Saturday, February 19, 2011

A wonderful afternoon in the SolderSmoke shack

After my Dad became a silent key in 2009, I had  to begin finding homes for those radios of his that I couldn't use in my shack. A Heathkit DX-100 that he had built in the 1950s was one of the items I was conflicted over. I didn't want to junk it, or sell it on a certain well known auction site because it had been a fixture of my youth and had many pleasant memories associated with it, but I needed to find a home for it, preferably with someone who could enjoy it and bring it back to life on the airwaves. The answer presented itself in the form of Bill Meara N2CQR, diplomat, ham radio raconteur, and devotee of the fire bottle*. Bill produces and hosts a podcast called "SolderSmoke" where he discusses various aspects of ham radio home construction and "the Knack". As my father was gifted with "the Knack" and a fellow devotee of the fire bottle, and Bill had mentioned on a podcast episode that he regretted letting the DX-100 of his youth slip away, it seemed right that my Dad's transmitter should find a new home in Northern Virginia.

My wife Erika and I drove down to Northern Virginia with the DX-100 and met Bill, his wife Elisa, his children Billy and Maria, and the newest member of the family, Capucco. Bill and his wife are consummate hosts and made us feel truly welcome in their home. A fortunate coincidence occurred when Erika and Elisa discovered they admirers of all things canine, which allowed Bill and I to spend an extended period in his shack talking radio without being missed by our wives. After touring his shack and equipment, Bill recorded some audio and video for his web page and podcast. It was really cool to be a part of the podcast and I came away inspired to take the next step from just assembling kits to building some radios of my own design. It was a magical afternoon.

Bill while you received a new piece of equipment, you gave me the greater gift; the gift of peace of mind knowing that a cherished family heirloom will find new life on the air with an aficionado. Enjoy the DX-100, my friend.

SolderSmoke Podcast    

SolderSmoke Daily News

*Fire Bottle = Thermionic Valve = Vacuum Tube

Thursday, February 17, 2011

PSK-31 Update

The firmware update for my Timewave DSP-599zx arrived and it was a painless installation, pop the old EPROM out, put the new EPROM in. The result has been a bit of a mixed bag, I seem to be getting some RF into the audio and the output signal is kinda crappy. Fortunately, I had a plan B in mind; by routing the "A" line level output into the SignaLink USB I was able to achieve most of what I was after. Most of the time having the entire audio passband going into the SignaLink works OK, just click on a signal in the waterfall and start decoding the signal. Sometime when there are two or three signals very close together the decode function in FLDigi (or any soundcard software) can get a little confused, but the PSK audio filters in the '599 allow me to dial down to about 35 HZ which isolates things nicely and allows for better resolution of closely packed signals.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mobile again!

I finally got off my rear end and put a mobile rig in my "new to me" car. The car is a 2007 Ford Focus SES hatchback (with manual transmission), bright yellow in color. I guess this is my midlife crisis car since it's pretty sporty and I can't afford a more traditional one like a Mustang or Corvette. The radio is an Icom IC-2820H with D-STAR and I'm glad for the remote control head otherwise there would have been no way to install the radio at all. Besides a generally cramped cockpit there are the airbag deployment zones to contend with (I wouldn't want Icom tattooed in reverse on my forehead for the rest of my life.)

The only post installation issue is some RF getting into the powered sub-woofer that creates a thump in the speaker when I un-key but a few snap on ferrites should solve that problem. The install was a bit of a bear, I figured it would take an hour and actually took four, thus the nightfall picture.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Out of the doldrums...

Well I seem to finally have escaped the winter doldrums and got back on the air. This is my PSK-31 station, with the exception of the speaker, the TNC, and the SignaLink USB adapter it all used to belong to my dad. A couple of months ago the IC-706 took a trip out to Toledo, Washington for MTS to fix a couple of very minor issues and give it an alignment. Scott did a great job at a very reasonable price and I would have no hesitation about using his service again. The radio is working like new and I've been on PSK-31 a lot. My only real complaint is the inability to switch in the narrow CW filter while in USB to narrow the front end but Icom didn't see a need for that feature 15 years ago when the rig was manufactured. To help the situation I just ordered a v5.0 EPROM for the Timewave DSP-599zx filter which will let me use it for PSK-31 service and act as the sound card interface. I'll move the SignaLink USB over to the Kenwood TS-2000 so I can run data modes there as well. The audio DSP filter won't be as much improvement as a DSP (or even crystal filter) in the IF of the radio but it should help considerably.


Malcom Technical Support (MTS)

Timewave DSP-599zx

Tigertronics SignaLink USB