HOWTO

How do do interesting things.

It’s alive! After three hair-pulling days, the radio finally works. I received the box on Thursday night; no time then to start, but I got to it after my daily work session on Friday. Late that night, I had completed the filter board, one of the three circuit boards.

I must here explain what an Elecraft K1 is.. Though it sounds like some fighter plane name, it is a receiver/transmitter (a “transceiver”) which transmits, and receives CW (Continuous Wave) Aka “Morse Code.” It is very small, and covers up to four Ham radio bands. Mine has two, 40 (7Mhz) and 20 meter (14Mhz). The power output is fairly low (7 Watts), but that is sufficient to bounce your signal around the earth.. Imagine seeing a 7 Watts light bulb thousands of miles away! Somehow, it works. CW punches through further than “phone” (voice). The K1 is in a class of radios called “QRP,” meaning low power, usually 5 to 10 Watts. It is only sold as a kit, so if you want one, you must build it, or find a used one.. I chose to build it..

Elecraft K1

Elecraft K1

I don’t understand the fear about winding toroids. I find it very easy and relaxing; it hurts much less than it sounds. All you have to do is count how many times you thread a wire through a ferrite core. How easier can it be? Then, you burn the enamel off the leads with a lighter, clean them up with your snipping tool, and solder.. I was very exited that night about the project. I thought it would be a walk in the park.. Not quite..

The front panel was next. The only difficulty there was soldering the LCD display. Attaching the wires to the ten-turn potentiometer also required some dexterity. About wires.. There are very few in the K1 kit: The potentiometer lead wires, speaker wire, and one coax jumper on the back of the board, that’s it. Everything else is connectors. I like that. Soldering wires is always a pain in the butt.

The RF board was the biggest and longest one to build. It took me from around 10-am on Saturday to about 2:30-am on Sunday to complete it! And it didn’t work! In retrospect, I should have only completed the receiver part that day, leaving the transmitter for Sunday. When tired, your brain plays tricks on you, and you make mistakes. Everything went fine with the receiver. I heard static when I turned the K1 on, no smoke. After tuning the receiver and plugging-in a long wire, I was listening to CW on both bands. I was exhausted, but proceeded with the transmitter side. It was 9-pm already, eleven hours of looking at tiny components, placing and soldering them.. Then came the time to test voltages on the RF board. Nothing on U8! Shit! Excuse my French.. That wasn’t good. I nevertheless plugged-in the filter board to test power output. Nothing.. Followed about an hour of tinkering, swearing, manual-reading, head scratching shenanigans, of which I remember almost nothing (I had been working on it for 15 hours straight). I rewound the bi-filar transformer, reheated solder pads both on the filter and RF boards, zilch! Then I gave up, and decided to complete the build for the heck of it, and call Elecraft in the morning. Yet, after putting the speaker in and closing the box, I tried again. Power on 40m! Not on 20.. Ah.. Back to it (2-am).. I think I transmitted without a dummy load and no antenna a couple times by the way, I was so tired. Anyway, I have no idea what did it, but after countless little troubleshooting steps, and more tuning of the filter board, I finally got output power on both bands. I packed it up and went to bed with a headache and slight twitching..

Elecraft K1 inside

Elecraft K1 inside

Comes Sunday morning, I had a working K1! The only peculiar thing left to investigate is some power fluctuation.. If I set the maximum output to 2 Watts, the watt meter shows 2W at first, but then slowly climbs to 2.8. I am guessing that the final transistor produces more gain as it warms up.. I even produced about 10W tuning the filter board before the output suddenly dropped! Weird.. After tuning the filter board on receive, things are a bit more stable, still with quite a power increase as transmit time increases.. It shouldn’t occur producing CW though, as this was transmitting a continuous tone in tuning mode. We’ll see..

I spent Sunday evening listening to CW outside, with a wire strung horizontally (20ft maybe) about five feet from the ground; the worst possible antenna. Still, it was easy to pick-up signals. I even heard a guy saying he was on a sailboat, and retired three years ago (I have a Morse decoder app on my iPod!).

The Elecraft K1 kit is of very high quality; much better than any other kit I have seen so far (five). Everything fits perfectly, nothing was missing. I even had much needed left-over screws (I spilled them all on the garage floor).. The box looks great, and the way the circuit boards are positioned and fastened is brilliant. I will order the automatic antenna tuner and add it in soon. For now though, I need to finish learning code, then I’ll go for the General Ham license (CW is no longer required). The K1 was the right choice, at the right price. You get a lot for your money. It might not seem so when you buy the kit, but after building it, I find it very affordable.

To anyone contemplating building one, go for it! Build a couple kits first, like a Small-Wonder-Labs Rock-Mite, and a SOTA tuner from qrpkits.com, and you’ll be well on your way. Moreover, you can test the Elecraft receiver with the Rock-Mite! Get 50ft. of wire from Home Depot for the SOTA tuner, and you’ll be all set. Follow the manual EXACTLY. Don’t skip ahead, read every line! Double-check everything. Most importantly, don’t do what I did. That was stupid. Take your time. If you feel tired or stressed, stop, rest, and don’t get back to it until much later. I was very lucky that I didn’t fry anything. Not to mention the stress and lack of sleep.. Not a healthy way to spend a week-end..

In the mean time, like they say over there, “Everything is fine in the best of worlds.” I am a happy, proud builder and owner of an Elecraft K1. The satisfaction of building something that complex with your own hands is priceless..

After my semi-success with the DC20B, I decided to tackle the Rock-Mite from Small Wonder Labs. I also got the Mighty Box. The kit is very small and has no toroids to wind. It does however have a surface-mounted integrated circuit. Winding toroids is actually very easy. I don’t know why people make such a big deal of it. Maybe they just haven’t tried. Soldering the SMT circuit, while not that hard, was stressful. That being out of the way, the rest of the kit was a breeze. Being fairly confident of my abilities, I installed the circuit board in the box without trying it first. This way, I could use all the connectors for testing. To my satisfaction, it worked the first time!

My goal with this Rock-Mite is two folds. First, it is a stepping stone to building an Elecraft K1, which I have just started, and second, it provides me with a small emergency radio for my bug-out bag.

I can’t really compare the DC20B to the RockMite as far as performance is concerned, but building the Rock-Mite is easier, and there is no tuning required. The circuit board is slightly smaller. I replaced q6 with a 2sc799. R18=2.2 ohms for a little more power. The keyer is the Pico Keyer from http://www.hamgadgets.com.

I am very exited about building the K1. More on that later…

I have seen it happen many times. A client asks me to code their latest great idea into a web site, and opening day has arrived. The site goes online, and… Nothing. No orders or signups that day. None that week, and maybe one or two that month. The days when one could launch a site and recline on a Lazy-boy, watching orders pour in are long gone, if they ever truly existed. Design and programming are only the first steps. It takes constant efforts to promote a site, a daily chore site owners often overlook. So, what steps should you take after launching a site? I will try to give you the minimum list of things to do…

I am not associated with any of the sites I mention and link-to below…

Your first step you be making sure that you have the correct meta tags. These tags are embedded in your pages and provide information about them, such as title, content, related keywords, intended distribution, etc. Search engines use them to classify your pages and link them to keywords. They are an important part of your pages, but because they are not mandatory, many designers do not use them.

Use a robot.txt file. This file tells automated web browsing programs how and what to index on your site. You can specify areas of your site not to be indexed. Robots can ignore it, but the legitimate ones will make good use of it.

You can control spiders/robots more efficiently using a .htaccess file, but that topic is beyond the scope of this article.

Allow your users to share your site on social media. A Facebook page can help you make your site more visible. There are tons of sites to submit yours to, like reddit.com. Add share buttons to your pages!

It is unfortunate that Google has become a quasi-monopoly in web services. You really can’t compete these days if you are boycotting Google, or if they are boycotting you! Fortunately what they offer does work.

Your site needs a site map. Search engines need a map of your site to index it. It is an XML formatted file placed in the root of your site, and often named sitemap.xml. Don’t worry about the format, softwares do that for you. Most E-Commerce software packages have built-in sitemaps. You can also use an online service to create it. Now that you have your sitemap, you need to submit it. Open a google webmaster account to do so. You will be asked to place a small file on your site to identify you as the owner, but that is easy to do. Google will now start indexing your pages, and they will be available (although far down the list at this point) in search results.

The most important factor in Google page ranking is how many sites link to yours. You should ask related sites to provide a link and offer them one on yours. One way to rank higher is to sign-up on related forums and regularly post or answer threads on them. You place your link in the signature of your posts, a setting that is usually available in your forum profile.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of search engines out there. You could visit all of them and submit your site manually, but it would take months. I suggest using a program like SubmitWolf. It will automate the task to a great extent. Even if each search engine sends you only one visitor a day, it will be worth it.

Create a QR code for your site, and post it everywhere. iPhone and smart phone users will have a quick way to get your link from print. Make sure you have a way to track visitors using it.

You need to know who visits your site, where they come from, what pages they load, etc. Open a Google Analytics account, place their piece of code in you page’s footer, and find out! Traffic information is also available in your web server log files, which you should be able to download. You can have a neat report generated and printed with a log file analyzer.

One often overlooked marketing tool is the RSS feed. It is mostly used for news. Your site probably has news too.. After all, it just opened, and isn’t that a big news? An RSS feed is another way to get the word out about your site. Like a site map, you can create it manually or it can be software generated. You need then to submit your feed to RSS aggregators, which will make it available for search, like a search engine.

If your site is selling products or services, it is a good idea to provide useful material which they might search for. For example, if you sell bathroom fixtures, provide tips on plumbing, soldering pipes, etc. Visitors are then more likely to find your site looking for related subjects.

You need to work on promotion every day, online and off-line. Don’t forget more traditional avenues of marketing, they work too! If you are still not getting enough visitors, try Google Adwords. You will pay for your visitors, but if it generates more profit than you spend, it is a good way to acquire new customers who might become regulars.

It does take a while to build traffic. Keep at it, update your site regularly, and soon or later, they will come!

I needed a better antenna for my Yaesu FT-270R. My requirements were to find a portable, efficient and easy to build design. The short rubber antenna works fine for me now, especially that I am not transmitting before getting my license. I do want more range however for emergency situations, in case local repeaters are down. My first thought was to make a Yagi-Uda directional antenna. They have a high gain but transmit in only one direction. While this can be an advantage, and I plan on getting one, my go-to antenna needs to be omnidirectional. I found the Slim Jim design to be my best option. It is easily made from soldered copper tubing. All you need is a couple of 5ft lengths of 1/2″ tubing, 90deg corners, end caps and PVC Ts. I added an electrical junction box for the feed-point connector, but it might make it more difficult to attach the coax and tune the antenna.


2m Slim Jim


Total length very-top to very-bottom is 58″. Width center-to-center is 2″. Gap is about 1-3/4″. See the Ham-Universe articles (1 & 2) for exact measurements.

It is easy to calculate dimensions for other frequencies:

  • 3/4w : 8415/F-mhz.
  • 1/2w : 5610/F-mhz.
  • 1/4w : 2805/F-mhz.
  • Feed point : 10-20% of 1/4w.


Slim Jim Gap

Slim Jim Gap


The PVC Ts need to be reamed with a 5/8″ drill bit so that the copper tubing can go through. I used a bit of WD40 to slide them down. Between the two Ts, I epoxied a 1″ piece of 1/2″ plastic tubing. There is one “H” PVC support assembly on the top portion and one on the lower portion, right next to the end cap.


Slim Jim Feed Point

Slim Jim Feed Point


I am not sure that using a plastic electrical junction box was a good idea for the feed point. Since I have not received my SO-239 socket yet, I must hold off on the electrical connection. My concern is that soldering will be difficult without burning the plastic box. I might have to use sheet-metal screws. Tunig might not be easy either, since the best SWR is obtained by moving the feed point up and down, between 3 and 4″ from the very-bottom. Maybe I should have used PVC Ts, like for the two support “H” assemblies. They can be split in half, then the coax soldered after finding the best feed point. Once epoxied, it would look fine. I do like the look of my electrical box though, and if it works fine, I will be happy with the results.

Total building time was about an hour. Everything came from Home Depot, except the SO-239 connector. Soldering turned out to be pretty easy. I sanded the parts and used flux paste before heating up the assembled parts with a torch. Once the parts are hot enough, you put the solder on, which flows in the joint, following the flux. Cost could have been as low as $30, but I spent about twice that much, not counting tools (hacksaw, drill bit, epoxy, solder), which you might have already. If you are starting “empty handed,” plan on $100. While it can cost more than a factory-made antenna, you get the satisfaction of building something yourself, which might be actually sturdier than a store-bought model.

Stay tuned for the finishing touches (painting), electrical connection and reception testing. The transmission test will come after I get my Technician HAM license.

Thanks to Richard KE5FXU SK at hamuniverse.com for the article!

Update, April 11th:

Finally, I got my SO-239 plug. Drilling the PVC box was easy. I didn’t even use my drill press. It only took me a few minutes by hand! Holes are one 5/8″ in the middle, and four 1/8″ around. I drilled in the middle of the lid, hoping I would have enough leeway to adjust the SWR by moving the contact in the box along the tube. First, as I suspected, I could not get the tube hot enough to solder the center of the coax to the copper tube using my 30w soldering iron. I solved the problem by heating up the tube with a Zippo under it while I soldered on top! It worked really well. I did the same to put soldering points in the box, every quarter inch or so. The zippo was placed an inch from the box. I was worried about melting it, but these electrical boxes are pretty heat-resistant. Sorry about picture quality:


Solder Points

Solder Points



It’s a bit ugly, but inside the box anyway..

Feed Box

Feed Box



Reception works great. I was able to listen to a conversation tonight on a distant repeater that I simply could not hear with the HT rubber antenna. I get three extra signal bars with the Slim Jim.
I got a cheap VHF/UHF digital SWR meter from Hong-Kong, which seems to work fine, but for the connectors which are of “N” type.
Digital SWR meter

Digital SWR meter

Update, May 1st:

I painted the antenna sort of a flat olive-drab color for stealth. I can easily hoist it up a tree and it blends in very well. SWR varies from 2.4:1 on the lower part of the band, to 1.8:1 around 146Mhz, and remains around 1.4:1-1.5:1 from 146.5 up. I used a ferrite RF choke kit from Palomar Engineers (photo below), which got the SWR down to 1.36:1 around 147.5Mhz. I much prefer the ferrite choke to the coax balun type, which looks ugly and wastes cable.


Slim Jim Connection Box With Palomar Ferrite Choke

Slim Jim Connection Box With Palomar Ferrite Choke



 
What I like the most about the Slim Jim is it’s sturdiness and that given it’s shape, you can hang it from anywhere, as long as you use an isolator to do so. When hanging it, I plug in an “L” shaped adaptor (photo above) to avoid bending the coax.

Memory leaks caused by PHP are hard to pinpoint. My server started crashing regularly, out of memory from running WordPress on Apache22 and FreeBSD. It happens especially when posting, but also at random times. I tried disabling plugins, changing the theme, to no avail. There might be more than one faulty script, and there is little hope to find these leaks. Hopefully they will be plugged in future releases. In the mean time, I wrote a Python script that checks memory status and restarts Apache if needed. Placed on a cron job, it runs every ten minutes on my server.:

It is a temporary fix, but it works. Her is my /etc/crontab line:
*/0 * * * * root /usr/local/bin/python /home/gil/scripts/mleaks.py

Good luck!