Friday, February 27, 2015

When Good Caps Go Bad

I've been helping out the guys in Springfield, IL get the W9DUA DSTAR gateway back up and running. We were successful reviving it after some Linux magic and Google-foo I performed a few weeks ago. We did notice that the server would reboot occasionally. Weird, but hey this is amateur radio not public safety.

After a few more hiccups it was time to investigate. Steve, K9CZ brought the server to me to take a closer look. After putting it on the bench and doing some more testing, I got to the point where I could scare it into a reboot on demand. Nothing in the logs, memory was properly seated, Dell diagnostics all passed, and reverting the last OS patch didn't help.

Hmmm....looking around some more...I found these four capacitors on this Dell SC440 motherboard. Yep, they are toast. Something bad has happened in this server's past. I yanked the hard drive and have it in a new machine now...after some more testing it should be back up and running by the weekend.

When capacitors go bad, bad things happen.

Monday, February 23, 2015

WAS most wanted?

This weekend I finally snagged Nevada. Not one of the smallest states in the US, but certainly one that has been elusive to me since getting back into HF in 2013. I had worked a ham in Nevada earlier last year, but my multiple requests for LoTW or a paper card fell into the noise. But this weekend I worked a Nevada station that promised a paper card straight away.

This got me to thinking...with the magic list of DXCC most wanted, is there a WAS most wanted list? I worked every state and received quick confirmations in short order except for Delaware and Nevada. And watching the psk streams go by, I sure see a lot of people asking for NV, and DE. Of course, it depends on where you're located.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Raspberry Pi Sales > 5 Million

This is pretty huge. With a goal of selling a few thousand computers....this UK group has now surpassed 5M in sales of the Raspberry Pi. This is a very small, fully functioning computer. I've got 4 of these doing various tasks around town. They are amazing little things.

KN0WCW - working the FISTS USA Club

I'm back up and running on HF after getting purchasing a very lightly used KX3 from Elecraft to replace my smoked radio! The radio arrived last Wednesday and I was back on the air that night. I've made a few casual contacts using various digital modes. I even worked K1N late in the week with 12 watts with CW on 20M. While not truly QRP, it does show that you don't need a kilowatt to bust a pileup!

Also a notable contact was with KN0WCW/2 - that's KNOW CW - the club call for the FISTS CW Club NA Chapter. Cody was the operator of the night from 2 land. I was slightly embarrassed even answering his CW is rookie level at best, even with the great keyer on the KX3. I couldn't get the /2 to come out right no matter what I did! Cody hung in there with me and we had a nice QSO. I didn't keep him too long so he could log some more. Good job there Cody!

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Fun Weekend

The weekend started with a great surprise on Friday at lunchtime. My good friend Dennis KE9UA invited me over to his QTH to try to work K1N. Dennis is a serious DXer. The picture above shows the gorgeous SteppIR in his backyard. This picture was taken as I headed out after working K1N on my first call. Yep, barefoot at 100 watts on 20m. What a hoot! I smiled the rest of the weekend, and I'm smiling now writing this three days later.

Saturday morning brought me back to the big city to take a look at the WX9WX dstar machine. Coverage wasn't as good as expected, and because of the great logging of the G4KLX software I could see that we had a problem. The duplexer we were using wasn't providing enough isolation, resulting in receiver desense. I usually check this when building a new system but somehow forgot this step this time. A quick swap to a much better duplexer and the problem was solved.

Sunday was a day of then grilling of steaks, took a nap, then tinkered in the barn until it was too cold to be outside. A nice 2M net with friends on the Clinton IL repeater rounded out a fun weekend. I love this hobby!

Friday, February 6, 2015

It's dead, Jim.

My "first" KX3 during its early days at KG9DW.

I heard back from Elecraft yesterday, and my KX3 is officially toast. You see, it wasn't ever designed to have 120VAC applied to the external power connector. As I feared, the current transitioned through the control board, wiped out some components, traveled across the leads to the RF board, took out multiple components, and then exited through the well grounded antenna connection.

Talking through the options, fixing it is cost prohibitive. The guys at Elecraft are working on an option for me, so I'm hopeful I'll have a working KX3 back in the shack in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I've got a loaner radio from a buddy in the shack. It transmits fine but its receiver is so, so deaf compared to the KX3. It's like going from an iPad Air to a Palm Pilot.

In the comments of my last post about this mistake, the suggestion of fusing along with a diode was brought up. I'll definitely be putting more thought into my power supply cables after this costly error.

Monday, February 2, 2015

K1N is Busy

With my KX3 on the fritz (boxed up, ships out tomorrow) I won't be able to join in on the fun in chasing K1N on Navassa Island. But I did manage to sneak in some time this evening on K2SDR's internet enabled software defined radio station. Just listening to the CW pileup makes you wonder if you'll ever be good enough to pick them out of the pile! Here's a view of what 20M CW is like....K1N is the station on the left...the rest to the right are in the pile!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Magic Smoke

There's two ways I learn best - studying other people's mistakes, or making my own mistakes. Today I was the subject of the mistake. My Astron power supply has two meters on the for voltage and one for amperage. I noticed a few weeks ago that the ammeter was reading way too high. I rechecked the voltage, and all was fine. My loads hadn't changed, and my other ammeter wasn't showing anything amiss. I cracked open the case and found the simple pot to adjust. Since I needed to put a load on the supply to set the ammeter I left the AC plugged in. Just as I was connecting up the load, I dropped a lead. Well crud, that wasn't a nice snap or crackle. I blew the AC fuse, which was quickly replaced. I went on with the procedure, buttoned everything back up, and went to check out the radios. Unfortunately it wasn't just a fuse that gave up its magic smoke. My Elecraft KX3 refused to power on. Sitting back a few minutes and thinking through what had happened, I realized I had just exposed my beloved radio to 120V across its DC input. I opened up the KX3 but didn't see anything obvious that I was up to servicing - but I did sniff the board and caught a whiff of magic smoke. A few google searches, a visit to the yahoo group, and the KX3 is packed in a box readied for a trip back to Elecraft. Another mistake, another learning opportunity. And did you know that magic smoke comes from $100 bills? It must, because that's what it costs when I have to have other people put it back in my radios.