Spring

Bitter Taste

Perhaps it's because the good weather has finally arrived here in Beaverton, but I seem to have become a bit more sanguine about my difficult situation with Etherkit, as described in my last post. It's in my nature to be more of a realist (others might call it pessimism), sometimes trending to a bit of fatalism. I probably should not have stated quite so equivocally that Etherkit is shut down.

I do plan on continuing to sell kits until I am out of stock. I may also keep replenishing a small amount of the OpenBeacon 30 meter and 40 meter kits, as I still do get occasional sales of those. In the mean time, I will still work on projects, even if only to keep me sane. One of my larger stumbling blocks right now is that the backlight on my TDS1012 oscilloscope completely gave out, rendering it nearly useless for now. So the first order of business in getting back in the game is to procure a replacement, probably a Rigol DS1052E or something similar. (I could work on fixing it, but after the investment in time and tools, I will probably be better off just getting a new inexpensive scope for now). So to that end, I have put new stuff up for sale in order to help fund a new scope.

So things are probably not quite as bleak as I first thought, if I can get a new oscilloscope soon. I still have the challenge of funding a new kit run, but perhaps I should just proceed to that point, then worry about that problem when I get there. I'm sorry to be that guy, but we all have our weak moments when times get difficult. For now, we'll just say I'm on an extended hiatus and will be making no promises, but perhaps Etherkit is not quiet dead yet.

Red Pill

There are times when one must face the reality of situations, no matter how painful it may be, because the alternative is even more destructive in the long term. This is one of those times for me. As I'm sure you have noticed, blogging here has dried up, I have done a horrible job in responding to emails, and developments at Etherkit have ground to a near halt.

Without getting into many overly-personal details other than to say that due to a lack of resources, I have made the decision that I see no viable way forward for Etherkit at this point, and rather than belabor the illusion that things will get better at some indeterminate point in the future, it is better for my mental health and my family to institute a graceful indefinite hiatus on the company. Why not a total shutdown of the business? I would like to liquidate the inventory that I have left and I want to keep my website online for at least another year (and preferably much longer) so that the documentation is still available.

To that end, I have decided to cut the price of the CRX1 receiver kit to a very nice price of $30 so that I can get a little more cash flow before turning off the store. If you could do me a solid, and let any of your kit-building friends know about this, I would be most grateful.

I will have more words about the personal situation here in the next post, but for now I wanted to move this process forward. I would like to most sincerely thank all of the fine folks who have been customers and beta testers for Etherkit. I know that I have been lacking in many ways and apologize for my poor level of responsiveness. Because I don't like to slam doors closed completely, this may not be the absolute end of Etherkit, but for now I am treating it as such.

Thank you so much.

Merry Christmas

2013-12-24 14.04.01

This has been a very unique Christmas for me. For most of my adult life, as someone without children, Christmas wasn't exactly the exciting holiday that it used to be as a kid, of course. It was still nice to get together with the family to exchange gifts and have a dinner feast. But the old magic had pretty much faded.

Now that I have two little ones, I'm getting to experience a new aspect of Christmas. I'm sure this is old news to most of my readers, but living Christmas vicariously through your young children is pretty fun. My oldest boy Noah is now 3.5 years old, so he's really able to understand what's going on, unlike previous years. His little brother Eli isn't quite 2 years old yet, so he doesn't really get it yet.

It was a joy to play Santa Claus this year; wrapping and hiding the gifts, preparing the stockings, sneaking out to put everything in place, and of course getting the cookies and milk as a reward. Seeing Noah's anticipation as I showed him the Santa Tracker online and his excitement as he woke up this morning to Santa's presents was the most fun I've had on Christmas in many years.

In a time when humanity hasn't exactly been impressing me lately (especially the online denizens), it's a lift to my spirits to disconnect from the craziness and enjoy the holidays with my family. It reminds one of what is real and what is transient noise.

I hope that all of the readers of this blog had a wonderful holiday season and sincerely hope that you have an even better 2014.

2013-12-25 09.44.49

 

We Make Contact

My last blog post (from two months ago, sorry about that) detailed my participation in the worldwide Hi Juno event; a coordinated effort from amateur radio operators from around the world to send a very slow speed Morse Code signal (HI, to be exact...DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT DIT-DIT) to the Juno spacecraft as it slingshotted around Earth on it's way out to Jupiter.

After the attempt, the Juno science team promised an update to let us know how the experiment turned out, but was very quiet over the last few months. Worse, was news that Juno had tripped into safe mode during the Earth flyby. There was a decent chance that no usable data from this experiment would be recovered. Suddenly, yesterday on 9 December 2013, there was a press release announcing that there would be a presentation on the results of the Juno Earth flyby, including results from the Hi Juno experiment, and that this presentation would be streamed online. This morning at 10:30 AM, I eagerly connected to the livestream to see what they would announce.

Hi Juno Spectrogram

Hi Juno Spectrogram

In short: we did it! As you can see in the spectrogram above, our signals were detected by the Juno spacecraft in a couple of different time slots. The green dits are the signals that were actually detected by Juno, while the gray ones are anticipated signals which were not detected. One thing is slightly misleading about the spectrogram, as it appears that our actual signals are not depicted in it. I'm not sure why that is, but I imagine it is for clarity in public outreach. Still, as a ham, I would love to see the spectrogram without the overlay of the expected data. One other thing that is interesting is the streaky lines in the upper right-hand corner. It is said that these are terrestrial SW broadcasters.

The Waves instrument primary investigator said that there were at least 1400 hams who participated in the experiment (I assume that is based on the number of QSL requests sent through their email address). If you assume that each was running a barefoot commercial rig (I was, but had it dialed back to 50 W just to go easy on the finals), it's not hard to imagine that collectively we put around 100 kW of 28 MHz RF out there for a few hours.

Perhaps this stuff is too obscure for the average person to care about, but in my view this is one of the most inspiring and amazing things I've done in amateur radio. You can see a bit of my raw reactions from Twitter below:

It's pretty rare for a space agency to reach out to the public at-large for active participation in a spacecraft science experiment. The fact that we were able to pool together and successfully transmit a signal to space probe whipping around the Earth at very high velocities just boggles my mind. I also have to give a huge huzzah to the team who created the public outreach website for Hi Juno. It was top-notch and did a perfect job in coordinating all of us hams around the world. I hope that the success of the Hi Juno experiment will encourage science teams to consider similar future efforts when possible.

It does seem that the Hi Juno experiment had quite an impact on the science team, as it inspired them to create a short documentary about the event and the results, which you can see below. It's very well produced and exciting to watch. There is also a shorter video which just shows a depiction of reception of the Hi Juno signal. Now I just need to wait for my Juno QSL to arrive...

UPDATE: Here's a press release about Hi Juno from the mission page.

Hi Juno After-Action Report

As I write this, the Juno spacecraft has completed its slingshot maneuver around Earth, having stolen a bit of Earth's rotation energy. and is now on its way out to Jupiter. A bit before the designated 1800 UTC start time for the event, I was able to set up my Icom IC-718 at the appointed frequency of 28.324 MHz with an output power of approximately 60 watts CW.

I executed the hijuno.py script via SSH (as mentioned in my last post) a few minutes shy of 1800, turned on my handheld scanner so I could monitor the transmit frequency, and waited for the show to start. I also checked a few WebSDR receivers to see if I could detect how many hams were participating in the Hi Juno event.

Hi Juno Website

Hi Juno Website

The transmitter started up, but immediately I could see that it wasn't in sync with other stations that I could hear and see on the receiver. My shack PC is running Ubuntu 13.04 and it set up to automatically set its clock via NTP, but obviously it was off by quite a bit. So I had to duck into the shack quickly to manually update NTP, then come back to my laptop to restart hijuno.py via SSH. This time, I could see by following along with the interactive Hi Juno website and listening to my transmit monitor, that my timing was correct. As you can see above, the website had a nice graphical display of when to key up and key down for those doing this manually. That little yellow triangle at the bottom of the screen moved from left to right to indicate the current position within the transmit timing window.

W5ZA WebSDR

W5ZA WebSDR

At this point, satisfied that the Python script seemed to be working, I went back to WebSDR for a listen. The W5ZA 10 meter beacon receiver in Shreveport, Louisiana seemed to be a great choice for monitoring all the Hi Juno signals out there, probably because it was still in daytime, as opposed to the European receivers, which seemed to be showing nothing. Normally this would be considered bad, but I have to think in this case it was a good thing, since the ionosphere was probably not reflecting 10 meter signals back to Earth in this part of the world, and they were free to make it to Juno. To the left, you can see a screen capture of the W5ZA WebSDR just after a Hi Juno keydown period.

The rest of the event was fairly...uneventful. The Python code worked perfectly and stopped transmitting at the right time. It was fun chatting on Twitter with other hams who were also participating in the event. Based on watching the WebSDR waterfall and checking Twitter search, it seemed like there were quite a bit of us taking part in the event. I have no idea, how long it will take for us to hear back from the investigators whether this worked or not, but I hope it's fairly soon. I'm definitely looking forward to getting a QSL. My first one from an interplanetary spacecraft. I also have to say that the Hi Juno website worked wonderfully during the event with its simple and clear graphic instructing you when to transmit, and showing you transmit window. if we ever get more opportunities to participate in experiments like this in the ham community, it should be a model on how to run things. Even though we didn't get any immediate gratification, it was a fun event and I hope that NASA/JPL reaches out to us again in the future.

Hi Juno!

As a world-class procrastinator, I know I'm very late with this post only about 12 hours before the event. However, I still wanted to share it with you in the hopes that maybe it could help one person.

As you may have heard, the Juno spacecraft will be making a close approach to Earth on 9 October 2013 as it slingshots to gain energy for the trip to Jupiter. The investigators who are in charge of a radio receiver on the spacecraft wish to see if they can detect intelligent life on Earth who may be transmitting on the 10 meter band. Therefore, they are asking licensed radio amateurs to transmit a slow-speed CW "HI" signal to Juno during a window at Juno's closest approach. The full details are on the Hi Juno page (due to the US government shutdown, the primary page is offline, but the event is still planned to take place).

BWFZtUsCcAA8RgFIn order to be able to take part in this event without having to be right at the transmitter (I have to take care of my two toddler boys during the specified time period), I wrote a program in Python which will automatically transmit at the appropriate time. You just need a PC synchronized to NTP time, a 10 meter CW transmitter, a serial port, and a keying interface (which I will describe shortly). I plan to execute the program on my shack PC via SSH and monitor my transmissions on a portable receiver to maintain control of the transmitter.

Serial Port Keying Circuit

Serial Port Keying Circuit

Here is the simple keying circuit I use to key my Icom IC-718. It should work with just about any grounded keying transmitter, but as usual your mileage may vary. I use a DB9 female jack for the serial port. The RTS line is used to turn on a 2N7000 MOSFET, which will ground the key line in order to transmit. You can use any key jack that is appropriate for your transmitter. I use this circuit with a USB-to-Serial adapter, and it still seems to work fine.

The actual Python program to control the serial port keyer is found here at GitHub. You will need to have the PySerial module installed on your system, in addition to the regular Python installation. I've tested it here, but please be sure to test it yourself on a dummy load before using it on the air (you will need to temporarily change the START_DATE variable to an earlier time in order to get the program to transmit). You will also need to change the DEVICE, BAUD, and CALLSIGN variables to values appropriate for you. Linux/OS X users would change DEVICE to whichever "/dev/tty*" port is appropriate, where the * is your port numbe. Windows users would use "COM*", where * is the COM port number. Sorry that I can't hold your hand through this, but it should be fairly simple to get running. Linux and OS X users may also have to execute the program under sudo in order to access the serial port.

Please let me know if you end up using this, and don't forget to request a QSL from Juno!

The CRX1 Is Here!

I'm happy to report that the CRX1 40 meter receiver kit is now in full production and is available for purchase in the Etherkit Store for $40 (which includes all controls and connectors, you just add some wires and an enclosure). Allow me to quote from the product page:

The CRX1 is a simple VXO-tuned superheterodyne receiver for the 40 meter band, with tuning centered around the popular QRP watering hole frequency of 7.030 MHz. It is entirely constructed from surface mount devices in the easy-to-build 0805 (US) size for passive components and SOT-23 class semiconductors. The PCB is large and single-sided, which provides for uncramped construction and makes the CRX1 an ideal warm-up kit for the CC1 QRP transceiver (coming soon). The CRX1 is not just meant to be a novelty to be tossed aside after construction. All of the support circuitry for muting, T/R, and sidetone is included, so it can be paired with virtually any transmitter which uses grounded keying. There is also a port for an external VFO to enable further user experimentation.

All controls and connectors are included with this kit, so you just need to supply an enclosure and a few knobs to finish the job!

Specifications

Frequency Range: Approximately 7.030 to 7.034 MHz (at +13.7 VDC power supply)
IF Bandwidth: Approximately 400 Hz
Current Consumption: 25 mA (at +13.7 VDC power supply)
Power supply: +9 VDC to +14 VDC
MDS: -123 dBm
3rd Order IMD DR: 84 dB
IF Rejection: 74 dB
Image Rejection: 67 dB
PCB dimensions: 70 mm x 100 mm
Antenna Connector: BNC
DC Power Connector: 2.1 mm barrel jack
Phone Jack: 3.5 mm stereo
Key Jack: 3.5 mm stereo
Reverse polarity protection
Muting, sidetone (user enabled), T/R switch, external VFO port included

Available Bands

40 Meters - 7.030 to 7.034 MHz

The CRX1 is a fun little receiver to build and is a great kit to get your feet wet with SMT construction!

On a side note, I've established an IRC server on my Raspberry Pi for Etherkit and it has been working great for the last month or so. Please do stop by for tech talk (and other occasional diversions) on channel #etherkit at irc.recursiv.com.

Wideband Transmission #3

Polyvaricons Now For Sale

I've decided to try a small experiment and see if there's any interest in selling a small selection of components that would be handy for RF experimenters. The first product I have up for sale (in limited quantities at this time) are four-packs of the somewhat-hard-to-find polyvaricon variable capacitor for only $10. Please head on over to the Etherkit store to get the details and to purchase a pack. If this is successful, I may keep selling them and branch out into some other RF rarities.

Behind the Scenes in Kitbiz

Think that your local small-time kit business is raking in the dough? Probably not. This blog post from ch00ftech does a wonderful job of explaining the economics behind small-batch kitting and will probably give you a new perspective on all of the expenses incurred in such an endeavor, including many which may not be obvious to you at first. Although in this particular instance, the author was not particularly trying to make a profit, the post still captures the process involved, even for those who wish to earn a few bucks from their toil, brilliantly.

World's First Mt. Hood SOTA Activation

Here's a really neat write-up (with photos) of the very first SOTA activation of Mt. Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon (11,249 ft [3,429 m] tall). Well done, KB3QEW!

Lower Prices on the For Sale Page

I've lowered the prices on most of the items on my For Sale page, so please get over there and take a look at some good ham gear and test equipment!

CRX1 Open Beta

CRX1 Beta

CRX1 Beta

If you don't follow me on Twitter, you may not have heard that I have been working on a little "warm-up" kit in preparation for the CC1 release. Called the CRX1, this kit is a little VXO-tuned superhet receiver based on my 2010 FDIM Challenge entry, the Clackamas. The CC1 is also a descendant of that project, so you could say that the CC1 and CRX1 are siblings.

The CRX1 is an all-SMT project. The passives are size 0805 and the transistors are SOT-23, so it should be able to be built by most kit builders with the aid of a bit of lighted magnification. All of the components are on a single side of the PCB and things are not very cramped, so it should be a pretty easy build for an experienced kit builder, and within the capability of even a newer kit builder with a few kits under his belt. Here are the key specifications for the receiver:

Specifications

Frequency Range: Approximately 7.030 to 7.034 MHz (at +13.7 VDC power supply)
IF Bandwidth: Approximately 400 Hz
Current Consumption: 25 mA (at +13.7 VDC power supply)
Power supply: +9 VDC to +14 VDC
MDS: -123 dBm
3rd Order IMD DR: 84 dB
IF Rejection: 74 dB
Image Rejection: 67 dB
PCB dimensions: 70 mm x 100 mm
Antenna Connector: BNC
DC Power Connector: 2.1 mm barrel jack
Phone Jack: 3.5 mm stereo
Key Jack: 3.5 mm stereo
Muting, sidetone (user enabled), T/R switch, external VFO port included

I'm now to the point where I have a small number of beta test kits available, but instead of picking beta testers, I would like to try something different. So this time I'm going to try an "open beta". The product is simple enough that I don't think it will need much in the way of help in going from a beta to production. Therefore, I'm going to open sales up to everyone. The documentation is currently in a basic form, although I'm going to expand it quite a bit before it goes into production. Because of the basic documentation, I would like to ask that only confident builders purchase a kit at this point. It will be more suitable for novice builders in the near future when full production commences. You can check out the documentation here if you want to get a feel for what state it is currently in.

The beta kits will sell for $29 plus shipping, although that price will rise a bit at production. You can see the product page and purchase one on the Etherkit store, but hurry, since there are only eight beta kits available!

Wideband Transmission #2

CC1 Beta Kit For Sale

I ended up having one leftover kit from the CC1 beta test and I thought that an experience builder might like to build it. There are a few minor mods to perform to the PCB, so it's best suited for someone who feels comfortable with that. The (hopefully) final PCB spin is coming soon and will be slightly different, but this version works well, as AA7EE can attest to. I can offer the kit for a discount over the final CC1 retail price, and it's currently available for 20 or 40 meters (although the final retail product will be available for more bands). Contact me at milldrum at gmail dot com if you are interested.

SOTA 12 Meter Challenge

I'm not subscribed to the SOTA reflector, but I saw a post on the VK3ZPF blog that there was an announcement on the reflector that there will be a SOTA 12 Meter Challenge. I think this is a great idea and I want to support it if I can. I haven't made too many 12 meter QSOs, but when I have it seems like the DX has been pretty easy picking. When it's open, the band seems quiet and the signals sound great. The plus for SOTA activation is that a resonant antenna is small and easy to pack.

My original plans for the CC1 were to only support up to 15 meters, but I think I may add 12 meters in order to support this initiative. The DDS in the CC1 is clocked at 50 MHz, so technically I should be able to output a 24.9 MHz signal, although I don't know in practice how well this works at a frequency so close 0.5 Fc. If I can get it to work, I will release it as an available band on the CC1.

New PCBs Are Here!

CRX1 Beta

CRX1 Beta

Here is the latest beta PCB from the Etherkit, the CRX1 receiver! It is all-SMT construction, but I spread out the components a bit more than the CC1 and all of the parts are on one side of the PCB only. It's VXO-tuned for the 40 meter band (a few kilohertz around 7.030 MHz) and is based on the Clackamas transceiver which I entered into the 2010 FDIM Challenge (which means it's also a cousin of the CC1). This receiver has only discrete components (size 0805 resistors/caps, SOT-23 transistors), so it should be fairly easy to build. In other words, a good warm-up for the CC1. It also has a port for an external VFO, so it will be a platform for experimentation as well.

I'll build this PCB up today and verify that it works, then get a few beta testers to confirm that all is well. Hopefully I can get this product onto market fairly quickly, with a low price. Stay tuned for more details as work progresses.

More Stuff For Sale!

I've added some new gear to my For Sale page that would be a great addition to the bench of any homebrewer. Please stop by and take a look!

Emanations from Amateur Radio Station NT7S