First Milestone – 50 DXCC Paper QSL

Couple of days ago, with the last bureau QSL patch arrived, my confirmed paper QSL entities list reached to the nice round number of 50. Its a small step in my hamradio activity, but the first important one towards reaching 100, 150 and so on.

50 DXCC QSL Collection

50 DXCC QSL Collection

I am licensed since 2003, but just from only two years ago, in 2012, I started to take it more serious, setting up a base station and antenna at home, working at least every week, mainly in weekend contests, holiday portable, WFF etc. In total, from 2012, I have made about 1800 QSOs, 99.9% of them QRP, and 86 DXCC countries worked. 

From the whole 50 entities confirmed, only two were non-QRP, ZA, Albania, and VP8, Falkland Islands, worked with 100W from the local club, so 52 more needed to get the DXCC QRP Award :)

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Portable in Macin Mountains, YOFF-009

Last weekend, 5th/6th of July, YO DX VHF/UHF Contest took place, along with other neighbour countries own VHF contests, so together with some fellow hams from our local club, YO4KAK, we went on a field-day trip to some close by hills, 35 km away, in Macin Mountains, which is also a World Flora & Fauna protected area, YOFF-009, Macin Mt. National Park.

I was having this trip in mind for several months, so a few weeks before, while surfing through the IARU VHF Calendar, I spotted this weekend that will be the best one to try out upper bands, since many nearby stations will be active for the contests. So it was! After a quick brief in my head, I sent an email to all of our club members proposing this trip. In the end we were five who decided to go, YO4SCY, YO4GNJ, YO4BEX, YO4CAI and myself.

L to R, Geo - YO4BEX, Victor - YO4SCY, Marian - YO4GNJ, Valentin - YO4CAI

L to R, Geo – YO4BEX, Victor – YO4SCY, Marian – YO4GNJ, Valentin – YO4CAI

For the whole three weeks prior to the departure we made a lot of preparations: finding out what road will bring us close to the camping point, permits to camp in the park, testing generator set for noise in the transceiver, energy plan of the battery, what antennas to bring, what coax to bring, to bring a laptop or not to bring a laptop, critical stuff like canned beer vs bottled beer and so on. Eventually we managed to overkill the entire luggage space in the car with a lot of equipment.

Victor YO4SCY/M

Victor YO4SCY/M

Initial plan was to conquer the highest peak, Tutuiatu, 467m, also a SOTA peak, YO/MM-001 and which has a very clear surrounding good for VHF. To go by feet is quite easy and relatively quick from the nearby village of Greci, about 1-2 hours, but not with that load we took. So we had to go by car, or at least as much close as possible.

Tutuiatu Peak, 467m, seen from the Greci village

Tutuiatu Peak, 467m, seen from the Greci village

To get there it need a lot of detour through north. We had to get to the peak by the back of the mountains on a very heavy forest road, accessible only by tractors and off road cars. For some portions of the road, we passengers had to walk by feet, since the car’s exhaust was kicking the ground; four guys, almost 400 kilos is not negligible :). Unfortunately, Victor, YO4SCY, pushed his car to the limits up there, and ended up with serious paint scratches from the bushes.

YO4SCY checking the road

YO4SCY checking the road

Three hours have passed and we have got nowhere. Eventually we came up in a forest clearing, and it seemed like it was not in our direction and then I remembered this spot from last year when I was in a trekking trip. We let the mountain behind! Crap!

We were lost!

We were lost!

Of course, the best thing to do was to go back. For a couple of minutes we managed to find some gsm signal and we called a local ranger, but we couldn’t explain him where we are so he can direct us, the signal failed again and here we were again without any clue where to go.
Finally, after 2-300 meter on our way back, we found another ranger in the woods, and he showed us the way near the Tutuiatu peak. The road ended up in a small valley, with two mountains on each side.

Left - Tutuiatu, Right - Ghinaltu

Left – Tutuiatu Peak, Right – Ghinaltu Peak

We were all very happy, and thirsty! that we finally made it,  so quickly unpacked and went up to the peak (50-70 m distance). But when nearly reaching the tallest point, I decided to take a 5 seconds break to cool down, and when turning back, in all its splendor, I see Tutuiatu Peak on the other side! We were on the wrong mountain!

Tutuiatu Peak, 467m, seen from neighbour peak, Ghinaltu, 422m

Tutuiatu Peak, 467m, seen from neighbour peak, Ghinaltu, 422m

After a quick debate we came to the conclusion that it will be difficult to climb there with all of our equipment, and after three ups and downs, five people, of carrying stuff from the car and back we set the camp here.

View from our camp, Ghinaltu Peak, 422m

View from our camp, Ghinaltu Peak, 422m

We had the following radio equipment: IC-7000 running 100W on HF and 50W on 2m, wire dipole and 20m vertical antennas, F9FT 9 elements for 2m, 1kW generator and a 62Ah car battery and miscellaneous equipment.

YO4KAK/p camp in YOFF-009

YO4KAK/p camp in YOFF-009

I also took my QRP portable pack with FT-817, Z817 tunner, vertical telescopic antenna for HF, 4 element DK7ZB for 144MHz and 6 elements DK7ZB for 432MHz, all antennas mounted on a 1 meter camera tripod.

Operating on 70cm contest, with my FT-817 and 6 elements Yagi

Operating on 70cm contest, with my FT-817 and 6 elements Yagi

We started working at about 1500 local time. First, YO4BEX worked for YO4KAK/p, in CW 20m and a few in 30 and 15m, for YOFF-009, reaching in two hours to about 95 QSOs.

At 1700, the contest started, so we changed to upper bands. The main station, YO4KAK/p, was working on 2m, and I was working with my callsign in 70cm, with 5W.

432MHz 6 el DK7ZB beaming West

432MHz 6 el DK7ZB beaming West

I was really impressed about QSO-ing in 144 & 432 Mhz. For me it was the first time working CW and SSB in this bands and it is really a fantastic experience. In the end I was able to make 15 contacts on 70 cm and 24 in 2m. The longest DX was RK7K, 479km away, on both bands.

Further in the night, YO4KAK/p switched to HF again, working in Marconi Memorial Contest about 60 QSOs, counted also for YOFF-009.

At about midnight we went QRT, we packed the sensitive equipment in the tent and went sleeping. We barely managed to find a right place to put the tent. All the terrain was rocky and not straight. When I woke up in the morning I didn’t knew why my abdomen hurts, then I realized that I was so tired last night and that I put my sleeping bag on a rock and didn’t felt it during sleep :)

Camp in Macin Mountains

Camp in Macin Mountains

City of Braila and surrounding villages seen at night from the peak

City of Braila and surrounding villages seen at night from the Ghinaltu peak, 422m

Morning came, so at about 0700 I turned the radio on  in 144 Mhz and made a few QSOs. Few hours later, after breakfast, I switched to HF to work in YOFF-009. Luckily we barely had some mobile internet signal and could spot myself to the DX Cluster. Not more then 3-4 minutes passed away and the pile-up began. In about 35 minutes I managed to make 55 QSO in 20m SSB, running with only 5W and a vertical fish-pole antenna .

Mounting the 6 elements 432Mhz Yagi

Mounting the 6 elements DK7ZB 432Mhz

At about noon we started to pack our stuff and headed our way home, of course on the same heavy forest road that took us here, planning to come back again next year, but in a much lighter way with big backpacks each of us and climbing up there only by feet.

All in one, it was a nice experience. I am happy to discover that 144 &  432 MHz are just as interesting as below 30MHz CW and SSB, and now I am looking further to upgrade, test and experiment new stuffs for this bands.

My portable QRP V/UHF antennas, 4/6 elements DK7ZB

My portable QRP V/UHF antennas, 4/6 elements DK7ZB

In the upcoming weeks we plan to go to another nearby WFF protected area, YOFF-017, National Park of Danube’s Small Island, at about 25 km away from Braila, and camp overnight near the river of Danube. Hope to hear you then on the bands!
73s and QRP!

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Minima build log #3 – Sorting the crystals

The Minima main board is starting to take good shape. These days I have soldered the crystals, test the BFO and added some other components to the PCB.

Minima HF Transceiver

Minima HF Transceiver – Progress so far

My 5$ – 100 pcs pack of crystals finally arrived from China, so I proceeded to sort 8 of them. For measuring I have used the BFO schematic from the Minima, built on the small test PCB, and an ordinary PIC frequency counter. Since the counter is not super calibrated I did some relative measurements, just to select eight pieces with the most appropriate values.

Minima HF Transceiver

Crystals sorted

Because of the laziness, I have only tested 50 pcs, but enough to choice the right ones. Very helpfully was using an Excel spreadsheet. I’ve marked the crystals with an unique number, and write down the frequency value associated with that number in Excel, and then auto-sorted. From all the list, the best 8 crystals interval was this one below, with 90 Hz difference between the 1st and 8th in order.

Minima HF Transceiver

Excel list with measured crystals

When adjusting the BFO, I have considered 19.995.500 as the center frequency of the crystal filter, so the two sides frequencies adjusted by the trim caps are 19.994 and 19.997.

Minima HF Transceiver

Minima 20MHz Crystal Filter

The Si570 finally arrived from SDR-Kits. Actually the second package. The first one was lost somewhere by the post service. They were very kind to send a replacement, just paying only the shipping fees. By this way, I would like to thank to them for this gesture.

Minima HF Transceiver

Si570 and Toroids

More or less, I have collected all the parts for the Minima. Hope to put it to work very soon. Still to wind the coils, program the Arduino and wiring between boards and switches-pots.

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Minima build log #2 – Testing switches and AF stages

Today I did some first tests on Minina, and the results were promising.
So far:
- AF amplifier;
- R/T switch circuit;
- LPFs switch circuit;
- BFO switch circuit;
- Microphone amplifier;
- AF Preamplifier;
- CW Tone generator.

Minima Transceiver

Minima Transceiver – Switch circuits and AF stages

Remaining the RF circuits:
BFO, Bi-Di Amp and Mixers, maybe next week when the crystals will arrive from China.

I did also a video with the smoke test. As you can see at the end, the CW tone has a very low level. Not sure if this is normal. It can be heard well into some headphones perhaps, but on an external speaker is weak. I will investigate that later.

In the meantime, Sandeep’s PCBs finally arrived! And they look wonderful! Happy to see my Minima preliminary PCB design machine made.

Minima PCBs from Sandeep, VU3SXT

Minima PCBs, factory made by Sandeep, VU3SXT

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Minima build log #1 – Populating the boards

First episode about building my Minima transceiver.
A few days ago I started to etch the boards and plant some components, and for the moment it looks super nice!

I just soldered all the resistors, except the two 22 ohms in the audio amplifier, and some caps, jumpers etc.

Minima Transceiver

Minima Main Board

Still waiting for the Si570 from sdr-kits.net which I have ordered more than a month, although they said it was shipped on 30th of January.

Also the 100 pcs 20 MHz crystals from China!

Minima Main Board

Minima Transceiver

I noticed that I didn’t left to much space for the electrolytic caps on the board, and if using bigger diameter type (6 mm), like I did here for the 47 uF ones, they touch other components. So I suggest using caps rated at lower voltage, like 25 V, even 16 V, with small diameter. The PCB design have 5 mm space for them.

Minima Transceiver

Minima Digital Board

Next to do is to finish the shopping cart for the rest of components and place the order.

Enjoy homebrewing!

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RF Wattmeter projects worked lately

Last two weeks, having nothing to work on so interesting, and also waiting for some parts for the Minima to arrive, I built this two measurement tools for RF power.

First, this SWR meter project from Ik3OIL which I intend to use it for the 20W RF Amplifer. At the begining I wanted to put inside the amp box, something with LM3914 LED indication for power and SWR, but not to much space was available there, so I decided to make a stand alone meter for it.

Power-SWR Meter

Power-SWR Meter

Second, is this well known RF Wattmeter from OZ2CPU. It is a nice piece of equipment to have in the shack. It uses Analog Devices AD8307 input detectors, and can measure from 1nW to 1W, and up to 1kW with attenuators hooked on.
Is not finish yet, it needs to be calibrated with a good 0dBm source. Without it, it has a precision of 1dB, 0.1dB with calibration. I still have to find a decent knob for the dial encoder, two banana connectors for the DC voltmeter, and make the buffer for the frequency meter output, and also see if the serial TX is workng for a PC data logger.

RF Power Meter - OZ2CPU

RF Power Meter – OZ2CPU

But, even so, his main function, power measuring, is working! Even uncalibrated is showing a very apropiate value. I already hooked on some rigs from the shack, at 0.5W and 1W, and the measurements were realistic. Now I will try also to make myself a good home made 0dBm source, at least till I find somewhere to lend an industrial signal generator to calibrate the meter.

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PCB for Minima HF Transceiver

Updated PCBs on 31.01.2014, see below

Update on 09.04.2014, Errata: the 4k7 resistor from the base of Q23 is missing on both PCBs layouts. You either cut the trace on the main board and drill two holes or place a SMD type, or mount it on the digital board in place of the jumper below the crystal (in this last way, the PTT and R/T pins marked on the silkscreen will be reversed).

These days I did a little work in Eagle on the PCBs design for Farhan’s new Minima Transceiver. As suggested on the discussion group, I split up in two boards, actually three (one optional) as described:

- one PCB for the LCD, Arduino and Si570;
- the Main Board, with the rest of components;
- an optional small board with the PC serial interface.

Minima Transceiver

Minima’s PCBs split

PCB boards revised 31.01.2014
Based on the discussions from Minima group I made a new version of the boards with bigger pads, the holes are now 0.8 mm (1/32″), in some cases 1mm (trimmers, pinhead etc), option for three pins small package trim caps, more ground plane.

PCB

Here you can download the pdf file with all the three boards, set as A4 paper format, 1:1 scale. NOTE: the drawings are mirrored, ready to use for Press and Peel PCB making.

Download PCB.

Components Layouts

Downoad Layouts.

Silkscreens

Downoald Silkscreens.

Eagle CAD files

Download CAD archive file.

Some remarks regarding what components are used:

- resistors have 5 mm grid (suitable for 1/4-1/8W miniature resistors, or 1/4 and up, mounted vertically);
- fixed caps have 5 mm grid, electrolytics 2.5 mm;
- capacitors at the crystal filter are SMD 1206;
- relays: SPDT are Omron G5V-1 12V (or cheaper types: RSY-12, RSM957-P-12) and DPDT are Omron G5V-2 12V (cheaper RS-12 etc.);
- for fancy homebrewers, SMA pcb connectors to Si570 and power amplifier/LPFs. Can be omitted, you can simply solder a small coax into the holes;
- TZ03 small type trimmers. Optional holes on the board for three pin small package trim cap.

Good luck homebrewing!

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Minima Transceiver

Looks like a new QRP transceiver design came from Ashhar Farhan, the creator of BitX. It is a general coverage HF rig, with Si570 oscillator controlled by Arduino and both CW and SSB mode working, that can cost up to 100$ all new parts.

An interesting design approach at this transceiver is the high IF of 20 Mhz, the VFO mixer and the front-end filter, that uses two low pass filters, for operating between 0-15 MHz, respectively 15-30Mhz.

All the information regarding the design and how it works can be found on Farhan’s Minima Transceiver page.
And the discussion group at www.freelists.org/archive/minima/recent

Made me curious to build it, so I am already working on a PCB design :)

Minima Transceiver

Minima Transceiver Schematic

A video found on youtube with a Minima prototype:

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InoReader, the chosen one?

I have a collection of about one hundred (and more to come) websites and blogs which I follow regularly via RSS feed readers, most of them, ham radio related. Couple of years ago, I discovered Google Reader, one of the best and simple RSS reader, but as you already know, they stopped running this service from July last year and since then, a dozen of alternatives were available on the web. I tried also a couple of those, but none of them suits my needs till recently.

I began with Feedly, but it was rubbish. So were Feedspot, The Old Reader etc. Eventually I found Netvibes and I was using it about 4-5 months, but this one had also some big cons. It was working hard, the feeds were updated with some big delay, sometimes, from no reason they were marked again as unread, and most important, no search function (or I couldn’t found it). There are times when I remember reading something at someone’s blog, but I forgot that blog’s name. Typing a keyword in the search box helps a lot by searching throughout all the feeds read.

A few weeks ago I found InoReader. So far for me is the best alternative for Google Reader. It is fast, quick refresh of the feeds, easy to organize the subscriptions, loads also older feeds, even it looks like GR and it has that search function. I hope I will stick to this one from now on.

InoReader

InoReader

73′ Adrian

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Excel QSO Logging

Every end of the year I update my logbook to online logs and QSL websites like clublog.org, eqsl.cc, hdrlog etc. I like to keep my QSOs in a self made Excel logbook. Before, I tried a dozen of logging softwares, but none of them pleased me. Either they offer to many facilities that I don’t need, either less, anyway I kept stucked to my own Excel logger where I can do whatever I need.

A small print screen how my logbook looks like:

Excel QSO log

Excel QSO log

When I am contesting I use N1MM program, so after every contest I also export the log to ADIF and then to Excel with this fine ADIF to Excel to ADIF converter by DL1HW. Same when uploading the log online I use this converter to generate the entire log in ADIF file type.

One thing I couldn’t managed to figured out at this converter is how to include a “QSL received” column needed by clublog.org to count my confirmed DXCCs. So I found this nice step by step tutorial by AB2RF on how to make your own Excel to ADIF converter, with any ADIF information you want.

Now next on my list, before our club annual QSL bureau sending in october, is to generate print labels, same from my Excel log. Was a real pain last year to hand write over 300 cards :)

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