Posts Tagged ‘New setup’

Station comfort and ergonomics

My setup now with one monitor on a swivel arm to the right
In this month’s QST I found an article that sparked my interest entitled “Comfort design for your station” This is an area I feel that gets looked over when setting up a station. Most of the time I find we lean more towards how the setup looks as to the ergonomics of the setup. I am very guilty of falling into the trap of setting up a station making sure it looks very pleasing to the eye. After a contest or two and having to sit down at the radio for over 6 hour or more at a time I become very aware that it’s all about ergonomics first and looks later.  These days setting up a station most of the time does not just mean a radio but it can include a computer monitor, Laptop and various bits and pieces.  Some of the mistakes I made:
Rig and monitor up to high
  1. I had selves on the desk and I decided to put the monitor on one of the shelves, it looked very cool but over time I found the slight angle my head was on looking up (just slightly) became a chiropractic issue! I then decided to purchase a moveable arm for the monitor so I could adjust it to any position and this proved to be a great investment. 
  2. Since the radio is the most expensive item I had it front and center on the desk. For me over time I found having my arm extended in front of me was not very comfortable. It may sound strange but the best position for me is having the radio off to my left or right side. My right arm keeps its natural bend as I tune and adjust the radio. 
    Monitors on swivel arms
  3. Sideview of swivel arms
  4. I’m not sure about Icom, Kenwood or Yeasu but Elecraft has only 2 heights for the rig……either flat on the desk or with tilt stand (K3) or legs (KX3).  For me both are just not comfortable. I wish they would incorporate adjustable legs for custom heights. I did purchase the Elecraft K-pod which fixed this height issue but that was not the sole reason for the K-pod purchase. 
In closing there is one radio desk setup that I have seen now and then on the internet and thought for me it would be the best and I say "thought" because it only looks comfortable in the picture and until I was to try it I would not know for sure. It involves mounting the rig right into the desktop and almost having it flush with the desktop. Below are some pictures of this and if you have done this or tried it please post your comments about this setup. 

Out on the trail with the KX3

The bike all loaded up
I had Friday off and it was a beautiful sunny day so it was time to take my KX3 out on the trail to see how my new bike/ham radio setup works. My goal today was to see how to fit all I needed and find out what I really don't need to take on my bike and to make sure my antenna setup worked. I wanted to have an enjoyable ride and at the same time have all needed to setup for portable operations on the trail. The antenna was my mono band whip antennas from 10m-40m. I have them in a nice nylon roll up canvas bag I found they fit just perfect on the bikes horizontal support frame. I also have 2 canvas carry bags mounted on the rear of the bike that can be removed. While also loading the side bags I came to the conclusion that less is more! I had to trim down on what I was bringing. First off my KX3 was in a Pelican case and the case has to go as it takes up one side bag Since the KX3 is a trail rugged rig and I have a protective face cover ( from GEMS) for my next trip the KX3 is not going in the Pelican case. I also found the binder I use would not even fit in the side bags so that has to be re-thought out as well. The binder I have now is nice as I put a small metal plate in it for my Palm paddle to secure too via it's base magnets.
After loading up the bike the first thing I found out was the kick stand on the bike would not support the bike and the loaded side bags. It turned out to be a fine balancing act when it
Diamond K400 mount
came time for setup making sure the bike did not tip over. Since the bike is brand new and I told the bike store what I was doing he wanted to see if this bike stand would work as it is lower profile. I was told if it was not doable then to come back and a more robust kick stand will be installed free of charge.
Here is a list of the items I am packing:
KX3-on it's own with no Pelican case
Extra battery just in case- The Tracer battery pack
18 gauge counter poise- only for 20m at this time
Pens, paper and 3x5 cards with programming Kx3 instructions
Headphones- I don't use ear buds as my hearing is not that great and any noise around me tunes out CW.
Trunk lip mount base for antenna- Diamond K400 
Miscellaneous items- antenna connectors, adjustable wrench, tire repair kit for bike, hat, sunglasses and so on.
Lets get to the trail adventure..........I was able to bike to one of my pre picked spots down at the Lake where a nice size picnic table was available. The antenna mount setup worked great on the bikes rear rack which I mounted back at the condo in case there was issues. I attached the counter poise via a male female 14 gauge connectors. The rig setup was straight forward as I have done this many times in the past. I fired up the rig  and I wanted to see at this point if the counter poise was sufficient for a decent SWR and it was. BUT after
The setup
the tuning process had finished and my KX3 display returned it returned with an error message "ERR TXG D=114. Never had I seen this error before on my KX3 but then again Murphy is always close by to make things interesting. I was not able to transmit at all so I was dead in the water........and I was even picking up a G4 station calling CQ! I got the Iphone out and Googled the error code and it came back that possibly a TX gain calibration was needed to be done. That was not a big deal as the Elecraft software utility does this automatically but the rig has to be at home to do this. The trail/ham radio outing had come to a grinding halt but that was just fine as I really accomplished what I set out to do and that was see how things packed up, transported and how the rig operated using the bike to mount the antenna on. Back at home I did the TX gain calibration and the same issue persisted. I went online to the Elecraft reflector and was advised that it may be my internal AA batteries were low. They were just charged I thought.........Julie informed me it was about 3 months ago that happened. I
The surprise error code
charged the unit and all is well. So today it's another great day and it's off to the trails again to hopefully make a contact or two.    

There is a good idea out there…….

Trying to find my way around
Each morning I catch up on my blog reading and on a few blogs that I read LED lighting seemed to be the order of the day for illuminating the shack. I have been up early the last few mornings to see what is on the air waves. I did not find much and decided to work on my contest code I use Morse Runner, this is a good program that adds a very nice contest atmosphere to the operator. A problem became very apparent as I was using the program and it had nothing to do with the program. My keyboard skills were rusty and the lighting in the morning  here at VE3WDM is very dim so cheating and trying to see the keyboard proved to be very frustrating. I really have no problem with the letters or the numbers but it was the F keys I was having problems with. The Morse Runner program uses the F keys for such functions as call repeat,
That's better
exchange repeat and so on. I was really messing up the F function keys because in the low light I just could not see my keyboard. I was getting very frustrated and on two mornings I just closed the program. Then remembering the blogs were I read about LED lighting I went out and purchased an LED lighting strip. It was super easy to install on the roll top desk and it seemed there was a spot just for the low profile LED strip to be placed. I was not sure if this was the ideal place for the lighting strip (lighting up the operating area and keyboard) It turns out that when the natural light went missing and the LED strip was powered up……all is well at VE3WDM and no QRM from it either.

Doing the MFJ loop happy dance!!

For some time now I have been trouble shooting my MFJ 1788 loop off and on. I have had a problem with getting 20m to tune. The best I could do was an SWR in and around 12 to 1 and really that is not good at all. Even with that SWR the K3 tuner was able to drop it too a flat match but odd things were still happening....for example
1. Tuning the loop for max noise (as low SWR was not happening) did happen but as soon as the rig was tuned in any way the noise dropped to nil.
2. Once max noise was achieved and I transmitted the max noise was gone again.
3. There was no spots on the Reverse Beacon Network while giving the tuned match a go.
4. When transmitting power levels were all over the place from 1 watt to 5 watts.

I had posted my 20m tuning problem on 2 loop user groups and had some great advice but nothing seemed to even come close to solving the problem. I then emailed MFJ  who very promptly emailed me back and advised me to change the shape of a 12 gauge copper loop that was located inside the loop. Easier said than done this involved removing half the plastic cover on the loop and changing the shape of this loop then
Adjusting the loop
checking the SWR. The hard part was trying to figure out where the sweet spot for 20m was on the loop  was. The loop would read an SWR of 12 to 1 no matter what adjustment I gave the loop. I ended up tuning the loop for the highest noise level I could hear. I figured this was as close as I could get to the sweet spot for 20m. Adjusting this small loop did not really change anything and I was getting frustrated! The best thing I find when this happens is to put the project aside and do some thinking. I did just that over the past few weeks I enjoyed the bands the loop would tune and thought about my next move. The loop consists of a rotating capacitor that tunes the loop via a motor. I had been reading on the loop reflector sites and a reoccurring conversation was how quality control at MFJ was very low. For some reason I wanted to check the spacing of the capacitor plates on the loop antenna . It turned out the plates had a warp to them and at the low end spacing was good but in and around
Some plates to close
20m's  some of the plates were very close and maybe touching each other. After some time of tweaking the plate spacing I was able to have equal spacing for the full rotation of the capacitor. The SWR on 20m is now down to 1.4 to 1 and that was the problem as I put the loop back together I kept an eye on the SWR to see if it changed at all. The piece of  equipment that really helped me out with this process was the MFJ 259B analyzer. This unit made tracking my SWR very easy, bottom line is the antenna is now working great and now it's time to get on the air and see how 20m is preforming from the condo.

The MFJ 1788 loop arrives!

Ready for inspection
The MFJ 1788 antenna has arrived I ended up ordering it from DX Engineering and cancelling the order at the local ham store. DX Engineering had the antenna in stock were as the local store was not able to tell me when the antenna would be in….it seemed to be a waiting game. Once ordering the antenna DX Engineering had it at my door in 3 days! I can't say enough about the great service that was provided by DX Engineering. Now having said that……..I have been doing a lot of online reading about 1788 loop and how over and
Control box test
over again they arrived damaged or just not working. Looking at the loop it seemed to be in great shape and externally survived the trip ok. As I looked at the control unit I found one of the  push buttons not working! The  range button that changes the meter from low to the high wattage scale . I opened the control box as I also heard some "rattling" noise from within the unit as well. I found the switch to be defective and in need of changing, the rattling noise was from the battery holder. It was only held in place with two-side tape and as you guess it….there was no holding left on the tape. At this point I had a choice to make:
1. Send the control box back to either MFJ or DX Engineering for repairs?
2. Ask MFJ if it's possible to make the repair myself if they were to send me the part?
I settled on option 2 as I could still use the control box until the switch arrived and not be put on hold until control box was repaired or replaced. (note: I purchased DX Engineering's last unit)
Stepper motor
The control box failed the QC check it was now time to open up the antenna (a must according to magnetic loop user group) The visual inspection looked very good now time to power up the antenna with the control box. With the cover still off the 1788 loop I wanted to make sure the internal capacitor moved freely and stopped when full rotation was reached in both directions.
All was going well until the capacitor was rotating counter clockwise and it just stopped! I then rotated the capacitor in the clockwise direction and back counter clockwise and it worked just fine. After many back and forth rotations the capacitor never acted up…..maybe this was a one off. I emailed MFJ regarding the switch and they are going to mail one to me so I can do the repair. Next is to mount the antenna and see how it performs stay tuned!

We are in the new QTH!!

The new station slowly being setup
Friday was moving day and I sure did find out I am not as young as I used to be! While at the old place we made a huge effort (so we thought) to reduce what we had as we were moving into a condo and one that was very much smaller than our home. Once moved in it was a SEA of boxes, again we had more "stuff" than room. Up to this point Julie has been working very hard to settle the Kitchen into place. Last night she completed that job! Im sorting boxes, getting the ham gear somewhat placed in the desk (setting it up will be a job for next week). We are on the 6th floor here with south and east
Boxes slowly being dealt with
exposure. I am just itching to get on the radio and either WSPR my signal out or use the KX3 and call CQ and see how the Reverse Beacon spots me. At this point my antenna will be the Alexloop placed in front of our bay window and I will be maxing out at 5 watts or less.

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