Should contest rules allow and act upon 599K QRM reports?

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Elecraft XV144 Transverter (my review)

Had a quick chat with a local ham (Elvin BBA) on 144MHz using the transverter yesterday and all is well apart from being 2.8KHz low on the frequency display on the K3. Actually there is a menu in the K3 to adjust offset in the firmware, but I'm already fully utilising +9.9KHz offset (max) so I'm actually 12.7KHz off. I thought it was something I had done, but apparently Elecraft's supplied crystal part has questionable accuracy. I got an e-mail from another XV144 user saying he had exactly the same problem until he replaced the Elecraft crystal with one from a local supplier and it came up bang on frequency.

So far the XV144 seems to have a very lively RX. Using my 5 ele yagi in the loft (K3 on SSB, 2.7KHz width) I get a constant S6 of noise on the K3 with no pre-amp. In comparison the IC-275E shows S0 on the same antenna. Switching in the dummy load brings this down to S3 on the K3. I used the Elecraft XG-2 mini module to calibrate the K3 S meter on 10m so the discrepancy must be the with the IF input. Listening to GB3ANG beacon it seems louder on the K3 than the IC275E. On both radios I'm getting QRM that sounds like frying bacon (blooming Christmas lights and toy chargers!) so I would expect some signal strength to be registering. I'll need to take the K3/XV144 somewhere quiet and see what it's like, I might even be able to dispense my ext pre-amp.
I have the crystal oven option and on initial switch on from cold the RX drifts about 1.5KHz in under 10 secs then stabilises. I left the radio sitting listening to GB3ANG for about an hour after initial switch on and when I came back in it was still bang on, so pretty happy with regards stability.

The TX side is typical Elecraft. On first tx after power on or band change it takes 5 secs worth of tx audio before the output power starts ramping up to the set level, 3 secs more tx after that it achieves the set output power level and stays stable.
The manual wants the output set up to be max 20W CW key down into a dummy load (even although the front meter goes up to 30W). When set up like this, on SSB the front meter on the XV144 just peaks to 15W (up to 10W LED on solid, 15W LED flickering) on tx audio. This all seems pretty normal when considering PEP to average power readings. Once calibrated using my external watt meter, the output power LEDs on the XV144 accurately track my average power reading. TX audio is reported as a good representation of my real voice.

We'll have to wait to see what Elecraft can do with the offset problem.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Elecraft XV144 day 2

Progress continues on the XV144. Now through the boring mass resistor/capacitor fitting and on to the bigger parts. Board is now looking a lot busier. The low quality plastic trimmer supplied with the kit has no possible chance of fitting the hexagonal inductor trimmer pot. I had to 'sharpen' mine to allow an easy fit. I'm taking my time, doing things right and so far haven't made any mistakes. Christmas has been and gone now (thank goodness) so now only have a birthday, a curling match, a new year party and visiting relatives to slow progress :-).

Friday, 24 December 2010

Elecraft XV144

Merry Christmas All,

Working on my XV144 right now. No surface mount stuff to fit, so all similar to any other kit.
Some things to note:

1) Some of the component pads are smaller than normal, so a really fine tip solder iron tip is necessary (0.3MM or smaller), also really fine solder 60/40 0.5mm is a must to avoid shorts/splashes.

2) There are large copper fill areas on the PCB which act like a heat sink which wicks the heat away from the pads. This means solder tends to prefer to stick to the tip of the iron rather than to the pad. The fine iron tip exacerbates this situation. The solution is a proper variable temperature solder station and maybe a fine iron tip (chisel profile?).

3) Not all component leads when bent close to the component body will fit the PCB. The component has to be offered up and leads bent to fit PCB. Takes a bit longer, not as good/easy as the K2.

4) Some of the larger wattage resistors have to be mounted above the PCB to allow air flow all round the component.

5) Elecraft manual is brilliant as usual

Progress so far-

Monday, 29 November 2010

MM3T using Hams4Hams 18m pole -first use

I used my Hams4Hams 18m pole for the first time over the contest weekend (cqww cw 2010).

Normally I use a 10m vertical (fishing pole) monopole for 40m. I usually guy my fishing pole as it gets very thin at the top and the extra weight of wire and tape causes it to bend and sway violently in the wind.

Not so with the Hams4Hams pole. I missed out the top 3 sections as it dwarfed my house and could be seen from the front. Even so, it allowed me to mount my usual 40m vertical, but now 4m above the ground, therefore less losses. The pole is so thick and heavy duty I decided that I wouldn't need guys in this configuration so long as it was lashed to a sturdy fence post. I also mounted a 80m vertical on the same Hams4Hams pole using a centre loaded configuration.

Each section of the pole was pulled out and tightened against the lower section with a slight twisting action (no quality issues here). I made up the pipe clamps with the supplied rubber and heat shrink following the instructions closely and these worked brilliantly, serving to lock the sections securely. The supplied socket screwdriver was too small for the top section clamps but fine for the lower ones.

Small niggles aside I'm very pleased with my purchase, and this year is my highest score on 40/80m. Thanks to Hams4Hams for a serviceable product.

If you are looking for a cheap alternative to Spiderpole look no further.

Sunday, 28 November 2010


Only a few more hours to go till the end of the contest. I'm sleep deprived and irksome ;-). Over the contest I've come to hate some exchange behaviour:

1) Why does the station I've just worked insist on a final "tu" after my "tu"? This obiliterates any chance of me quickly working the next station in the pile-up...grrrr!

2) cfm, qsl, ok, etc etc etc why why why? This only serves to confuse an otherwise simple exchange. The stations that do this sometimes give my call and/or their own call twice for no reason. I suspect these people are used to data modes.

3) Straight after my CQ someone sends "?", you just know he's just tuned on to you. Can't he just wait for the next call? I suppose this spoils any chance of me making a QSO and him having to wait?

Rant over, I feel much better now :-). Back to 40m now :-(

Elecraft K3 performed brilliantly, no problems! I guess all the updates have made it pretty stable now. The ACOM just sat there and took the punishment without a hiccup (as usual). The Hams4Hams pole held up my 40/80m verticals without drama.

Monday, 16 August 2010

MM3T IOTA 2010

We took our boat from the marina in Tighnabruaich over to a small peninsula on Bute (EU123). I picked the peninsula because it was surrounded by salt water for about 315 degrees and it just happened to be the nearest point to Tighnabruaich. Unfortunately it was at the base of some hills which blocked just about everything from 0 degrees through east to 180 degrees but hey-ho it was a convenient operating site.

My wife Christine dropped me off on the Island and then set off back to the mainland to watch the village's raft race and fun day. The peninsula was completely isolated with access only by boat. There was a convenient landing beach for the boat and a patch of grass for my sleeping tent. I got a full 3 hours of dry weather to put up the following antennas:
15m j-pole
20m j-pole
40/80m inverted L

I didn't have enough time to put up the 10m j-pole as a black cloud decended over proceedings and I had to scamble for cover under my carp umberella/shack. I started the suitcase generator and I spent the next half hour setting up the PC/rig/cat control/software and making mad dashes out into the rain to adjust for minimum SWR etc. I glanced over to mainland and could just see the Waverley paddle steamer come into the pier through the gloom.

I was in the 12hr/low power/dxpedition/cw category so start time wasn't an issue. I guess it was about 13:30UTC before I opened on 20m. The J-pole was working well and low and behold a mini pile-up emerged. I must have been spotted as the pile-up was now getting serious when the SWR started to climb and I noticed the Elecraft K2 transceiver power output throttling back. The rain had been collecting on the horizontal 5m section of 450 ohm ribbon feeder and caused the SWR to rise. A quick shake of the feeder resulted in the SWR dropping back down to normal. Unfortunately this happened every 15 mins whilst the rain lasted.

High points were working a pile-up of JAs with some NA stns in between, even a west coast NA called me. I had to break away from the radio every so often to scare sheep away from the antennas. A seal popped up at one point when I had the headphones off and stared directly at me for several minutes before disappearing, I wondered if it was appreciating the sound of my morse.

I went to bed after adjusting antennas at about 2am and set the alarm for 4am. Unfortunately as soon as my head hit the pillow I started to hear people laughing and shouting. I guessed they were in a yaght moored infront of the Royal Hotel on the mainland, but their voices were clear as day across on Bute. 4am came and I awoke before the alarm to odd "boooosh" noises out at sea. I unzipped the tent flap and looked out into semi-dark across the water. It took a few minutes to discearn that it was gannets diving for fish about 300 yards off-shore. I had never fully appreciated the size of these birds until I heard the noises they made when they hit the water.

I kept an 1hr of operating time in the bag waiting for 10m to open properly, but in the end I received the "come in MM3T your time is up" telephone call from Christine, meaning I had to just get on with it and then start dis-assembling the antennas before she arrived in the boat.

I made about 688 contacts over the 12hrs so I won't be breaking any records, but hopefully I provided some fun to those who were chasing islands. Anyway, thanks to all who worked me.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Elecraft K3 ERR 12V

I was in the middle of the RSGB 80m club championship cw leg yesterday when the K3 suddenly displayed the above error message "ERR 12V". The KPA3 module (100w PA) went into bypass mode and the radio went into QRP mode and the fans came on at level 2. The power control would not adjust past 12W. I switched the K3 off and on again and it allowed me to set the power above 12w, however when I touched the key the K3 displayed the same error message and conditions.

I did a quick google search and came up with reports of this error message from many K3 users. One report suggested that it would be the pcb connection fingers between the RF board KPAIO3 board or between the KPAIO3 board and the KPA3 board (2 sets of connection fingers create a three board sandwich (RF board/KPAIO3 board/KPA3). The user suggested that a slight oxidisation of the pins can occur and cause high resistance on the 12V line. I took the top off, removed the KPA3, removed the KPAIO3 and examined all parts of the sandwich. I cleaned the pins and re-assembled the sandwich (as did the other user). To my surprise everything now behaves as normal.

When I think about it, this design is pretty flawed. You just have to look at the main pwr lead connections to RF board and then look at the poultry size of these connection fingers (2 connecting sets!) to the KPA3 PA unit which draws the highest current in the radio. What were they thinking about?

Hopefully this blog will help others when the inevitable happens.

Hams4hams call

Rolland (PA3FRO) called today after spotting my blog on the internet. He is most concerned about the quality issues I have with my mast and suggested sending me a better fitting end cap. I agreed of course as without a proper fitting end cap damage to the mast is bound to occur (during transportation etc).

I suppose the rest of my observations are fairly superficial, so hopefully now I can just get on with using it. I haven't errected the mast yet due to space restrictions, but I will report back with my experiences (and pictures).

Rolland mentioned that he has already had repeat orders from satisfied customers and with the low price point I'm not surprised. It always pays to do business with real radio amateurs and Rolland's customer service is second to none.

Hams4hams 18m pole

My Hams4hams 18m pole has arrived. It looks a bit rough round the edges:
1) The mast sections are not cut straight, so the bottom section will always touch the ground on one edge and not spread the load evenly on the base.
2) The gloss finish on the bottom section (only one I can see so far), has several deep gouges that has been crudely covered up with marker pen.
3) The stitching that attaches the nylon draw rope to the bag has compromised the integrity of the bag material to such an extent that slight pressure on it when pushing the mast into the bag will cause the bag to rip.
4) The rubber end stopper is too big for the bottom of the mast meaning that the internal mast sections will fall out every time it is picked up.

I've still to make up the clamps but hopefully it will do the job for a 80m monopole.

Monday, 17 May 2010

MM3T IOTA 2010 Island of Bute EU-123 (Antennas)

With a 10m fishing pole and 10m of wire up it, I can get the following bands:

A 20m Jpole (attach coax at approp point near the shorted end of lamba/4 ribbon feeder)
A 40m lamda/4 monopole and 15m by default (attach coax at the open end of ribbon feeder and add some 10m radials to the braid)

1 fishing rod = 3 bands, croc clips on the coax (just clip to the appropriate points and go).

I'm calling it the skELPer :-). Keeps things simple for IOTA, we don't want to spend a lot of time setting up as hard work detracts from the fun. It could also be used as an end fed zepp with the short removed from the ribbon feeder and a tuner attached instead.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

DSP re-work for Elecraft K3

I'm really dissapointed in Elecraft's handling of a recent purchase. I was off work on January 1st and thought I'd purchase a new DSP board for my K3. I purchased the card with the knowledge that there would be a 4 week lead time. 2 weeks after my purchase some erudite questioning on the reflector revealed that the board I had purchased was going to be re-worked and not new as I had been led to believe. I emailed Elecraft 8 weeks after purchase to find out what was happening and they said the delay wasn't their fault as they were waiting for returned boards. I reminded Elecraft that I hadn't bought a re-worked board so any excuses about waiting for returns wasn't valid. I asked for a new board if they couldn't honour the initial deal. I got a very polite e-mail back of the "no-can-do" variety and I am still waiting for my DSP board 12 weeks later. Very, very poor sales and marketing from a company with very good products.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


I have downloaded WriteLog and am currently playing in the RDXC contest. I've racked up 300 QSOs in the last 2.5hrs or so with some pile ups and some blank spells. My usual contest software is WinTest so I guess I'm starting the learning curve a fresh, straight in at the deep end.

First of all I couldn't adjust the CW speed and had to resort to Google mid contest as the help file was blank on this subject. I found a post on a contest website explaining it : go into 'setup->ports' (obvious eh?) and adjust a matrix of speeds to your preference, then use page up and dwn keys to shift between these values (what was wrong with Alt V?).

Then I logged a Q without an exchange and couldn't find for the life of me how to get back in the Q and edit it. Again the manual was no help and google again saved the day with someone else asking the same question : using the mouse click on the offending QSO then click again on the offending field and an edit QSO box opens at that field for you (WinTest you just up arrow into the log and tab across and edit it...simple).

I was using the software to assert PTT and CW through a serial port to a MicroHam DK and then on to the rig. This worked fine with WinTest but out the 300Qs maybe 4Qs came out garbled causing me to reach for the key. I closed all other program down and the CW decoder to ease the pressure on the CPU but it still did it occassionaly.

I noticed that if you press enter before you complete the call field you get less time to complete than with WinTest. I found that even although I had completed the call before it was sent, the last letter was missed leading to unnecessary repeats from the other station.

The CW decoder is a great idea and works well. I preffer not to use the RTTYRite one and instead use the standard decoder (that said I didn't look at it at all during the 300Qs). The standard decoder is docked but RTTYRite opens in a separate window which you can't dock. The same goes for the bandmaps, they float on the desktop meaning you have to shrink down WriteLog to see them. WinTest doesn't have a CW decoder but at least the bandmaps are docked.

So far I can't see a way to send a spot on the bandmap straight to the B VFO :-(.

I only have V3 of WinTest so didn't have ESM capability, so it was nice to find that WriteLog does....finally something positive!

Anyway it all sounds negative, but mostly I just have to get used to a new way of doing things. At this early stage I think V3 WinTest is superior, but it has it's quirks too.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Elecraft K3 Macros

The K3 now has the facility to use macros (previously downloaded to the K3 using the K3 Utility program). You can assign these macros to the K3's M1-4 keys. Both tap and hold functions of these keys can hold a macro, thus giving 8 posibilities. You can also use the the PF keys, but I use these for quick menu access. The macros can be cancelled/assigned very quickly to allow use of the DVR or CW memories.

Key: M1T
Name: RXEQCLR (RX EQaliser CLeaR)
Macro: AI0;K31;MN008;SWT53;MN255;K30;

Key: M2T
Name: RXEQCWF (RX EQaliser CW Flat)

Key: M3T
Name: TXEQCLR (TX EQaliser CLeaR)
Macro: AI0;K31;MN009;SWT53;MN255;K30;

Key: M4T
Name: TXEQMID (TX EQaliser MID & top range gain)

Key: M1H
Name: SPLIT+2
Macro: SWT13;SWT13;FT1;UPB5;RT0;XT0;

Key: M2H
Name: RXEQCWS (RX EQaliser CW Sharp)

Key: M3H (QSY to RWM 14.999MHz CW)
Name: RWM1499
Macro: FA00014996000;MD3;FA00014996000;BW0040;

Key: M4H
Name: TXEQTOP (TX EQaliser TOP range gain)

Now I can get some use from the TX and RX Equalisers without having to have a PC permanently hooked up to the K3. Let me know any good macros you have developed.