OpenBeacon In Production


My apologies for being a bit neglectful of the blog. Since a few weeks before FDIM, I've been in a mad frenzy to get OpenBeacon kits into production, get the Etherkit website up and running, do a better job of completing OpenBeacon documentation, supporting the inevitable hiccups that come with a new product release, and start working on development of my next kit. Between that and taking care of two little boys during the day, I'm sure you can imagine that something has to give.

So I wanted to let my loyal blog readers know that the OpenBeacon QRSS/DFCW/Hell/CW transmitter kit is in full production and is available for you to order. Currently the kit is available on the 30 meter frequency of 10.140 MHz, but I am working on getting a batch of crystals ordered so that I can start to expand the band offerings. The slow-speed CW modes are an excellent way to experiment with propagation, and it's a lot of fun to see how far a QRPp signal can go with these modes.

Thanks, hope to be able to give you more content soon!

Inkscape Manhattan Layout Template

I had a lot of requests for the Manhattan Layout Template that I mentioned in my FDIM seminar. Here's a quick & dirty link to the file. I consider it licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA, although I haven't indicated it on the document yet. Hope you enjoy and put it to good use!

Manhattan Layout Template

Dayton Or Bust

I've got another grab-bag of miscellaneous news for this post, but I'm going to lead off with the big one: I'm going to be a presenter at the world's preeminent QRP convention: Four Days In May 2012. The tentative topic for my presentation will be about the free and open source tools that I use in the development of my products and how you can put them to use in your own homebrewing endeavors. This will be my first time speaking to an audience larger than about 25 people, so I hope that I can provide an entertaining and informative talk at such a prestigious event. I'll be speaking in front of a lot of people who I consider to be much more capable than I and some who I consider my virtual Elmers. It is my sincere desire to not disappoint.

I am very excited for the opportunity to go back to Dayton so soon after my last trip. I really didn't expect to have the chance to go again for quite a few more years, so the ability to get back to the convention after only two years is a great blessing. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Jennifer, who didn't hesitate to encourage me to go, even though she will be dealing with a 2-month-old baby and a near 2-year-old by herself for a few days while I'm away.

In other news, I feel like I've gotten over the steep part of the learning curve with Kicad, having successfully made PCBs for my little Twin-T code practice oscillator. You can see a short video of it in action above. The output level is suitable for modern, sensitive headphones, but if you want room-filling audio such as in my video, you'll need to connect it to an amplified speaker. The PCB is designed to fit in the ubiquitous Altoids tin, with room to spare for a 9 V battery.  I expect that this will eventually make it to my stable of products, but it's low priority considering the long delay on the CC-Series and the need to get it ready to sell by May. If you are really interested in the project, write a comment or shoot me an email (milldrum at gmail) and I'll see if I can't work something out to get you hooked up with a kit early.

The OpenBeacon project is cruising right along. Now that I know that I can successfully make a PCB with Kicad, I've taken the plunge and decided to migrate all of my workflow there (I think this will include the next board spin of CC-Series, since there are so many changes to be made there will be no real advantage to staying with TinyCAD/FreePCB). The OpenBeacon PCB design is nearing completion. Once I get a shipment from Mouser in the next few days to verify that my newly-created PCB footprints match the actual physical components, I'll be ready to submit my CAM files to Seeed Studio for prototype boards. With any luck, I'll have them back within about two weeks. (Protip: it's worth taking the time to place your component against a 1:1 printout of your Gerber to make sure it will fit. Don't ask me how I know this.)

Once those CAM files are off to China, it will be full-bore on the CC-Series. With the deadline of mid-May staring me down hard, I figure I will have to get those CAM files out within no more than three weeks. That will put me into mid-March for getting the PCBs back, which will give a pretty slim margin of time to beta test and prepare the kit for final sale. Going to be pulling some long, late-night shifts...that I can already see.

I've also got a few more projects in the pipeline for after FDIM and the deployment of CC-Series and OpenBeacon. The first is a fairly simple and inexpensive VXO DC transceiver that I hope to initially kit for the high bands of 10, 12, and 15 meters. It uses a topology which is somewhat unique. The other is an extrapolation of the receiver circuitry of this rig to use as a dedicated QRSS grabber receiver. But I may be getting a bit ahead of myself. Let's get this CC-Series launched, then see where the winds take us.

Dayton/FDIM 2010 – Days 4 and 5

Hamvention Balloon Launch

Once again, I owe you an apology for the great delay in getting my Dayton/FDIM posts published. It has been over a month since the event, which is far too long. Preparing for the arrival of the baby has taken up all of my spare time. This will be my final Dayton/FDIM post. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday started off with me hanging out at the Hamvention flea market. On Friday, I had seen approximately half of the flea market stalls, so I made it my goal to visit the rest of them on Saturday. It took me most of the morning to see the rest of the incredibly huge flea market. My feet could attest to the amount of travel it took to visit all of the flea market vendors. I didn't score anything particularly earth shattering, but then I wasn't really on the lookout for any equipment like I would be at a local hamfest. After getting an appropriate amount of blisters, I decided to take it easy by parking my butt at N8ZM's flea market spot and reading my newly acquired copy of The Complete DXer (signed by W9KNI, no less). Between reading stints, I wandered the halls of Hamvention a bit, not looking for anything in particular, just taking more time to examine the things that I breezed through on the first day.

No lids, no kids, no...

Sometime around noon, a high altitude balloon was launched on the back side of Hara, right around the corner from the N8ZM flea market spot. When I arrived the launch team was just finishing filling up the balloon in the loading dock on the back of Hara (to quite a large audience). Once that was done, they got the payload hooked up fairly quickly, then a team of guys holding various portions of the payload line maneuvered the balloon outside and let 'er rip. We even had our own cosplay astronaut to bless the voyage. I don't recall how high the balloon ended up getting, but it sounds like the mission was fairly successful. I believe that they payload was recovered somewhere near Columbus.

After a fairly relaxed day at Hamvention, it was time for the big FDIM banquet back in Fairborn. Fortunately, I managed to avoid the previous day's SNAFU by securing transportation in a timely fashion (many thanks to N8ZM for allowing a near stranger to borrow his pickup!). I arrived fairly early and picked a table near the back of the room like a true introvert. The tables were slowly occupied until the banquet room was nearly full, which was quite impressive. My table ended up being filled mostly with hams who were strangers to each other. I had the opportunity to meet some nice gentlemen and have some pleasant talk about this and that. Somehow I also got lucky and found my name on the pre-drawn door prize list for a shiny new 2010 ARRL Handbook. That was a bit of a shock, as I very rarely win anything by chance (except perhaps poker).

Dinner was served, and we had the pretty standard hotel banquet dinner. It wasn't too bad...nothing to write home about, but I've had much worse. After dessert, the awards ceremony was started in short order. I won't bore you with the tedium of all of the details, but there were some incredible moments that I won't forget. The first was when Rex Harper, W1REX accepted the QRP Hall of Fame induction on behalf of his silent key friend Dave Ingram, K4TWJ. Poor Rex was choked up through most of his acceptance speech. You could tell how hard he was impacted by the emotions of the whole things. I certainly can't blame him, I doubt I could have kept it together under the same circumstances. A bigger shock came even later, when QRP ARCI announced that Rex himself would also be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Rex came backup to the podium and gave a very touching, heartfelt acceptance speech.

After announcing the winners of the various homebrew contest winners, they finally got around to announcing the winner of the 72 Part Challenge. After seeing the competition I was up against two days previously, I knew I wasn't going to win but that didn't really matter to me. It turned out that the big winner was Harold Smith, KE6TI, with an 80 meter transceiver with a very wide tuning range. An amazing bit of work and a well deserved victory! The rest of the competitors (NM0S, NC9H, KD1JV, and myself) all got very nice framed honorable mention certificates, along with a modest bit of prize money. Certainly more than I expected. The judges (W4QO, G3RJV, and W1RFI) stated that it was a very difficult decision for them and they thought that all of the competitors brought worthy radios. There's no doubt that it's an honor to stand as an equal amongst such notable QRPers. The whole contest was an incredible experience in which to participate.

The banquet, and FDIM itself, wound down with some after dinner talk with some of the folks who stuck around in the banquet room. We had a nice bluegrass jam as our background music while we got to shoot the BS with new and old friends. I stuck around for an hour or so, then made back for N8ZM's house with his truck before I made him too nervous! Another 18 hour day of ham radio insanity under my belt.

Sunday was the day for me to lick my wounds and do my last little bit of wandering around Hamvention. I stuck around the N8ZM flea market spot for a good portion of the day, and made multiple trips to the wonderful smelling pizza stand placed strategically placed 20 feet away from the our flea market spot. Of course, I also had to partake one last time in the bratwurst that the cowgirl roping team was selling just a few rows away. There was a bit more browsing through Hamvention, but I felt like I had already seen most of what I wanted to see. By the end of the day (really 2 PM or so), I was ready to go. Truly, I had reached my saturation point.

When I got back to N8ZM's house, I managed to snag a real bed, as some of his other guests had already left. My head hit that pillow and I was out cold for about 12 hours or so. I woke up hungry at some point in the middle of the night because I had slept right through dinner, so I raided the fridge, then proceeded to hibernate some more. I think that N8ZM and W8NF were getting a little bit concerned, but I needed the sleep badly!

Our flight out was on Monday evening, so I got to spend most of the day on Monday just relaxing at N8ZM's house until it was time for our flight. I won't bore you with the details of my uncomfortable flight back; all that matters is that we all made it back home in one piece.

I don't have any profound wisdom for my conclusion. The experience had many wonderful moments and a few that left me gritting my teeth and wanting to pull my hair out (if I had any left up top). I'm really happy that I managed to make it work out, regardless of any bumps in the road that I encountered. Next time (which will probably be many years from now), I think I'm going to focus on FDIM even more and stay in the FDIM hotel. That's where I had the most fun. Not that Hamvention wasn't great as well, but for me it was more about connecting with my fellow QRPers and homebrewers, not checking out all of the shiny new stuff at the booths. And perhaps next time, I'll have a little budding homebrewer in tow.

Dayton/FDIM 2010 - Days 2 and 3

Hans Summers Presenting at FDIM 2010

Please accept my apologies for the long delay in posting my impressions of Hamvention and FDIM. I was literally on the move every waking hour of my time in Dayton on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Up about 6 AM to shower, at Hamvention all day, then FDIM at night. Back to N8ZM's house around 11 PM to crash in the easy chair. I've never worked so hard to have fun. My writeup is going to focus mostly on FDIM, since that was the main reason that I was in Dayton. I probably can't give you much information about Hamvention that you haven't already heard thousands of times from other hams. Besides, the muse has taken leave from me again, so I don't want to butcher this recap any more than is necessary.

My adventure in Dayton got off to a proper start on Thursday, which was seminar day at FDIM in Fairborn. I arrived around 7 AM, which was a bit early, but I got a chance to get a seat pretty close to the front of the room. By the start of festivities at 8 AM, the room was pretty much full. There had to be more than 200 attendees (I unofficially heard that this was the best attendance at FDIM in a few years).

There were a total of six presentations for the day. I'll give you a brief rundown of my impressions of each one.

  • K8ZT - The morning started off with a presentation by Anthony Luscre, K8ZT about strategies for being successfull in QRP contesting. The PowerPoint deck for this talk came in a over 140 slides, which meant that Anthony had to rip though the slides at a lightning pace. He gave some good inspiration to those of us who have not yet taken the QRP contesting plunge.
  • G0UPL - Next up was world-class homebrewer Hans Summers, G0UPL. His presentation was about his QRSS efforts. About half of his talk covered information that is already on his website, but he did get into some areas that I haven't seen him cover before. I especially enjoyed seeing his natural power battery experiments. At the end of his talk he announced the sale of a kit version of his latest QRSS transmitter, which I'll cover later on. He came with the stereotypical dry British humour (LOL), which I enjoyed immensely.
  • G3RJV - My favorite talk of the day was given by the legendary Rev. George Dobbs, G3RJV. He did a masterful job of combining a grand tour of simple receiver designs with more philosophical aspects of our hobby. You can tell that Rev. Dobbs has honed his public speaking skills quite well from his years in church.
  • NE1RD - After lunch break we were treated to a great talk by B. Scott Andersen, NE1RD on the topic of his 100 Pound DXpedition. While the 100 Pound DXpedition is not a QRP-specific topic, NE1RD put a QRP spin on the talk by focusing on his recent CQ WPX QRP efforts on St. Thomas.
  • K8IKE & K4ZLE - Jim Everly, K8IKE, and Jay Slough, K4ZLE brought a power-packed presentation about  acquiring a set of "good enough" test gear for the homebrewer and how to use this gear to perform a useful subset of the ARRL lab procedures for RX and TX performance. We also had a bit of good-natured sarcastic side commentary from Ed Hare, W1RFI from the League's lab. This was extremely useful stuff and I wish that they had a little more time to delve into this topic.
  • K9AY - The final talk of the day was from prolific FDIM speaker Gary Breed, K9AY. He covered low band QRP operating; mostly focusing on the challenges of deploying a useful DX antenna on these bands. Gary brought some good information, but unfortunately he had to compress the end of his speech quite a bit because he ran long in the first half. Fortunately, the proceedings had all of the information that was skimmed over.
FDIM 2010 Thursday Vendor Night
FDIM 2010 Thursday Vendor Night

After a long day of sitting and listening to speakers all day long, we had a few hours to get up, grab some dinner, and stretch our legs. By 8:00, the main ballroom was reconfigured for QRP vendor night. The room was not 100% filled with vendors (as you can see in the photo to the right, most of the tables in the middle of the room were empty), but there was still quite a bit to see. Hendricks QRP Kits had the largest display, but Diz from was probably a close second with his huge stock of 'roids, components, and RF Toolkits. As I mentioned earlier, Hans Summers announced the sale of his latest QRSS transmitter as a kit with a PCB and a microcontroller that he would custom program with your callsign. This was the most popular item of the night. For nearly the entire two hours of Vendor Night, there was a large line of people waiting to purchase a kit and have it customized by G0UPL. I hope this sparks a lot more QRSS activity here in the States.

K3PG Sonic Tray Chassis Willamette
K3PG Sonic Tray Chassis Willamette

One very neat aspect of the night was getting to meet a bunch of the QRPers that I've known for years via the mailing lists but have never seen in person. Some of the highlights that stand out for me were my introductions to WA0ITP, K3PG, K8IQY, NM0S, KC2UHB, W8DIZ, and WB8ICN (sorry if I missed anyone!). It was a pleasure to finally be able to shake hands with my peers and mentors. I'd like to give a special shout-out to Diz for his salty greeting! That's the way to make a guy feel like a part of the gang from the first minute! I loved it! It was also a treat to have a good, long conversation with K3PG, whose enthusiasm for the Willamette was truly humbling, as well as infectious. Chatting with WA0ITP seemed like two old friends talking. I've collaborated with him so much via e-mail that it seemed perfectly natural to pick up where the electronic communications left off.

I hate playing favorites, but I think the true highlight of the night was meeting Mikey, WB8ICN. I was sitting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, working on my laptop and waiting for the Vendor Night festivities to start. I wasn't paying much attention when a couple set down in the chairs opposite from me. They were having a lively conversation for quite a while, but I was engrossed in reading the FDIM Proceedings CD that I purchased earlier in the day. After a while, the gentleman sitting there was getting more and more animated in his conversation. At that point, my curiosity got the best of me so I had to check out what was going on. Something seemed vaguely familiar, but it took me a few moments before I saw the shirt with "WB8ICN" embroidered on the chest. Of course, I got up and introduced myself to Mikey and his wife Marybeth, which seemed to take him by surprise a bit! We had an awesome conversation and were probably getting a bit louder than we should have been. That was the only time we got to talk at Dayton and I wish I had more time to BS.

I'm only going to skim over Friday, since it was a bust regarding FDIM. Hamvention was as large and as crazy as everyone had said it would be, especially the flea market. Sometimes I get a bit overwhelmed in such huge venues, so I wasn't really acclimated to what was going on until Saturday. I imagine that I looked like a lost puppy dog wandering around. Hara is pretty old and decrepit, but that certainly didn't slow down any of the activity. The only thing that was really "offensive" to me about the place was the bathrooms. I never used them at Hara, but just walking within 30 feet of the entrance was enough to make me want to gag. I think I still have nightmares about the smell alone. God help anyone who actually had to use them

Due to a bit of a communication error on my part, I didn't make it to Friday's FDIM activities until the event was almost over for the night. So I'll just skip right on past that and get to the good stuff about the Saturday night banquet in my next post.

The Clackamas QRP Transceiver

Clackamas Schematic

Since FDIM 2010 is in the history books, it is my pleasure to finally publicly release my entry into the FDIM 2010 QRP Challenge: The Clackamas 40 Meter Transceiver.

The rig is a VXO-tuned superhet that operates around 7.030 MHz. The heart of the design is the BF998 dual-gate MOSFET (which was popularized by W7ZOI on his website and in EMRFD). The BF998 is used as the front-end mixer and as a combination product detector/BFO. My new favorite AF amp, the TDA7052, is my choice for the single allowed IC. The VXO signal is mixed with a carrier oscillator in a JFET mixer, which is then bandpass filtered and fed to a BS170 power amplifier.

Please download my contest writeup for full details of the design. I'll dissect the design in further detail in future posts.

Dayton/FDIM 2010 - Day 1

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet. Wednesday was travel day and while the actual travel was uneventful, I had a pretty rough time. Dave W8NF, Carl WS7L, and I got to the airport on time (up at 0300, not fun), our flight took off on time, we made our connecting flight just fine (even though they switched the gate at the last minute), and we made it to Dayton pretty much exactly as expected. The problem was that I got airsickness in the middle of our first flight. This is the first time it's ever happened to me, and I think it's because the cabin temperature was so warm. It really didn't help that the air blower was blowing out hot air most of the time. Fortunately, no vomiting this time, but I was pretty queasy the entire remainder of the day.

We made it to the home of our gracious hosts Tom N8ZM and Barb and got settled in just fine. Things didn't work out so that I was able to make it in for the Wednesday FDIM check-in, but that was OK with me since I was feeling so rotten. After sleeping off the sickness and getting a really nice shower, I'm all ready to go for the first real day of festivities. Let the fun and games begin!

Dayton/FDIM 2010 - Pre-Game Report

Really, she did

Today got off to an inauspicious start. When I got home from work this morning, I started gathering together my clothes and travel items. I came out of the guest bedroom (soon to be the baby's room) and whacked three toes on my right foot right into the trim around the door. As you might imagine, a loud stream of profanities spontaneously erupted from my mouth. Just like a coach would tell you to do, I walked it off and went back to my chores. I figured that it would feel better after a nap, but I was wrong. Now it feels like I broke the ring toe on my right foot. (When I told Jennifer, what was her reaction? To laugh at me. No respect...) I can still walk reasonably well while in shoes, so I'm hoping that it will hold up well enough to heal by the time that I need to be on my feet all day. (As a side note, this is not the first time I've done this. Years ago, I severely damaged the tendon in that toe and now it won't bend down. Because it always sticks straight out when the other toes are curled, it is prone to get damaged quite easily.)

A Study in Packing Efficiency
A Study in Packing Efficiency

Enough whining for now. I'm a bit of a novice in traveling lightly and efficiently. I decided that I would bypass checked baggage and carry my luggage onto the plane. Packing for a five day trip in a 20-inch bag is a bit of a challenge, but I think I've got the task pretty well in hand. A few people on QRP-L have heavily stressed the idea of dressing in layers, so I've left all of the heavy clothing behind. There's plenty of "foundation" clothes like light shirts and shorts (I'm an Oregonian, I wear shorts anywhere from 40°F and warmer), then a few warmer items such as pants and a light sweatshirt, and finally a light waterproof windbreaker. I think this strategy is pretty sound, especially since I tend to get overheated very easily. It will be nice to be able to shed light layers as necessary to cool off or only wear the windbreaker over a t-shirt if it turns out to be 70°F and raining like some people are predicting.

Since room is at a premium, I'm going to be severely limiting the radio gear that I'll be taking. I have to take the Clackamas for judging, and it may be the only radio that I pack. Should I take an HT? I use my HT so little that it has a thick layer of dust sitting on it right now. I suspect that it won't be very useful due to the heavy use of the VHF bands in the area, but then again this is an amateur radio convention. I guess if I can find a little room I might squeeze it in.

So now the plan is to take Jennifer out to a nice dinner to give her a little treat for being so understanding about my desire to go to Dayton this year, come home to finish packing, grab a few more hours of shut-eye, then get up at 0300, pound down some coffee, and get going to PDX by 0400. I'm getting excited!

A Brief Update

Family commitments and issues have kept me from doing much radio related stuff lately, which is why I haven't blogged much recently. When I have had some spare time, I've been using it to complete the documentation for my FDIM 2010 QRP Challenge entry, which I finally finished and submitted last night. After attending a marathon childbirth class last weekend with Jennifer, I did get a chance to operate for a few hours in 7QP, which was a nice bit of time away from "real life". I stuck to phone only because I still don't feel like I have the mental acumen to tackle CW contesting for more than a few QSOs. Even though I only got to operate sporadically, I did double my score from last year, so that was kind of cool. I think I got QSOs with all of the New England states because their QSO party was running concurrently with ours.

Now I have to get ready to fly out of here next week for Dayton. I don't know if I'll be able to liveblog from Dayton, but I'll do my best to get some photos and initial impressions up on the blog while I'm still there. I hope to get at least one post up each day I'm there. I can't wait to meet all you QRPers at FDIM!