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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Understanding Maxwell's Equations (video)

And you should also look at the accompanying web site: 

Writing about the equations, the author notes, "They are formidable to look at - so complicated that most electrical engineers and physicists don't even really know what they mean.  This leads to the reason for this website - an intuitive tutorial of Maxwell's Equations. I will avoid if at all possible the mathematical difficulties that arise, and instead describe what the equations mean. And don't be afraid - the math is so complicated that those who do understand complex vector calculus still cannot apply Maxwell's Equations in anything but the simplest scenarios. For this reason, intuitive knowledge of Maxwell's Equations is far superior than mathematical manipulation-based knowledge. To understand the world, you must understand what equations mean, and not just know mathematical constructs. I believe the accepted methods of teaching electromagnetics and Maxwell's Equations do not produce understanding. And with that, let's say something about these equations.

Thanks to Armand WA1UQO for sending me the wonderful book about Faraday and Maxwell that put me -- once again -- on the path toward a deeper understanding of their work.  

Friday, July 28, 2023

Phase Noise and the Radio Amateur

A weak signal disappears in the phase noise of the stronger signal.

The March 1988 QST provides a relatively clear explanation of what phase noise really is:


Phase noise is an undesired variation in the phase of the signal. In this case, an oscilloscope shows that the time between zero crossings of the signal varies over time when compared to the zero crossings of an ideal sine wave. An exaggerated example of phase noise is shown above.

Phase noise on an oscillator signal has exactly the same effect as frequency modulating the oscillator with noise.

Whenever a carrier is passed through a mixer, the phase noise of the oscillator driving that mixer is added to the carrier.

Phase noise on a transmitted signal causes effects identical to phase noise generated in a receiver.

Any signal that reaches a mixer in the receiver is modulated by the phase noise in the local oscillator driving that mixer. As such, the signal appears to have at least as much phase noise as the local oscillator. Thus, sufficiently strong signals off the receiving frequency can degrade receiver sensitivity by raising the noise floor at the receiving frequency. Receiver dynamic range is reduced as the noise floor rises.

With a frequency-shift-keyed or- a phase-shift-keyed signal, the close-in phase noise limits the maximum bit error rate that the system can achieve. Both of these effects can be quantified once the communications system is defined. With an SSB voice signal, the effects are much harder to predict, but excessive phase noise does degrade SSB signal intelligibility to some extent.

Receiver guru Rob Sherwood provides some very useful historical background on his web site:


Phase Noise: Old radios (Collins, Drake, Hammarlund, National) used a VFO or PTO and crystal oscillators to tune the bands. Any noise in the local oscillator (LO) chain was minimal. When synthesized radios came along in the 70s, the LO had noise on it. It is caused by phase jitter in the circuit, and puts significant noise sidebands on the LO. This can mix with a strong signal outside the passband of the radio and put noise on top of the weak signal you are trying to copy. This is a significant problem in some cases: You have a neighboring ham close by, during Field Day when there are multiple transmitters at the same site, and certainly in a multi-multi contest station. You would like the number to be better that 130 dBc / Hz at 10 kHz. A non-synthesized radio, such as a Drake or Collins, has so little local oscillator noise the measurements were made closer-in between 2 and 5 kHz.   

Experimental Methods in RF Design (EMRFD) has this to say about phase noise:

"The local oscillator is a critical part of any communications system. Modern transceiver performance is often compromised by LO systems that suffer from excess phase noise, effectively limiting the receiver dynamic range. While quiet oscillators, those with low phase noise, can be built using traditional methods, these circuits often lack the thermal stability of a synthesizer.... Frequency synthesis is not, however, the answer to all the LO problems presented to the experimenter.  Some PLL synthesizers are burdened by excessive phase noise. Those using DDS, while quieter, emit spurious outputs, often in profusion.  Both use an excess of digital circuitry that can often corrupt a receiver environment."  page 4.1
"At first glance, phase noise sounds like an esoteric detail that probably has little impact on practical communications.  This is generally true." page 4.12 


Hans Summers G0UPL analyzed and measured the phase noise of the Si5351a chip: 



DC4KU appears to be using the crystal filter method used by Hans: 



Martien PA3AKE has done a lot of great work on this topic.  See: 



Dean KK4DAS commented on the phase noise video of the IMSAI guy: 

Watching the video I was reminded of Segal's law roughly paraphrased as follows.:

A man with one spectrum analyzer knows his phase noise. A man with two is unsure.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

First Contacts with 15-10 Rig -- Two Atlantic Crossings


I was just testing it, working (as usual at this stage) on final amplifier stability.   Then I heard ON5WO calling CQ.   I could not resist.  I worked him, but had to use a test lead to manually key the .1 kW amplifier.  Minutes later I worked OH6RM.  He very diplomatically said that I had "highly unusual audio."  This was probably due to earlier efforts to shift the carrier oscillator to improve carrier suppression. (I will fix this.)  

I will continue to work on the rig; It should look a bit better when I am done.  But hey, it works!  It has already crossed the Atlantic. Twice!  

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

"Onda Corta" ("Shortwave") -- A Short Film about Ham Radio in Venezuela (Please ID the Boatanchors!)

I have it cued up to 9:43 -- at that point Ramon is in his ham shack.  
Lots of good stuff in there! 

Please ID the rigs/parts you see and list them in the comments below. 

This version has subtitles in English.  I like it -- a nice story.  And the whole film is only about 15 minutes. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

Going Down the Phase Noise Rabbit Hole with the IMSAI Guy (VIDEO) -- Is there a better way?

Chimera:  2.
a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve.
(from the Oxford English Language Dictionary). 

Phase Noise.  We know what it is, but how do you measure it?  Pete N6QW and I went through this back when people were casting phase noise aspersions at (Pete's!) beloved Si5351.   More recently phase noise hate  has been focused on (my?) beloved Franklin oscillator.  When I asked a very technically proficient and guy at the VWS club if he could measure phase noise, I was surprised when he honestly said that he could not. 

And now we have the IMSAI guy saying, essentially, the same thing.  Wow, if the VWS guy and the IMSAI guy -- with all the spectrum analyzers at their disposal -- have trouble measuring phase noise, what hope do we ordinary hams have?  I mean, at best most of us have just an oscilloscope, a NanoVNA,  and a TinySA.  

Look, I know that phase noise is real and in certain circumstances, it is important.   But sometimes I suspect that its measurement is also a bit of a technical chimera:  If,  for whatever reason,  there is a circuit that you don't like, you can claim that the phase noise of that circuit is bad.  Or horrible. I think we see this sometimes with the Franklin oscillator.  Very few hams will be able to measure it and dispute the assertion that the phase noise is bad.    

For a perhaps painful walk down SoldeSmoke's "Phase Noise Memory Lane"  go here: 

Thanks to the IMSAI guy for a great video.   But let me ask:   Is there a better, simpler way to measure phase noise?  One that will avoid chimerical results and that could be used by hams with sort of standard ('scope, sig gen, NanoVNA, TinySA) test gear? 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Super Islander Mark IV -- A Cuban DSB Transceiver Made From CFL Lightbulb Parts

Trevor Woods also sent us this report from Arnie Coro.  It is not clear to me what difference (if any) there is between the Super Islander Mark IV and the Jaguey Five (described yesterday).  But the bit about using parts from old CFL bulbs is interesting.  This was something championed by Michael Rainey AA1TJ several years ago.  See: https://soldersmoke.blogspot.com/2009/01/soldersmoke-98.html  

April 2010:

Today, I will be answering a question sent by listener Bruno from Croatia... Bruno picks up our English language programs via Internet, but he is now also listening on short wave too. He sent a nice e-mail message asking me about the latest version of the Super Islander amateur radio transceiver, because he wants to build one.

Well amigo Bruno, the Super Islander Mark IV is now on the air, and results are very encouraging considering that it is a 40 meters band transceiver built using recycled electronic components.

The Mark IV uses a totally different approach to the receiver design, and it adds two solid state audio filters.

Amazing as this may sound, some of the electronic components used to make the Super Islander Mark IV transceiver came from the circuit boards of broken or damaged Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs... and that means that there is virtually an endless supply of those parts.

Here is now amigo Bruno, and amigos listening to the program at this moment, a brief description of the Super Islander's Mark IV receiver module.

It starts with a simple resistive signal attenuator that feeds a dual tuned bandpass input filter.

The filter has a limited bandwidth , chosen so as to limit response to out of band signals... The filter is followed by a cascode transistor radio frequency amplifier stage, that feeds a broadband four diodes product detector.

Low level audio from the product detector goes to the audio filtering and amplifying module, made with discrete transistors, of which several of them are also recycled from the Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs circuit boards...

This version of the Super Islander, the Mark IV , is radically different from any previous ones, as we have now switched over to a totally low cost solid state design , that can be easily reproduced because it uses very common electronic components and straightforward , easy to adjust circuits.

In our upcoming mid week edition I will describe the VFO, or variable frequency oscillator and the transmitter module of this unique low cost amateur radio transceiver, the Super Islander Mark IV... about the lowest possible cost transceiver that will make possible regular two way ham radio contacts on the 40 meters band using either voice or radiotelegraphy modes.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Jaguey Five -- The Solid State Cuban DSB Rig -- Circuit Description

Obviously we need a picture of a Jaguey transceiver. 
"Made in Jaguey Grande" 

Trevor Woods found this report from Arnie Coro (SK) CO2KK: 

February 2009: 

Here is now item three in detail: It was quite a long time ago, when I heard about a nice project sponsored by IARU, the International Amateur Radio Union, that was promoting the design of a kit, a simple single band transceiver kit that could be sent in a small air mail parcel to radio clubs in Third World nations which could then deliver them to would-be radio amateurs, and help them build and align the radios... But, unfortunately I lost track of the project, and as many of our listeners may realize there is still a great need of such a project... Past efforts along this line have had some problems, among them the mistaken approach of using of very sophisticated electronic components that in case of a breakdown would be impossible to replace locally; and also, all attempts seemed to try to make the transceiver an ultra- or near-ultra-miniature radio, something that won't help at all with beginners...

So, when I recenlty received an e-mail from Canada, asking what I thought about reviving this great idea, our Canadian amigo asked what we had already done here in Cuba, with our JAGUEY double side band plus CW 10 watt transceiver that went up to REVISION NUMBER 5. , This was the last upgrade, done about three or four years ago, and we named it the Jaguey FIVE, as it generates 5 watts of CW... The Jaguey FIVE was a low parts count, not miniature, easy to build single band transceiver that used readily available components, instead of sophisticated state of the art parts...

In order to please the friend who wrote about this topic, here is a brief, on the air, description of our Jaguey FIVE and by the way, Jaguey is the name of a town, actually it is Jaguey Grande, or big Jaguey, and the Jaguey is a beautiful tropical tree... The original Jaguey transceiver originated in that Matanzas province town in 1982,

The receiver part starts with a simple yet effective RF attenuator, then it feeds a bandpass
filter made of two tuned circuits... we use shielded IF transformers from old TV sets 4.5 megaHertz audio chains... A simple bipolar NPN small signal transistor grounded base amplifier feeds a homebrew double balanced mixer... and we "discovered" quote, unquote, that the antenna balun transformers used in TV sets, the 300 to 75 ohms baluns, had a ferrite core with two holes that makes a wonderful broadband transformer for the double balanced mixer...

We use computer diodes removed from defunct ISA old computer cards and motherboards and developed a very simple test jig to match the diodes... The double balanced mixer is fed on the other port from a simple three transistor oscillator, of which we have two versions, one using three NPN bipolar transistors and the other one using an FET oscillator followed by two bipolars... at the output of the mixer we have AUDIO, as this is a direct conversion receiver, amigos!!!

Now we amplify the audio using discrete components and again we have two versions of audio filters, one with bipolar NPN transistors and the other using a very common operational amplifier IC... The audio power output stage also is available to the builder in two versions, one using discrete components and the other using an integrated circuit audio amplifier that is locally available here in Cuba and produces a booming 2 watts of audio, with a lot of gain and rather low noise! This is the audio IC used by the most popular TV set in use here in Cuba, so we were able to obtain them from the TV repair shops at low cost.

Well, that's why I will describe as a flexible design... again, no attempt is made to make the Jaguey single band amateur transceiver a miniature rig, as miniaturization is definitely not for beginners!!! And following up this description of the receive section of the Jaguey, in our upcoming mid-week edition of Dxers Unlimited, I will describe the transmitter section of the rig,that shares the same variable frequency oscillator with the receiver.... I think that a new more up to date version of the Jaguey transceiver could very well be made available in kit form, with large-sized and easy to assemble circuit boards. The old Version 5 uses three circuit boards, one for the receiver, one for the VFO and one for the transmitter, so the newcomer can assemble just the receiver and start listening to amateur radio communications before having his or her own ham license!!!

You are listening to the weekend edition of Dxers Unlimited coming to you from Havana on the air and on the web at our Dxers Unlimited blog.


A video of Jaguey Grande, Cuba: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krblz_5o6jU

Earlier posts about the Jaguey on the SolderSmoke blog: https://soldersmoke.blogspot.com/search?q=Jaguey

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Homebrew in Namibia -- Joe Noci V51JN -- -- The Wizard of Sawkopmund

Here at SolderSmoke I like to highlight the homebrew adventures of far-flung radio builders.  Joe V51JN melts solder in an especially exotic location:  on the edge of the Namib desert.   He is in a very interesting place:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swakopmund

Here is Joe's QRZ.com page: https://www.qrz.com/db/V51JN

Joe recently posted on the Amateur QRP Radio Facebook group: 

I am not on the air much - here in Swakopmund ( Namibia) we have quite bad RFI from mains borne RF control signals for geysers, pumps, etc and 40M is unuseable, 30M almost usable and 20M sort of useable.. Complaint to CRAN - Our Radio Ministry - achieve nothing...So I do mobile out in the desert in the 4X4 when I can! I enjoy building radios - here are some photos - first is a 5watt 7MHz to 21MHz all band SSB rig - all homebrew, inc crystal filters, etc. PA is a push-pull LDMOS amp, 5W PEP.

Thanks to Doug KB8M for alerting me to this amazing work. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Martein's Bandpass Filters - PA3AKE

Above you can see the really nice 15 meter filter that I built using data provided by Martein PA3AKE. 


Before I built Martein's filter, my bandpass had been inadequate.  Looking at the signals coming out of the diode ring mixer in my 15-10 rig, I realized that when I was on 15, there would also be an output on 10.  And vice-versa.  These outputs would have to be knocked down by the bandpass filters.  I had been using simple dual tuned circuit filters. But when I looked at the filter shapes of these filters in NanoVNA, I could see that On 15 the 10 meter signal was only down about 20 db.  And on 10 the 15 MHz output was also down only by about 20 db.  That's not enough.  Take a look: 

Before,  with the dual tuned circuit filter

After with Martein's Filter 21.5 Mhz

AFTER with Martien's filter 21.1 MHz

While the earlier filter had provided only about 20 db of attenuation at 28 MHz, Martein's filter provided at least 68 db of attenuation.  That is really nice.  And the passband is nearly flat at 1 db attenuation. 

I built mine using some of the guidance provided on Martiens site.  I did use T80-10 toroids (I got them from kitsandparts.com).  And I did not use copper clad boards.  

One of the charming features if Martein's filters is the total lack of trimmer caps:  Martein recommends tuning the filters by simple squeezing the coils (to increase inductance and decrease frequency) or by spreading out the turns a bit (to decease inductance and increase frequency).  I did the later when NanoVNA showed that I didn't quite have all of the 15 meter phone band on the flat portion of the curve. 

I also like the way Martein provides the values for BP filters for all of the HF ham bands.  Very useful. 

Next I will build one for 10 meters.  And I will probably go back to my Mythbuster and 17-12 rigs and build Martein's filters for these rigs.  
Thanks Martein! 

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Progress Report Video on my 15-10 Meter Homebrew SSB Transceiver

The receiver is mostly done on my 15-10 rig, and I am following Farhan's BITX20 advice: "pause at this point and listen to the receiver that you have built." In the video I mention a problem with out-of-band signals. I was hearing shortwave broadcast signals (Brother Stair!) and even strong 20 meter CW signals. I thought the problem may have been with the bandpass filters, but after thinking about it I focused on the diplexer coming out of the product detector. I put a simple diplexer (from W7EL's Optimized Transceiver) in there and the problem disappeared. I still plan on beefing up the Bandpass Filters -- the dual tuned circuits I have been using are, I think, inadequate. I needed some more space on the wood board so I installed a sort of "back porch" -- you can see it in the video. I will build a power amplifier (RD6 or RD16) and a mic amp. Soon I will be on 15 and 10 with this rig. On this one, I am going the full "radical fundamentalist homebrewer" route: no ICs, no manufactured PC boards, no VFOs from old Yaesus.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

The TEK 465 'Scope Used to Create Pong and the Apple II

Wow, this is almost enough to make me take another shot at repairing my TEK 465.  


Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Quetzal-1 -- The Guatemalan CubeSat


Wow, here's another piece of tech news from a place in which I have some experience.  Yesterday I posted about the Telekino developed and tested in Bilbao early in the 20th century -- today's post is about a much more recent effort in Guatemala: this one  to launch a small satellite, a CubeSat. 

Hack-A-Day reports that the Guatemalan University recently open-sourced all their data on the satellite: https://hackaday.com/2023/07/04/quetzal-1-satellite-goes-open-source/   The Hack-A-Day comments are, as usual, harsh and critical, filled with the assumption that the commenters could have done better.  

But hey, three cheers for Quetzal 1 and the Guatemalan satellite builders!  

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

A Very Early Radio-Controlled Device -- Using Spark and a Coherer, in Spain

Click on the picture for a better view -- check out the coherer and the tapper 

Hack-A-Day has an interesting story about Leonardo Torres Quevedo and his very early automated chess machine.  Torres Quevedo was a Spanish inventor active in the early years of the 20th century. 

The chess device was really interesting, but two things caught my eye about this fellow: 1) he lived and conducted some of his experiments in my old home of Bilbao, Spain and 2) he built a very early radio-control system that used -- in the receiver -- a coherer as the detector.  

There is a lot material on Torres Quevedo.  Here is just a sample of what is out there  

His book:  https://www.torresquevedo.org/revistas/index.php/BIB/issue/view/12/1.  Discussion of the Telekino device is on pages 109-127. 

The Branly Tube or Coherer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coherer




1903 article in Electron (Spain) about the Telekino and Coherers. https://hemerotecadigital.bne.es/hd/viewer?oid=0028654330&page=6

https://alpoma.net/tecob/?p=13766   This article contains the diagram of the device (see above).  You can see the coherer with its tapper.  

Here we see the Telekino installed in a boat in Bilbao harbor.

Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column