Get on 40 meters SSB voice for $59

http://www.hfsigs.com
The BitX40 “you finish it” kit for $59

On tonight’s net, I mentioned that you can get on 40 meters for under $60, and without the need to be a virtuoso on the soldering iron or know tons about radios.  Say hello to the BitX40, an almost completely-finished 7 watt transceiver.  All you need to do is supply a box or case of some sort to put it in, a battery, and an antenna.  Everything else is already there for you.  To finish it, you solder on wires to a few controls, the battery (or 12 volt power supply), the antenna connector, and you’re ready to get on the air.

The BitX series of radios have an interesting back story.  A ham in India named Ashhar Farhan, VU2ESE, was concerned about how low the number of hams there were in his country, as well as other third-world countries.  After pondering this issue for a bit, he decided that one of the greatest problems a prospective ham faced was the high cost of even used ham equipment there.  He set out to make a 20 meter voice transceiver that used less than $20 in materials.  Thus was born the BitX20 about 10 years ago.  He cut costs in some very innovative ways.  For example, instead of the relatively-expensive ferrite toroids that are often used in radios, he substituted fiber or metal washers and wound his coils on them instead.  He decided to limit the power output to less than 10 watts so that a very common power MOSFET transistor could be used.  He also designed a novel main VFO tuning system made from a plastic drinking straw and a coil of wire.  I have one of these original (slightly improved) kits.

About 6 months ago, Ashar decided to try and help employ women in India to make a radio that might sell in higher quantities if he made it easier to build, but still supplied a quality product.  He created the BitX40, and founded a new small business to support it.  This is what I have in a my hands today, and I have to say that it is a very high-quality product, and he’s made it very easy to complete.

Gone is the drinking straw VFO, replaced by a very cool “Radiuino” board.  It is a very hackable Arduino that drives a 2-line LCD display and a DDS chip that outputs a highly-accurate, clean RF signal.  This one item alone increases the “fun factor” quite a bit, and helps contribute to a feeling that you are using a high-quality product that you yourself completed and mounted in your own custom housing.  Mount the display face and knobs to a plastic or metal ammo can and throw in a small battery pack, or put it in a cigar box (do they still have those?), or make your own custom wood enclosure.  It’s all up to you.

I suggest you give this cutie a try.  It’s not very intimidating, you’ll be very pleased with the results, and you’ll be helping some folks in India become more self-supporting.  You can find his website and ordering info here:  http://www.hfsigs.com/

 

 

Super PowerGate: Part of a Ham’s Home UPS

During our tech net tonight, I couldn’t remember the name or model number of the piece of gear that allows me to have my own uninterruptible power supply (or UPS) to keep all my ham gear running, especially when the lights go off.  So here it is:  The West Mountan Radio PG-40S PowerGate.

Along with a decent-sized deep cycle 12 volt battery (1 or more in parallel) and a 13.8 volt power supply, the PG-40S ties them together to give you uninterrupted power, and also keeps your battery charged, ready for action.  It can provide up to 10 amps charging current to the battery when the power comes back on.  It can handle up to 40 amps, or the equivalent of two fully-equipped HF 100 watt transceivers, or as many as four 50 watt-type VHF/UHF mobile radios.

I’ve had mine for years, and can say I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s silent, and the status LEDs on top tell you at a glance what is going on.  The connectors on top are Anderson PowerPoles, pretty much the standard 12 volt connectors in use by all of us these days.  Available at our local HRO stores or mail order.  Price is about $140.  Not cheap, but I can’t live without mine!  We also have this same unit in operation at the WB6ZVW repeater (442.500 MHz, + 5 MHz, 100 Hz PL) on Crystal Peak to handle its battery backup needs.  This one item kept us running without fail during last summer’s big Loma Prieta fire.

Items covered in our 1/4/17 Tech Net

In this week’s first-of-the-month Tech Net, we covered quite a wide range of Q’s and A’s, as well as some new and old laws on the books.

The first of those laws is the new California restriction on distracted driving and cell phone use that does not exempt holding an amateur radio mike or walkie talkie in your hand.  Nobody knows yet how this is going to play out, or if any hams are going to end up being pulled over.  Here is the paragraph taken from State Assembly Bill AB-1785 that defines what a “restricted device” is:

(f) For the purposes of this section, “electronic wireless communications device” includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, a pager, or a two-way messaging device.

I guess we would be caught under the “specialized mobile radio device”, but the wording, and even the definitions they provided, are so vague that I could probably be pulled over for talking into a corn dog.  And yes, they did exempt anyone operating as an emergency services person.

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Along this the above new law is a requirement that the restricted device be mounted to the dashboard.  One of our members reminded us of another law that is in effect that does not allow you to mount anything in the center of the dash, or on the low-center part of the windshield.  You must mount your GPS, phone, or whatever in either the right or left corner of the dash only.  The idea being that anything mounted in the center will obstruct your vision.

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Sugru is a neat, new product that just might find a use around your home or garage.  See it here:  http://www.sugru.com  It is a flexible, heat- and cold-resistant, grippy and moldable polymer that can do some pretty cool things.  After you mold it to the shape that you want, it remains flexible.  Easiest thing to do is to have a look on their website at the pictures and also videos that show some good ideas.  Aaron, W6TDR, brought it up and mentioned that he’s used it.  I have several sample kits of it, but I haven’t actually used it yet.  I also got a fun kit from them that includes some button magnets.  Oh boy!

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We talked briefly about using silicone grease (not silicon!) in RF connectors to displace water and to keep corrosion off of connector pins.  I am also reminded that I used a small tube of silicone grease on several rubber o-rings that I recently installed inside of my new water softener.  Avoid using silicone grease in very high-power RF, since you’ll get carbon tracking and flash-over, but for amateur power levels, that’s probably not a concern.  It is apparently OK to wipe silicone grease on the mating surfaces of RF connectors, and they will be protected from corrosion and presumably will wipe away from the points at which direct metal-to-metal contact needs to be made.  Remember that we are talking about SILICONE the polymer, not SILICON the soft metal that bursts into flames when exposed to a little moisture.  People constantly confuse the two in everyday speech.  Even those that should know better.  If you are ever having trouble remembering which is which, please refer to the “Rule of Two Valleys”:

1. SF Bay Area and Tech Capitol of the World:  Silicon Valley

2. Hollywood, full of “enhanced” actresses:  Silicone Valley

You’re welcome.

See here for further info:

https://www.w8ji.com/dielectric_grease_vs_conductive_grease.htm

http://lists.contesting.com/_towertalk/1998-09/msg00477.html

Dow Corning High-Vacuum Silicone grease comes highly recommended by some 2-way radio pros.  I have my own tube of it that will probably last me a lifetime.  Here is an Amazon link to it:  http://amzn.to/2hZEHAw

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A question was asked about whether DStar is becoming more or less popular, especially when DMR seems to be coming on strong.

My take (my opinion only, of course) is that DStar is declining in popularity, but truly DMR is experiencing explosive growth right now.  Some comparisons:

Even though DStar and DMR use the same analog-to-digital codecs, DMR’s has FEC (forward error correction) built into it, and there is much less “R2-D2” voice garbling than DStar when signal strengths get low.  In fact, because of FEC, DMR seems to get about 10-15% better range than even analog FM can do.  The only downside is that you’ll have to get your ear used to hearing band-limited, digitized audio.  This is the case for either DMR or DStar, BTW.

DStar is supported by one ham manufacturer, Icom, and has never caught on with any others.

DMR is a world-wide standard driven by the need to serve the professional 2-way radio crowd, so even though it didn’t hit the market until 2007, all sorts of radios and infrastructure are available for it now, driving down costs to $100 or so for an entry-level radio.  With DStar, I’ve always been annoyed by the “DStar tax” I would have to pay if I bought an Icom radio.

The best part of DMR for me is the wonderful volunteers that have set up several world-wide networks and charged exactly zero for the rest of us to join in.  There are tons of hams to talk to at any hour of the day.

The only downside to both DStar and DMR is that they have a bit of a learning curve as a barrier to getting started.  You can’t just buy a radio and put it on the air 10 minutes later.  That’s where a knowledgeable ham friend who has been down that road already can be invaluable in getting you started.  Now, that said, let me offer some quick steps to help you at least get to the front door of the house:

  1.  Go to http://www.dmr-marc.net/ and click on “Register ID” in the upper right-hand corner.  You will be registering for a user ID, not a repeater.  On the bottom of the next page, click “User registration” and follow the prompts where they will validate you, making sure you have an active amateur radio call.  Within a day or two, you will get an email from them with your new 7-digit DMR ID number.  You will later program this into your DMR radio.  Note that you can also go back to this website later to see what you or your friends’ DMR ID’s are, or to find the name of the person whose only info that came up was his DMR ID. Here is a direct link to the database search page:  https://www.dmr-marc.net/cgi-bin/trbo-database/
  2. Buy a DMR radio.  Most of us locally have started with the TYT MD-380, and it’s just over $100.  If you have a TYT, you’re much more likely to find help with any questions you might have.  Most of us bought them on Amazon, such as this link:  http://amzn.to/2j199am
  3. Install the MD-380 programming software on your PC (available here as a download after you sign up for their very good newsletter).
  4. Get one of us to email you a codeplug that you can program into your radio, and then you’re good to go!  We can also explain what a codeplug is, and how you can change it to suit your own needs.

Baofeng Throws Down With the New UV-50X3

UV-50X3Baofeng announced the new UV-50X3 tri-band mobile this past week. It is a full duplex, dual receive radio, with 500 memories each side. It features 2 meter, .70 meter, and 1.25 meter operations. Full 50 watts on 2M and 440, with 5 watts on 220. Initial reports are positive. Right now, this seems like a legit contender for those looking for a replacement to the FT-8800 that Yaesu has failed to announce a replacement for since discontinuing the radio earlier this year. Another radio that looks interesting is the new Alinco DR-735T/E. Both of these radios fill a gap left by the departure of the FT-8800 and other dual receive mobiles that have been replaced by significantly more expensive counterparts with digital features and many other bells and whistles that many operators do not feel a need for. Initial testing of the UV-50X3 seem to be positive with good audio reports and clean signals after RF analysis. This is not a UV-5R stuffed into a mobile package like the UV-2501 appears to be. Could Baofeng finally be a contender? Waiting for more reviews to arrive to make the call. Stay tuned!

Update: Miklor has a pretty good review (Of course he does!), including RF data. Check it out here: http://www.miklor.com/BT50X3/50X3_SpecAnal.php

RigExpert – AA-54 vs. AA-600

We’ve discussed the features of the AA-600 as being great, but the over $600 price tag is a turn off.  As I mentioned, I was lucky at one point when HRO had them on sale long ago and I think it was about $550.

 

But, there are lower cost alternatives.  If you only want it for your HF antenna, there is the AA-54 for only $335 at HRO as of today.  Don (AA6W) brought either this or the AA-230 Zoom at our tech night last month and I found it quite similar and seemed to perform well.

 

Here is a review of it at eHam

AA54

AA-1000… I still love my AA-600 (this picture and link are of the AA-1000 which has a higher upper frequency and cost.

New (cheap) Microphone for Yaesu and TYT TH-9800 Radios

MH-48 clone microphoneI found this inexpensive Chinese copy of the venerable Yaesu MH-48 mike on Amazon for $14.99.  At that price, even if the mike doesn’t sound as good as the original, you could open it up and pull out whatever replacement parts you need on your original mike, and throw the rest away!  Turns out that it actually sounds pretty good.  I bought one to try out on my TYT TH-9800 because I’m not too keen on the mike that ships with it.  Oh, it’s not horrible, but if you’re going to make a clone of a Yaesu radio, why not clone the mike as well?

That’s basically what this mike it–a true Chinese knockoff, right down to the “Yaesu Musen” small type and logo!  It pretty much feels like the MH-48 on your FT-1900, FT-2900, FT-8800, FT-8900 and etc.  The only difference I’ve found so far is that the PTT switch doesn’t have the nice tactile feel that the original does.  This one’s kinda squishy, but not horrible.

Anyway…if you’re going to try this out on your TYT radio, you’ll be disappointed to find that the PTT button doesn’t work.  Yaesu mikes run on 8 volts, and the TYT runs on 5v.  So, you have to open up the mike and parallel a 100 ohm resistor across another, then it works fine.

Click on the mike’s picture to go to its Amazon page.  For those with TYT radios that might want to try a “real” Yaesu mike, I’ve uploaded a pdf file containing the instructions for adding the resistor:

Yaesu MH-48 microphone with the TYT TH-9800

Btech 2501 + 220

UV-2501+220 (2)The word of the day is BTech 2501+220. Okay, maybe that is 2 or more words. Several local hams purchased these from Amazon, on sale, for about $100. The results were a bit of a mixed bag. At the heart of it is essentially a UV-5R or UV-B5, with the added band of 220Mhz, in a mobile friendly package, with 25 watts. You can read some some great information at Miklor, so there is no reason to reinvent the wheel here. It is a dual watch radio, with the typical awkward menu system typical of these radios. But once you have programmed a memory location a few times, it goes fairly quickly. And as is also typical, it is easier if you use either software from the BTech web site, or Chirp.

The “mixed bag” experience primarily deals with the transmit audio being fairly muddy, muffled, and dull. One cure is:

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