impedance mismatch downstream toward the radio.  I have more investigating to do but for now I am choosing to not use the W1 Wattmeter in-line when operating on 15m.

The CP1 directional coupler is not entirely transparent and raises the SWR by a bit as signal passes through it.  You would expect there to be losses according to the -20 db taps (one forward and one reverse).  This should work out to about 0.08% loss but I wouldn't expect it to raise the SWR. It adds about 0.1 to your SWR  and occurs even if the forward and reverse couplers are switched "off" and shunt their respective loads to the on-board 50 ohm resistors.  I'm unsure what accounts for that slight SWR bump but be aware that CP1 contributes some very small losses.

Summary

So the Elecraft Mini-modules are fun to build; and with enough jumper cables, can be combined for experiments and general augmentation of other equipment in your shack.  So go out there, build some kits and experiment.  It's a rewarding experience.

I'm trying to decide what I'm going to build next.

That's all for now... 

So lower your power and raise your expectations

73/72

Richard, N4PBQ

Richard Carpenter, N4PBQ, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from North Carolina, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

Upcoming 630m Crossband Weekend Reminder



This coming weekend will host the "Midwinter 630m Operating Activity", an event that will have the 630m band no doubt sounding very crowded.



Not only will there be a dozen or more U.S. experimental stations in operation, but also six Canadian stations working crossband with other amateurs in both the U.S. and Canada.

Hopefully you will be able to participate as well, by listening for the 630m Canadians and then give them a call on their HF listening (QSX) frequency. Although specific HF QSX frequencies will be part of their CQ, the list below will provide further details regarding where and when the Canadians will be transmitting.

This event should be particularly interesting for amateurs from the central states eastward, as well as the southern states. For the first time, a mid-continent Canadian station will be on-the-air for both nights.

Mitch, VE3OT, will be looking for crossband contacts from his London, Ontario location and looking at the results of his past few weeks of CW beaconing, his 630m signal is being well-heard throughout the eastern half of the continent. For the north-easterners, VO1NA in Newfoundland will be also looking for two-way crossband contacts.

The last time this event was run, dozens of two-way crossband contacts were completed between the 630m Canadians and amateurs on HF. Canadians on the west coast worked as far as KH6 to the west and W3 to the east. With even better propagation looking very probable this coming weekend, the crossband activity could be very exciting!

Canadian Station Schedule

Station: VO1NA(Joe) GN37 Torbay, Newfoundland
Time: 2130Z - 0130Z both Friday night (Feb 5 - 6Z) / Saturday night (Feb 6 - 7Z) plus QRSS3 / 12 WPM Beacon from 0130 – 1000Z
TX Frequency: 477.7 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency:
3562 kHz

Station: VE7SL (Steve) CN88 Mayne Island, B.C.
Time: 0200Z - 0700Z both Friday night (Feb 6Z) / Saturday night (Feb 7Z)
TX Frequency: 473.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency:
3566 / 7066 kHz

Station: VE7BDQ (John) CN89 Delta, B.C.
Time: 0330Z - 0700Z both Friday night (Feb 6Z) / Saturday night (Feb 7Z)
TX Frequency: 474.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency:
3555 kHz

Station: VA7MM (Mark) CN89 Coquitlam, B.C.
Time: 0500Z - 0700Z Friday night (Feb 6Z)
          0400Z - 0800Z Saturday night (Feb 7Z)
TX Frequency: 475.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency:
1801 kHz / 3574 kHz / 7062 kHz

Station: VE7CNF(Toby) CN89 Burnaby, B.C.
Time: 0300Z - 0700Z both Friday night (Feb 6Z) / Saturday night (Feb 7Z)
TX Frequency: 476.5 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency:
1836 kHz / 3558 kHz / 7031 kHz


Station: VE3OT (Mitch) EN92 London, ON.
Time: 0000Z - 0400Z both Friday night (Feb 6Z) / Saturday night (Feb 7Z)
TX Frequency: 477.0 kHz
RX (QSX) Frequency:
3563 kHz / 7058 kHz

In addition to the crossband activity, the numerous U.S. experimental stations are also seeking your reception reports. These can be either sent to the individual stations (via their qrz.com info) or to myself, for forwarding and posting in the event summary. Several of the old high-powered Californian Maritime stations will also be in operation on CW, just below the 630m band.

More information regarding the weekend's event can be found here in the initial announcement as well as on the ARRL News page here.

As in past events, many of the participants will be found on the ON4KST (2200-630m) Chat page, allowing realtime updates to keep you in the loop ... the more the merrier.

If you are getting ready for the arrival of the 630m band in the U.S., this weekend's event offers a good opportunity to get a 'feel' for the band as well as to participate in the two-way activity with the 'VE' amateurs ... we hope to work many of you this weekend!

Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

Smartphones

I was prompted to write this because of the latest poll on eHam.  It's about smart phones and Amateur Radio apps.  Of course, it devolved from being anything useful into a bunch of curmudgeons blasting the topic to smithereens.

"What do you need a smart phone for anyway? I detest them, they are the mark of the Beast - the Devil's plaything, they are everything that is wrong with society! I use a real radio that has knobs ...... remember what those are?"  I am paraphrasing, of course.  ;-)

And so on, and so on, and so on.  Sigh - heavy sigh.

It's a tool, guys ...... just another tool in the Ham radio arsenal, get it?

I have a pre-owned (sound so much better than "used") Samsung Galaxy S3, which I recently picked up on eBay.  It's my first personal 4G cell phone. (I know, forever behind the times.)  Even though it's an older model, it's in excellent shape and I'm familiar with the S3, as my work-issued cell phone used to be an S3.  For work, they recently upgraded me to an iPhone 5s, which I don't like (or use) - but this post is not about that.

My Galaxy S3 is a great companion for portable QRP ops. It's works much better than the Motorola Droid 2 that I previously used. It has more system memory, so it doesn't lock up or lag on me, like the Droid 2 used to. I have the following Amateur Radio apps on it:

HamLog
SOTAwatch
Morse Trainer by Wolphi
QRZDroid
DX Cluster


HamLog is great! It's easy to use and has a lot of features. If I'm not in a pileup situation (ragchew mode, or even causal sprint operation), it's easy enough for me to type in my contacts. In a hectic pileup situation (think activating NPOTA or the Skeeter Hunt), where things are happening fast and furious, I get flustered a bit. I can start out logging on the cell phone, but inevitably, I end up getting fumble-fingered and have to resort to old school - paper and pencil.  If I'm near a wi-fi source (I have a very limited monthly data allowance, so my data connection is always off), it will even look up the names and QTHs of the operators that I am currently working.  I can easily export the log to an ADIF file, so that I can add my portable ops contacts to my main log on Log4OM.

SOTAwatch - turn it on and it shows you the current activations. Call signs, peak, frequency and mode. It has other features which I haven't even explored yet.

Morse Trainer - This is one of the best Morse Code trainers out there IMHO.  It will allow Morse to be sent as fast as 60 WPM.  I keep mine set to a speed of about 40 WPM and have it send regular words.  I try to listen to some code practice several times a week in my never ending goal to become an even more competent CW op. Boy, 25 WPM sure sounds easy-peasy after listening to 40 WPM for a while!

QRZDroid - QRZ.com in an app. Easy call sign look up.

DX Cluster - Very helpful in tracking NPOTA stations.  The only drawback with DX Cluster is that you can filter it for either all HF bands or mono-bands. It would be nice if I could filter say, 20 and 17 Meters in one shot. But, hey, if wishes were nickels, I'd be a rich man. Wish I was smart enough to write apps like these, then maybe I would be a rich man!

The bottom line is that a smart phone can be a useful tool to compliment and enhance your overall Amateur Radio experience. It's not a replacement or any other kind of bogeyman. It is what you make of it.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Larry Makoski, W2LJ, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from New Jersey, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

CQ 160m CW Weekend




This past weekend's CQ 160m CW Contest saw the normally quiet band bursting to life with signals stacked up, one atop the other, from 1800 -1870 kHz.


At times it was very difficult to find a clear frequency to send 'CQ' and much of the contest was spent in the 'search and pounce' (S&P) mode. When a clear frequency was found I was able to have several short runs but running for any length of time while in the low power category is not realistic. I think my best hourly rate peaked at '60' for a short time as propagation would improve momentarily ... often, ten or more CQ's would go unanswered and then the next one would have two or three responses, continuing on for several minutes until the propagation would shift. These sudden 'holes' in the D-layer absorption seem to occur when conditions are marginal and it's as if the propagation switch is suddenly thrown from 'poor' to 'really good' for a few short minutes.

Overall, conditions from western B.C. were poor on Friday night and much improved on Saturday night. Although several DX stations were heard and called on Friday night, none were worked. These same stations came right back when called, on Saturday evening.

My 160m antenna is very simple, consisting of a 'half-sloper' and about fifty in-ground radials. Since the tower and antenna are mounted right at the ocean's edge, this year I threw two extra radials into the ocean ... whether or not these made any difference is difficult to say but they certainly wouldn't make things worse.


Because of the proximity to the ocean and the half-sloper producing vertical polarization, my antenna always seems to favor stations at the ends of the single-hop F2 distance ... those along the east coast and into the Caribbean as opposed to mid-continent signals. I often find myself sending several repeats to stations in the central states while those on the far coast will reply on the first call ... even stations that I can barely copy, will often come right back, which seems puzzling.

Overall, about 10 hours were spent in the contest ... ending up with 223 contacts in 51 sections and 9 DX entities. Some of the DX stations worked were PJ2, HK1, ZF2, C6, KP2 and 4V1. Checking my 160m DXCC list after the contest, I was surprised to see that 4V1TL in Haiti was a new country for me, making the contest time well worth it. Claimed scores for this, and any contest, can be viewed on the 3830 Scores website.

As the solar cycle continues to decline, 160m conditions should only get better and better, with the next few years hopefully producing a few Europeans in the 160m log once again.

Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

HamRadioNow: 60 Meters… Let’s Go Dutch

I’ll coin a phrase for a program like this: Wonkie-Talkie.

The WRC (World Radio Conference) last November ended up with a worldwide Amateur Radio 60 Meter allocation of 15 kHz. You’ll be forgiven if you thought there already was a 60 meter allocation, as many countries have authorized 60 Meter Amateur operation. But it’s never been a formal ITU deal.

But 15 kHz, with a power restriction of about 10 watts into a dipole? (Or 15 watts EIRP – an ‘isotropic radiator’ – a dipole has 2 dB gain over an isotropic radiator?) Compared to the 5 discrete SSB/CW/digital channels we have now with a 100 watt/dipole power limit…. is that a win, lose or draw?

In this Episode of HamRadioNow, ARRL Chief Technology Officer Brennan Price N4QX explains how the WRC ended up with this meager offering, and how hams in the US and other countries with maybe more spectrum and certainly more power may continue to enjoy those privileges. Or not… At the very least, the FCC won’t act on the WRC changes for some time… maybe years.

Well, it’s years if we’re gaining something, like the 137 kHz spectrum that was authorized in WRC 07, that we’re just getting rules opening it up to US hams now. But if we’re losing something?

Brennan is happier to talk about some of the defensive successes at WRC 15. If half the battle is gaining spectrum, the other half is avoiding losing it. And there were many eyes on some of our microwave allocations, but the attacks were fended off.

So, Wonkie-Talkie? You’ll also be forgiven if you drift off to work some DX on 20…. while we still have 20….

Oh, and ‘Let’s Go Dutch’? The contingent from the Netherlands strongly supported a wider allocation and 100 watt limit. They compromised down to 100 kHz, but were out-shouted (apparently there is no voting) by the “almost nothing” faction. So their government immediately authorized Dutch hams that 100 kHz/100 watts anyway.

Brennan says it’s not going to happen here in the US.

73, Gary KN4AQ

And if you don’t have time to watch, maybe you have time to listen while you commute or work out (work out? Hams? Who am I kidding?). Paste this into your podcast app: http://HamRadioNow.tv/hrn/hrnrss.xml. You’ll be subscribed to our audio download.


Gary Pearce, KN4AQ, is the host of HamRadioNow.tv. If you enjoy this and other HamRadioNow programs, help keep them 'on the air' with a contribution. Contact him at [email protected].

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