Etherkit, Random Musings

Etherkit Rev B

You may have already seen it, but please allow me to direct your attention to my latest post on the Etherkit blog. For the tl;dr version: sorry to have been quiet on the business front so long, also sorry to have failed to do a good job keeping up on business communications, the OpenBeacon and CRX1 products are being sunsetted (I’ve reduced the price of my limited remaining stock of OpenBeacon to $29), new products and new initiatives are coming in the near future.

I wanted to mention a few more things that I neglected to say in that post. First, I also plan on releasing another revision of the Si5351A Breakout Board for sale as a kit. There are a few bugs to fix on the current version on OSHPark, but it shouldn’t take me too long to get a new revision up there and ready for testing soon. I’ve also reduced the price of EtherProg to only $9, which should make it in line with other similar tools.

To be bluntly honest, it has been a difficult year here on the Etherkit front because of multiple failures, some of which I must keep private for now. However, I have been buoyed by encouragement and help from friends and family, and I plan to redouble my efforts to make Etherkit the company that I envisioned when I founded it.

There will still be quite a bit more to announce in the near future, but now is not quite the time to reveal everything being worked on behind the scenes here. I will have more Etherkit news soon, so as usual, watch this blog for updates.

Thank you!

CC-Series, Etherkit, Wideband Transmission

Wideband Transmission #4

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. I understand that things have been fairly quiet over here in the last few months, so I wanted to let you all know that I’m not dead yet. I’ve actually been working on Etherkit a fair amount in the background, and that has been eating up most of my free work time. I know that things have looked stagnant, but please understand that I have been putting in time to revamp the business and bring some exciting new things to Etherkit. I have a few different, parallel projects going on right now. Soon I will commit to one of them and move forward on that, depending on how things pan out. I suspect I’ll have more to say on the matter in less than a month on where Etherkit will be going in the future.

In related news, I’ve had a few people ask about what’s going on with the CC1. I apologize for the CC1 being a huge bit of vaporware. To be frank, it has been the most frustrating project I’ve ever worked on, but I believe in it strongly enough to attempt to finish it. At this point, as much as I have had fun with the BF998, I believe that in order to make the CC1 the radio that I want it to be, I will have to abandon using the BF998 as mixers and switch to a balanced mixer design, most likely the ADE-1. I’m also looking into adding a small OLED display to the radio, which will also necessitate a large redesign to the mechanical layout of the radio (I’ll probably end up doing the typical TFR design, such as the KX1, KX3, etc.). I’m also impressed enough with the Si5351A that I’m going to try using that as the new VFO and BFO. A brand new CC1 prototype is just getting started on the bench now, so it should be interesting to see how it works out. I’ll post some progress photos and videos to my Twitter feed and the blog, as appropriate.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. It has been a real challenge to try to run a business while also being a full-time caregiver to my two boys. I would say that I haven’t been very successful in doing both, so naturally, the business took the backseat. But now that my boys are getting older (Noah is 4 and Eli is 2.5, can you believe it?), I’m able to spend a bit more time during the day handing business. Things will be moving forward.

Etherkit, QRP

CRX1 Group Builds?

I’m pretty happy with the way that the CRX1 turned out, but understandably I haven’t sold a ton of them because 1) they are a SMT kit and 2) the tuning range is a bit limited. However, it’s a stable and sensitive CW receiver and it’s pretty fun to build as well.

There are still PCBs and a fair number of components left to kit another batch of CRX1s, but I would need to order more components in order to complete a 2nd batch of kits. I’d hate to see these parts sitting around, so I have a potential proposal that I’d like to use to gauge interest for ordering those other components.

I believe these would be great as a group build project for those who have built through-hole kits in the past but want to try their hand at SMT. The circuit board is not cramped and the passives are almost all 0805, so they are not too small. So of there are any of you interested in ordering a batch for a group build (whether for a few friends or for a club) then email me at milldrum at gmail dot com. I can arrange for a bulk discount over the current $30 retail price. The discount will be based on the number ordered.

Finally, wanted to show you a very quick demonstration of the receiver to those of you who haven’t seen it in action before. Take a peek at this video to see it listening to 40 meters.

I could probably work out something on the OpenBeacon as well, if you think your group would prefer to do that instead. Just send me an email to the above address.


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.

Etherkit, SOTA

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!

Etherkit, OpenBeacon

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!

Etherkit, OpenBeacon

OpenBeacon Pre-Release Sale Successful

After a marathon session of hacking firmware, writing documentation, fixing bugs, and setting up my Etherkit shopping cart software, I was finally able to get the OpenBeacon project to a ready-to-sell state. I had enough parts on-hand to make 10 kits, so I spent a good portion of Sunday night getting them all packaged up and ready to go. After a bit of nervous testing, I flipped the switch to the Etherkit store from “sandbox” to “live”.

Once I posted a promotional message to QRP-L and, I sold all of the kits pretty quickly (within about 12 hours, I think). I wanted to post to the KnightsQRSS listserv as well, but I never did get a reply to my email to the list owner to get permission to post my message. They probably would have went quite a bit faster if I had been able to post there.

There were a few folks who missed out on the sale. I apologize for that, I wish I had more kits to sell now. I did re-invest my sales into a large batch of OpenBeacon PCBs, which should be here in about 3 weeks. There’s a small chance I might be able to sell some more before I leave for FDIM, but if not, I will have them back in stock when I return.

In the meantime, I am working on the component changes needed to get OpenBeacon on 80 meters. I also have a request for a quote on custom crystals out to a vendor, so hopefully I can start expanding the bands fairly soon. I’m looking forward to trying to adapt OpenBeacon to 500 kHz, it should be a perfect kit for the band once it’s available to us US amateurs. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

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Etherkit, OpenBeacon

OpenBeacon to ZL-Land

My single HF antenna (a ZS6BKW) is pretty good for multi-band use, but it is fairly lacking in the 30 meter department. So any 30 meter OpenBeacon captures that I’ve been getting have been pretty exciting to me, given that I’m running 300 mW maximum power out of the transmitter. God only knows what my EIRP is. So far all of my captures have been from North Amercian grabbers, so I’ve been craving that magical “across the pond” capture from a far away land (as a side note, why does there appear to be virtually no functioning grabbers in Asia?).

Tonight, I finally got that capture. Two days ago, I implemented QRSS and DFCW (dual-frequency CW) modes with a very long dit time of 120 seconds. This is to allow a very weak signal to be integrated over a long period, such as the 6-hour grabbers available from the few fine hams who provide them. Last night, wasn’t able to get any coherent signals from the most reliable grabber for me, the W4HBK “Pensacola Snapper”, but I could see traces of my signal present. Tonight I turned on my OpenBeacon a bit earlier in the evening and was rewarded with a very nice capture from ZL2IK after waiting about four hours.

You can see my DFCW signal right in the middle near 10.140.000 Hz, with a bit of upward drift as I opened the door to my shack midway through the transmission. As you can probably tell, all of the other visible signals are meant for much shorter capture periods, so you can’t distinguish any callsign information from them in this long capture.

For those folks with actual decent antennas for their band of choice, this mode will allow them to really push the limits of QRPp. The OpenBeacon output power can be adjusted to somewhere around 20 mW, and with in-line attenuators, the noise floor is the limit. It will be fun to see if some people take up the challenge of very QRPp operation when OpenBeacon gets to market soon.

30 Mar 2012 Edit: Here are some more captures from today. The first is from N9VN (thanks Vince!) and the second is from the Pensacola Snapper.

CC-Series, Etherkit

Birth of a Company

EtherkitI’m pleased to announce that I’ve filed the appropriate paperwork, and that my new open source amateur radio company is born! The logo links to the new domain, but there’s nothing on the web yet.

I’ve also given “Project X” a proper name. It’s now going to be known as the CC-series of transceivers (with the current 40 meter beta units being CC-40 models). The beta PCBs are in the process of being manufactured, and are due to get here by the end of January. Once the boards come in and I can build a working beta unit, the real beta test will be on; with any luck by early February. It’s not quite as fast as I had hoped for, but you can’t rush certain things.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on getting the online store functional and navigating the maze of bureaucracy to make sure that I don’t run afoul of some obscure regulations and get shot down before I even take off. The blog updates will pick up again once the beta testing gets going.