Saturday, February 26, 2022

Shortwave Activity........ Used Yours Lately?

 Many of you have a Shortwave receiver, but how often do you use it? Or, have you ever used it? Well, this would be a good time to get it out, read the manual, and get some practice.  Believe me, when TSHTF is no time to learn how, and you should get comfortable with it before then.

First, let's cover some storage aspects.

If it uses batteries, NEVER store it for any length of time with the batteries in it! Same with any battery powered GPS units, or walkie-talkies you may have. If you're worried about The Dreaded EMP, keep the radio, charger/"wall wart" if it has one, and a pack of batteries in a steel ammo can. If you're really paranoid, then tape the seams closed with some adhesive backed, aluminum foil tape, like that used for HVAC ducting. You do not want generic "Duct Tape", as it has a fabric backing. You need something like this, readily available at home improvement stores. You don't a $1000 Mu Metal "EMP Case" like some places are selling. A galvanized steel garbage can, with the lid sealed down as above, is adequate, and has a lot of room in it. Oh, one other thing about the whip antennas commonly used on small, portable SWL sets. NEVER push it down to close it from the top! You'll bend the whip 90% of the time, which at least, is maddening. Telescope it back down using the largest sections, and then carefully push the top section in.

Next, how to use it?

Well, as the computer guys say, RTFM. You have to know how to turn it on, select the Shortwave frequency bands, and tune it. It may or may not have some additional functions, like an attenuator, usually a switch marked "Local/DX", a "Mode Select" to listen to to Single Sideband, AM, or FM. The better ones will have a "Wide/Narrow" selectivity setting, and possibly a Noise Blanker, or some kind of "Noise Reduction" function. Get to know how to use them, and try and get a rough understanding of what they do. Print out the chart of frequency bands from the above Wiki link, and keep a copy or two with the radio. A very good reference book to have is the World Radio TV Handbook, which has all you need to know about specific frequencies. HIGHLY recommended!

In case of TL;DR, here's the chart:

The chart also gives time of day and time of year for "best" reception on the listed bands. A good way to start,  is to tune in the signals from WWV, on 2.5, 5.0, 10.0, 15.0 and 20.0MHz. If you can't hear WWV in the CONUS, 24 hours a day, frequency dependent, then you have some problems beyond this brief post.

So what else is out there besides The Tick?

Well, things have changed quite a bit since I started listening waaay back in 1961 when my Dad bought me my first Shortwave Receiver! I didn't have a Hallicrafters radio then, but I sure remember this:

Yes, Radio Havana is still active, along with the BBC World Service, China Radio, and quite a few Religious broadcasts with everything from Fire and Brimstone, to Bible Study and Discussion programs.

For other references, the Wikkipedia has good general knowledge sections, and there's a wealth of SWL, and HF Comms info on the Web.

Radio Reference is a site I belong to, and is highly recommended. I'll add it to the side bar for easy look up.

So get those radios out, and learn how to use them!

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

And So It Starts.....

 Just heard old Vlad has sent forces in to the Ukraine, and they're shelling Kiev. He's also told their military to lay down their arms....

More here at the One American News site....

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Happy Birthday BB-61!

 Today is the 79th anniversary of the first time BB-61, USS Iowa, was commissioned.

In celebration of the date, the radio guys were up and operating, and I talked to two of my friends, one on 20 Meters (14MHz), and 17 Meters (18MHz), and we had good signals both ways.

Happy Birthday, USS Iowa!

Monday, February 21, 2022

Chevy's New "LT-6" DOHC V8 Is A Nuclear Warhead For The Z06 Corvette!

 DOHC, 4 valves-per-cylinder, Flat Plane Crankshaft, 8600RPM redline, and Six-Hundred Seventy Horsepower from 333 Cubic Inches........astounding.

No superchargers or turbochargers; This is pure, Naturally Aspirated, RPM-driven, Horsepower.

Read all about it here in Don Sherman's great article.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Cracking The Case I Call....The Rusty Bolt Caper....

 Well, after slotting the screw heads, using my Horror Freight "Electric Flamethrower", and slugging away for 30 minutes, I got the three remaining screws holding the case halves together out.

Some "persuasion" was required...

 I tore up two of the three, and had to re-slot them as deep as I could with the Dremel, and along with a generous helping of heat, I got them loose with about five mighty whacks of my BFH hand sledge. I think it rather appropriate it's often called an "Engineer's Hammer".

Since I want to set the position to zero degrees elevation, I connected the rotor to one of the control boxes I have with some short jumpers, and tried to turn on the control box.

RATS! The power switch was jammed, so that's getting fixed. The housing for the switch is the black rectangular object.

SO....since I'm now "Waiting On Parts" (again!), I put these aside and opened the case for the azimuth rotor, which I've repaired many of. One thing I've learned (DAMHIK!) is to split and separate the case in a big pan or box to keep the bearings from scattering to the four winds.

Having 80 grease covered bearing balls rolling around loose is not fun. These bearings were packed with a dark gray grease most likely containing Molybdenum Disulfide, an Extreme Pressure additive to the grease.

The gear train in the azimuth unit looks fine, and there's no sign of water ingress, so this unit will get cleaned up, regreased, reassembled, and tested.

So, back to waiting for FedEx/UPS/USPS to get the parts to me so I can finish this up, and ship it out to our blogger friend BillB.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Yaesu G-5500 Azimuth/Elevation Rotator Rebuild

 One of my readers had asked me if I wanted to sell one of the sets of Yaesu Az/El rotators I had, and I said I'd clean a set up and let him know when it was ready to ship. Note the Tools of Violence to the right. Impact screwdriver, large ball-peen hammer, and a 10mm deep socket, in a 1/2" drive ratchet. Getting the screws out of these things can be a real chore!

In the process of cleaning it up and getting it ready to run on the bench, I popped off the terminal strip on the Elevation rotator, and the blank-off plate on the other half of the housing so I could look at the bearings inside and see how bad the grease was. surprise here, it had dried out, congealed, and was falling out in chunks. Soooo....time to split the case halves, and at a minimum, repack the bearings.

Yup....the grease has expired.....

 Same "ex-grease" on the other side of the through shaft:

See the red stuff? Rust from the bearing cages mixing with the grease. The bearing cages are notorious in the Yaesu elevation rotators for crumbling into rust. And considering how the external hardware looked: 

I'm not surprised that the retainers are close to giving up the spirit. They're relatively inexpensive, or were, and come two to a package, along with the 40 bearing balls that should get replaced if you're doing a deep dive into the rotor:

I was able to get the screws on the azimuth rotor loose with just a couple of whacks with the impact screwdriver:

But I still have a couple of stuck screws on the elevation rotor after slugging away for a good hour:

And the screw heads are getting chewed up enough that the impact screwdriver can no longer find purchase on them. I'm going to slot them with a Dremel Tool, and then use the flat-blade bit in the impact screwdriver.

All this rusted out hardware will get replaced with stainless, and the Philips-drive heads replaced with socket heads.

This started out to be a "Clean Up and Check Out" project, but it's turning into a rebuild project. I'll use Mobil1 red, tacky, synthetic grease to repack the bearings, as it doesn't ooze oil everywhere in the Summer, and doesn't freeze solid in the Winter.

Have to call Yaesu Friday morning and get the parts ordered.....


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Meanwhile, Back In The Workshop....

 All is not High Technology and Electronic Wizardry. Sometimes more mundane projects go under the knife to be revived.

First up was SLW's Dirt Devil "Stick-Vac". It had stopped working due to the little cloth filter being completely clogged, and the roller brush being jammed with "stuff". Cleaned all the bits and pieces, put it back together, and it works as intended.

This one can have the roller brush and long handle removed, and used as a "Dust Buster". It's great to use on the stairs.

#2 and #3 items are some very solid, all hardwood bar stools she bought at the local "arc Thrift Store". The first one she brought home was made so well I had her go back and get it's mate. Some goober had used wallboard screws to try and reattach the legs to the top. Needless to say, they sure held well, but weren't put in properly, so the top and legs weren't square, and they wobbled horribly. Took me two hours to get the drywall screws out (one had the head break off, GRRRR!) so I could clean up all the mating surfaces and put it back together. A few squirts of good wood glue, and some clamping time, and they were back in fine shape, with no wobbles when on the floor.

I always leave things clamped overnight to let the glue really set up.

Not bad for $25 and some "free" labor/materials.

 Cheap chinesium stools like this are $40~$50 each, and are made from softwood, or particle board. These are American Made, solid hardwood (looks like a baseball bat, so maybe ash?), and are now good for another 25 years or so.

Been lightly snowing sine around noon, and there's maybe 1/2" on the "snow table" in the backyard, but 6~8" is expected overnight. I fueled the snowblower, and gave the maw another coating of Ariens "Sno-Jet" so the snow won't stick, and I'm ready for tomorrow.

And since I've got the bench clear now, I brought a Yaesu G-5500 Azimuth/Elevation antenna rotator in from the garage so I can (finally!) get it all checked out and packed up for BillB, if he still wants it.....

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Radio Amateur Bob Bruniga, WB4APR, SK

Bob was a well-known fixture in the Amateur Radio community. He's best known for his creation of the APRS, the Automatic Packet Reporting System

The following obit is from the ARRL.
APRS Developer Bob Bruninga, WB4APR (SK)

The creator of the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, died on February 7. An ARRL Life Member, Bruninga was 73. According to his daughter, Bruninga succumbed to cancer and the effects of COVID-19. Bruninga had announced his cancer diagnosis in 2020. Over the years, he readily shared his broad knowledge of and experience with APRS, among other topics in the amateur radio and electronics fields.

While best known for APRS, Bruninga was also a retired US Naval Academy (USNA) senior research engineer who had an abiding interest in alternative power sources, such as solar power. In 2018, he authored Energy Choices for the Radio Amateur, published by ARRL, which explores developing changes in the area of power and energy, and examines the choices radio amateurs and others can make regarding home solar power, heat pumps, and hybrid and electric vehicles. Bruninga drove an all-electric car and had experimented with a variety of electric-powered vehicles over the years.

APRS originated in 1982, when Bruninga wrote his first data map program that plotted the positions of US Navy ships for the Apple II platform. A couple of years later, he developed what he called the Connectionless Emergency Traffic System (CETS) on the VIC-20 and C64 platforms for digital packet communications to support an endurance race. The program was ported to the IBM PC platform in 1988, and was renamed APRS in 1992. The recognized North American APRS frequency is 144.39 MHz, and APRS is globally linked via the internet. Bruninga founded the Appalachian Trail Golden Packet (ATPG) event, which fields APRS nodes from Stone Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine each July.

ARRL Contributing Editor Ward Silver, N0AX, remembered Bruninga this way: "Bob kept pushing APRS beyond its origins as a position reporting system. He developed and helped implement numerous other uses of APRS in support of what has become the 'Ham Radio of Things,' with great potential for future amateur radio applications. Bob's far-reaching vision and imagination were as good as it gets."

Bruninga mentored USNA midshipmen in building and launching amateur radio satellites and CubeSats, beginning with PCsat in 2001. PCsat was the first satellite to directly report its precise position to users via its onboard GPS module. Subsequent USNA spacecraft included PSK31 capability (HF to UHF) and other innovations.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) ARRL liaison Rosalie White, K1STO, recalled that Bruninga attended many ARISS-International meetings and contributed “enormously” to ARISS APRS activities, leading a team in developing protocols and software for rapid message exchange via a packet “robot.”

White said APRS remains a key staple in the new ARISS InterOperable Radio System (IORS) that’s now on board the ISS. She added that Bruninga offered input for future NASA Lunar and Gateway opportunities in which ARISS hopes to take part.

Last year, ARRL CEO David Minster, NA2AA, on behalf of ARRL, honored Bruninga with a brick in the ARRL Diamond Club Terrace at ARRL Headquarters. ARRL sent him a letter of appreciation along with a replica of the brick.

Bruninga held a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology) and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. Bruninga was a 20-year US Navy veteran. Dayton Hamvention® honored him in 1998 with its Technical Excellence Award.

Bruninga authored and co-authored numerous academic papers over the years, and was frequently in demand as a speaker and presenter at amateur radio gatherings.

Survivors include his wife, Elise Albert; daughter, Bethanne Bruninga-Socolar, WE4APR, and son A.J. Bruninga, WA4APR. Arrangements are pending, although his daughter said that a celebratory memorial service will be held this summer in Annapolis, Maryland.

 Rest In Peace, Bob. You did a lot for the Amateur Radio community.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Good Gravy.........It Works!

 I got back on the Heathkit IM-5258 which was on the back burner for over a week while waiting for parts. The parts arrived while I was doing the Timebase Project, so they sat for a while.

After replacing "The Lone Photocell" and adjusting it, I was staggered to see it within the tolerance range, and almost at the target value when I turned the analyzer back on. I spent about 15 minutes adjusting it, then put a dab of sealer on the wire leads so they wouldn't bounce around, and put the cap on it. I did the same with the four photocells in the other housing, and it took a couple of hours. If you bumped one while adjusting it's neighbor, you had to go back and at least check that it didn't get moved off of it's target value. Tedious, but required.

Final tally is all of them are within the allowable range, and they're all within 5% of the target value. Getting them any closer would be an exercise in futility, so I'm going with what they are. Once the photocells were adjusted properly, the rest of the alignment/calibration went by the book.

Here it is measuring the residual distortion of my little Heathkit SG-1272 audio generator:

 It's reading about .04%, within the published specs for the generator, but others have reported this generator as being better than that. Suspecting a Ground Loop, I disconnected the oscilloscope from the "Output" jack, which lets me measure any phase shift between input and output, which I don't care about.

And here it is with the 'scope disconnected:

 It's reading about .015%, a definite improvement.

And yes, with NO input, and the input jack terminated, it reads "0.0%", meaning the needle doesn't move off zero.

Are these readings believable? Well, it's on it's most sensitive range, and the meter is barely off the zero. The rated accuracy is listed as "5% of Full Scale", so that number of ".015%" is open to some interpretation. It's literally at the limits of this instrument, but it does show *something* is there. It also shows how careful you have to be making these measurements. Everything has to be shielded, you should be running on an isolation transformer, and a little experience and luck don't hurt, either.

SO.......was it worth it? In terms of Educational Value, absolutely. Repairing this piece of test equipment and the companion Intermodulation Analyzer has helped me understand the measurements they make by understanding how the measurements are made. Understanding how a measurement is made leads to insights about what the measurement represents.

In terms of "Bang for the Buck" and usability of this instrument? A big "MEH"....There are far better instruments to use in this day and age to make these measurements with. This one is a 1970's hobbyist-grade device, made with decent quality parts from a proven design, but it sure ain't no HP instrument! Things like the knobs, switches, and controls are consumer-grade and are a bit sloppy.

This thing fought me tooth-and-nail. The chassis was bent, a rack handle was bent, the plastic coupling for the tuning shaft was broken, one of the power supply regulators had failed, The Lone Photocell had gone out-of-tolerance, and it was (and is) a beat-up, filthy mess...

Sometimes I feel like this when I finish one of these:

BUT........ it keeps me out of bars at night.

Looks like I can finally get back to my Pioneer SX-980, which started this trip down the rabbit hole......

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Workshop GPS 10MHz Timebase Wrap Up....

 Gee, now that I've got the HP Z3801A "SmartClock" up and running nicely, why don't I go ahead and use it as the 10MHz Master Oscillator for all my test equipment?

So I spent this afternoon doing that. Had to move some things and string a cable from the receiver over to the antenna sitting in the window, and then plug it all together.

Here's the antenna, doing a very nice rendition of "Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me" as it's at least 20" below ground, in an East facing window, with a metal window well. I'm picking up satellites from the other side of the house when their elevation is high enough. I'm guessing it's reflections it's picking up. "It Works", but will work as-intended once I get the antenna outside and up in the air.

This is the software I'm using. It's "Lady Heather's Disciplined Oscillator Control Program", emphasis mine. The program icon is a Dominatrix with a whip, as seen in the extreme lower left corner. It does everything I wanted to do, and more, and it's a free download compared to the other paid (and crappy) software I'd been using.

 So here it all sits, an "obsolete", surplus GPS Clock, with a cast-off, rescued old laptop I was given, providing an extremely accurate, stable, 10MHz reference signal to all my test gear.

"Old" Technology can be very useful when properly applied.....

And speaking of Old Technology, the photocells for the Heathkit THD Analyzer have finally arrived, so that turkey can go back on the bench.....

Sunday, February 6, 2022

HP Z3801A GPS "SmartClock" Repair

 So there I was.....

With apologies to juvat over at The Chant....

As part of the electronics shop "upgrade", I dug out my old HP "SmartClock", which is a GPS-based time and frequency standard. I've had this little box for around 20 years, and it always worked flawlessly. I originally bought it to use as high-accuracy portable clock to synchronize my laptop clock for portable satellite operation, as well as give me an accurate LAT/LON position to enter into my satellite tracking program. Kinda killed two birds with one stone. It also has a VERY good 10MHz timebase in it, which I had plans to use, but never did. These were originally made for use at cellphone towers, where accurate time was used for billing and hand-off timing between towers.

The neat thing about the 10MHz timebase is that it's not only an HP "Double Oven" oscillator, but it's also "GPS Disciplined", meaning it gets locked to the extraordinarily accurate clocks in the GPS satellites, and provides a 10MHz signal that accurate to something like one part in 10e12. Crystal oscillators are about "as good as it gets" for short-term stability, but can, and usually do, drift over time. Part of the GPS signal is a one-pulse-per-second (aka "1pps") timing hack that's ONE SECOND, by God. Well, about as good as He lets us make for now.  How the GPSDO works is explained in the link above, so I won't go into it here.

Anywhoo.....When I plugged it in some years back, none of the lights came on, so I shelved it until I could a round tuit. Opened it up the other night, and started poking around to figure out why it wasn't powering up. The supply was good, but no blinky lights. Then I noticed this:

Well there's your problem....One of the Molex contacts came loose in the housing, and slid out of position when the housing was plugged into the board.

Easy-peasy fix. Pry the tiny locking tab out a bit, snap the contact back in the housing, and reconnect.

Fixed and ready to plug back in.

The next step was finding the old software I had, and then getting it to run on Windows 7, which is still a "Work In Progress". In the meantime, I was able to connect to the clock using a terminal program, and an RS232-to-USB adapter. Two issues with older GPS units is that if the clock has been turned off for ~90 days, and/or moved a few hundred miles, it won't have a proper list of satellites to look for when it's turned back on.

This one's been off for at least 4 years, and has moved 1100 miles since it was last used. In that case, you have to tell the device to run a "Sky Survey", and collect a current almanac from a satellite ASAP. So, connecting to the clock, I sent ":gpsystem:survey once", so it would grab the first satellite in view, and get an almanac. With a GPS antenna sitting in the basement window, it was able to do this, barely, and at least get itself locked to two satellites.

So it's just sitting there now collecting data, and begging me for a better antenna, which will have to wait for Spring when I can drill another hole through the foundation (poured concrete) and snake a new cable into the basement.

And I'm still waiting for the photocells I need to finish the THD Analyzer. USPS says they cleared Denver this morning, so hopefully I'll get them tomorrow.

Have a happy and blessed Sunday!

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Minor Upgrade Project Completed!

 Finally got off my duff and put all of my test equipment on the same 10MHz timebase. Years ago (at least 10) one of my friends gave me a little Video Distribution Amplifier, and I toyed with this idea, but never had enough test equipment to make it worthwhile. Then I bought an HP Z3801A GPS Receiver, which was used at cellphone sites to keep things synchronized.

And again, the little VDA sat unused. Well, I got it out the other night to see if it even worked, and it did, but two of the output connectors had low signals on them. I cleaned the connectors and nothing changed, so I'm guessing that's why my friend gave it to me. Fortunately, since I have three instruments to lock together, I was able to use the "Loop Through" port to pass the reference signal through to one instrument, and had two good ports for my other two instruments.

Not much to see....a black box on a black (dusty!) file cabinet with black cables running to and fro...

 Since all the instruments have an internal timebase, the question becomes which one to pick as a Master Timebase? The RF generator has the optional HP "High Stability" timebase, so I picked that one. I connected it to my counter, and it read between 10,000,000Hz and 9,999,999Hz, so they agreed to one part in ten million, which is pretty good. I used the Loop Through connector to drive the 8904A Multifunction Waveform Synthesizer, and the other two outputs to drive the Spectrum Analyzer and the counter.

The internal timebase in the 8904A read 9,999,685, which meets specs, but it's several hundred Hertz low. The timebase in the spectrum analyzer measured 10,000,450Hz, which also meets specs, but is a bit high. Still, 450 parts out of  TEN MILLION amounts to fly specks, but it gives me the warm and fuzzies to have all the equipment locked to the best timebase in the house.

RF generator set to 10MHz and 0.0 dBm output.


Spectrum Analyzer displaying the RF generator output.

Pretty close, and to get them to "exactly" agree would require sending ALL the equipment in use to a reputable Calibration Lab, and paying a whole bunch of $$$.

I consider this to be acceptable accuracy for a home shop, and I'm aware of the ambiguities in my system. The signal generator was calibrated before it shipped, as was the waveform synthesizer. Basically the differences I'm seeing is the difference between "Meets Specs", and "Dead Nuts On".

One more little thing scratched off the list....

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

10" Of Snow? HAH! I Laugh At You!

 Got about 10" here, as seen on my "snow gauge".

And my son and I had it all cleared in about 30 minutes. Very dry, powdery snow like the skiers love, and the Ariens could almost blow it all the way across the street.

I'm quite pleased with how well the snowblower works, and it's pretty easy on gas, too. The last time we used it I started with a full tank, and when I refueled it after we were done, it took maybe a quart of gas. It steers very easily (YAY!) and I'm getting used to the controls and how to drive it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Calm Before The Storm

 Been having flurries since noon, but not much is sticking....for now. The shot below was taken at 1700 local, and at approx 1800 local we had about an inch. Expected overnight snowfall is anywhere from 6~10", with another 2~4" expected tomorrow.

So for now, we're just patiently waiting.....

Tonight's project in the workshop is to make four three-foot BNC jumper cables so I can connect all my test equipment to a single timebase generator. Three of my instruments just have the standard timebase oscillator in them, but my RF signal generator has the "High Stability" option. I'll take the output of that, run it to a little 10MHz distribution amplifier, and then to each of the other instruments. This way all the readings I make are referenced to a single timebase, ensuring their accuracy is improved.

SLW is feeling much better. Minor cough today, no fever, and no other symptoms of The Plague.

Busy Week, Beautiful Weather, Amateur Radio Field Day

 Having gorgeous weather the last few days, and got some (more!) yard work done, and enjoyed evening strolls around the 'hood with SLW, ...