Posts Tagged ‘K2’

April 2016 trip to American Sa’moa

May 17th, 2016

I had originally planned to make a maintenance and upgrade visit to my instrumentation in American Samoa in February 2016.  There are lots of advantages to February:  It’s cold here in W3, the ARRL DX CW contest is in February, and the phenomenon I’m studying is most active during the equinoxes.  I scheduled a 7-day trip that ended with the weekend of ARRL DX so I had the opportunity work through the weekend or play some radio if work went better than expected.

My flight had been booked out of Washington National (DCA) airport at 5:15 am Monday morning, which is the best possible time of day at the worst possible airport.  A snowstorm of unknown magnitude was bearing down on the mid-Atlantic.  And, around 4:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, I fell asleep on the couch.  When I awoke 90 minutes later, it rapidly became clear that I had a nasty stomach flu.  As my condition deteriorated further, I finally decided I didn’t want to be fighting that for the next 24 hours on 767s on my way to a foreign place where I wasn’t sure what kind of medical facilities I could access.  I cancelled the trip and spent the next 24 hours in bed instead.

The trip was rescheduled for three weeks later in March and I managed to get this itinerary out of BWI, which is much more convenient.  I loaded up my gear and went to the airport at 4:00 am.  My upgrade had cleared so I didn’t pay excess on my overweight and extra Pelican cases.  Hurray for small victories!  We sat at the end of the runway on the tarmac doing the preflight checks and the cabin lights started flickering intermittently.  And we sat, and we sat. And, we returned to the gate and sat some more.  I nervously refreshed the ETA on my phone finally watching the arrival in PHX slip past the departure to HNL.  I deplaned.

The agents tried to convince me that I could “just take the flight to Honolulu tomorrow.”  With some effort, I communicated to them that the HNL-PPG (Sa’moa) leg of my journey only goes on Mondays and Fridays and that I would rather be stuck at home for a week rather than a week in Honolulu.  So, I cancelled the trip for a second time.  My bags went to PHX and were delivered to my house the next day.  I rescheduled the trip for late April with a night in Honolulu on the outbound leg to avoid this bit of bad luck happening twice.

Two days before I left, my local contact called me on the phone to tell me that Tropical Cyclone Amos was bearing down on the island.  Fortunately, the hurricane dumped some rain and brought some winds but passed to the north of island.  The April trip went off without a hitch, although it was scheduled for four days (Monday night – Friday night) instead of the original seven.  So, I was hustling to get my work done and find time for radio.

I was vaguely aware that KC0W is also in KH8, but given my historical bad luck with this particular visit, I didn’t reach out to him.  In fact, he’s the one that contacted me once I arrived.  We met for breakfast at the McDonald’s in Tafuna one morning and had a nice long ragchew about radio and travel.  Typical hams.  I decided to focus on bands (especially 160) that Tom wasn’t on given my limited time on the island.

Fortunately, I had access to this mobile phone tower, which I use for my wireless networking for instruments as well.  So, I climbed up to check on the network equipment and put a pulley on the tower so I could raise and lower ham antennas safely after-hours when no one was around.

tower

The tower is on the top of Cape Matatula, which sticks out of the northeast corner of Tutuila island.  It’s the bit of land jutting out in the middle of the photo below.  If you open the full-size photo, you can see the tower just at the edge of a rather precipitous drop-off toward the rocky shore about 1/3 of the way from the right-hand side of the frame.  Needless to say, it’s a great QTH with 270 degrees of saltwater view as I’ve mentioned before.  At sunrise and sunset, the middle and higher bands are open to EU, JA, and NA/SA all at once.  The pileups are thrilling but very challenging.

matatula

Here’s the radio setup from this trip:  K2/100, KPA500, WKUSB, and TRLinux running under VirtualBox on my Mac.  This worked OK, but the WKUSB would drop out every few QSOs and needed to be completely rebooted which meant that I had to unplug the USB cable and restart TRLinux.  Obviously, this worked when I tested it at home but I was not stressing it like I was in the field.  I’m not sure whether it was an RF issue or software/hardware.  In any case, I will probably be installing another Windows VM like I’ve used previously.

shack

I only ended up making about 400 QSOs on this trip, which is way down from the approximately 3000 QSOs I made over the past two trips.  The combination of aggressive work schedule, glitchy keying, and poor 160-meter conditions (too late in the season, but I made a few guys happy), made it hard to get excited about operating a lot.  Furthermore, my operating position was located in a room with an air compressor nearby that would kick on every few minutes.  Even with the excellent Etymotic MC5 earbuds, it was still loud.  Enough complaining!  There will be at least one more trip out there under my present project and if KC0W hasn’t worked everybody, I’ll be there to give you all new counters again.  I just uploaded the log to LoTW before I posted this blog entry.  I have not responded to any direct QSL cards yet.

Making the Palm Mini Paddle Stay Put

March 1st, 2016

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In my on-going quest to produce a lightweight yet good-performing kit of portable equipment to carry along on my exotic work travels, I set my sights once again upon the Morse keying paddles.  When I was a student, I carried what I had: a black-base Bencher BY-1.  This caught the attention of nearly every airport security screener and was obviously quite heavy, but it stayed put on the table (for the most part) when I aggressively worked a pileup.  A few years back, my wonderful, loving, and patient wife, solicited suggestions for Christmas gifts and I suggested a Palm Radio Mini Paddle.  (She’s grateful when I provide a link to a web site with a shopping cart in these situations.)

The Palm is really a joy to use and is extraordinarily lightweight, which is perfect for travel.  However, I’ve always struggled with how to keep it steady on a table.  I have the magnetic base, but that presupposes a ferromagnetic surface to which it will mount.  Since both the Elecraft K3 and K2 have aluminum panels, I can’t count on the radio.  I tried a variety of additional things, up to and including, trying to design a 3D-printed carrier that is akin to the Begali Traveler.  So, I shelved the project, only using the Palm key for casual portable operating when mass trumped long-term operating comfort and efficiency.  Good fortune happened upon me and I built this.

When I decided to add an amplifier (more on this in the future) to my portable setup, again pressure set in on the mass of everything.  So, I revisited the Palm Mini project.  I had purchased a number of mounting clips for the key (hedging my bets against the ephemeral nature of ham radio businesses); so, I set out to attach one to the K2.  I’d seen the photo of the base attached to the right-hand side panel of the K2 by the power switch.  But, I really didn’t want to drill holes in the panel, plus that puts the paddles too high when the tilt bail is raised (which is necessary to see the display).

So, I fabricated two strips of 3/16-inch aluminum plate (leftover from the hexagonal beam I built a few years ago) with a hole bored down between them to clamp on the tilt bail of the K2 or the K3.  There’s nothing particularly critical about the construction of it, although I used a Bridgeport mill to do all the cutting; you might be able to do it in a drill press.  I think I ended up with a #14 drill for the clamp hole.  I used 6-32 hardware because I had it on-hand and I like the bigger stuff.  I had to enlarge the adjustment slot in the Palm base to handle the bigger diameter.

50-MHz transverter update (Psst! Newark has cheap 22-MHz crystals)

August 29th, 2015

A few years ago, I built a 50-MHz transverter to operate 6m with my Kenwood TS-930Ses.  I subsequently replaced the two 930s with an Elecraft K3/100 and Elecraft K2/100.  The K3 has 6m and I sold off my TS-700S (and my 6m Mirage brick amplifier) to help finance the internal 2m board for the K3.  The problem with this arrangement is that I can’t be on 6m and 2m at the same time.  I recently assembled and added the SSB board and  transverter interface to my K2 (no time to blog about this but they were straightforward additions like everything from Elecraft), now making it an attractive IF for the 6m transverter (and the Microwave Modules 432 transverter I have on the shelf and the 222-MHz transverter I plan to build sometime).xvtr_50

Enter the problem: Because I was thrifty about building the transverter at first, I had used an inexpensive and widely-available 24-MHz crystal for a 26-MHz IF.  The TS-930S happily worked here (by the way, pro-tip: A lot of guys say that they liked to have the wideband transmit mods on their HF rigs so they could have a wideband signal source for testing/transverters/etc.  The TS-930S will give you a low-level TX out anywhere through the transverter port, even if you don’t have the mod.  Well, at least my PIEXX-equipped 930 did).  However, the K2 only allows a select set of transverter IF bands to be used natively.  Good fortune shone upon my endeavors when I did a quick Google search for 22-MHz crystals and one actually popped up at Newark/Element14 (part number is 86R1720, get ’em while they’re hot)!  Even better news was that it was on closeout for 12 cents apiece!  I splurged and bought five, along with some other parts for another project or two I’ll post about eventually.

I carefully peeled back a layer of dead-bug components, extracted the 24-MHz crystal, and replaced it with the new 22-MHz variety, sacrificing only one 4.7-k resistor, an easily-replaced stock item at K8GU.  The LO came up about 5.4 kHz low and I couldn’t peak it any higher.  So, I’ll either have to futz around with the loading of the crystal or (more likely) load an offset in the K2’s transverter band entry for 6m.

LO_22

The local W3APL beacon popped up at 28.0694 MHz, which is consistent with the offset I observed above.  Now, I just have to get the other interfacing juju worked out to get the K2 to properly command the transverter to transmit and feed it the proper drive level.

Pictures from KH8/K8GU

October 8th, 2014

I don’t really have time to do a full write-up, but I made a “quick” trip to American Samoa over the weekend to plan a future scientific instrument installation and managed to get on the air for a few hours.  Here are some snapshots from my phone.

Notes and Ramblings

August 3rd, 2014

Three perhaps noteworthy amateur radio activities occurred recently around K8GU: 1. During the course of some HVAC upgrades, I was able to get two holes core drilled through the foundation to bring coax and control cables into the house; 2. I operated in the NAQP August CW contest; 3. Evan and I went to the Berryville, VA, hamfest.

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These two ports exit the basement into a crawl space where I will ground the cables before they enter the house.  I still need to get some hydraulic cement or other quick-setting patch mortar to clean up the drill crater on the outside.  Total cost: $5 in materials and a large pizza for the crew.

naqp_cw_aug2014

Screenshot above shows TRLinux after the end of the contest (obviously it was today, not last night).  TRLinux performed flawlessly again with the YCCC SO2R+ box driving the KK1L band-decoder and 6×2 switch.  I operated for about five hours (probably a little more, and definitely more if I used the NAQP 30-minute time-off rule to calculate it).  I got up after my first operating sitting at the beginning of the contest and left the shack.  As I exited the door, I was hit with the smell of hot electronics.  You know the smell: like when you just let the smoke out of a transistor.  I walked over to the antenna switch matrix where I was using a triplexer to split the hexagonal beam to both radios.  It was warm to the touch.  It seems to have continued to function, but I’ll have to disassemble it at some point to see if any irreversible damage was done.

The August NAQPs are always fun for us out East because there is the ever-present opportunity for sporadic-E throughout the contest, giving us a chance to work nearby states, which can really drive up the multiplier (and QSO, depending on the direction of the opening) total.  Of course, this is the real boon of having a second radio: you can call CQ on your most productive band while looking for openings on the others.  I came down after supper with the family to “work 40 meters before it goes long” and ended up with blistering 10- and 15-meter runs into the Midwest and South.  Since Evan and I were planning to go to the hamfest and I don’t yet have a 160-meter antenna at the “new” QTH, I pulled the plug at midnight local time (0400).  Not sure 40 meters was even getting long at that point.  At any rate, it was wonderful to say “hi” to so many old friends from MRRC, MWA, SMC, PVRC, and beyond!

A final comment:  You can really tell how much better one radio is than another when you have them both side-by-side on your desk.  This was quite apparent when I had the K3 and the TS-930S and it is also apparent with the K3 and the K2.  The K2 is a wonderful radio and fun to operate, especially in the field, but it’s not the K3 as far as fit and finish, among other things.  No, I’m not buying another K3 anytime soon.  The K2 is quite enough for the second radio.

I’ve always heard that the Berryville, VA, hamfest had a good boneyard/fleamarket/swapmeet but I’ve never managed to attend.  I resolved to attend this year and was pleasantly surprised.  Evan came along for the ham-and-egg breakfast, which was good but he rejected the ham after only consuming about 1/3 of it, and a trip to the playground at the school across the road.  This is still a “real” hamfest like the ones I remember going to in the early 1990s before eBay and online trading really took the wind out of swapmeets.  There were plenty of rigs spanning the spectrum of boatanchor to relatively modern, HF and VHF/UHF.  There were lots of amplifiers, as well, (and a small quantity of CB junk; Texas Star, anyone?)  There were also lots of antennas, and even some Rohn 25.  The computer and cell phone accessory dealers were mercifully few and there were lots of tables of parts, bits and pieces.  This is a ham’s hamfest and I’ll be returning.  I picked up a bunch of Cinch-Jones plugs and sockets for my new cable ingress, plus some SMA connectors and flexible coax jumpers.  Plus, I ran into a few friends, although not the ones I expected to see!

Svalbard

June 1st, 2014

dogskiing_web

An annually-recurring professional meeting has started to put me in interesting DX locales.  This year was no different: the meeting was held at UNIS (University Centre in Svalbard) in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.  My friend and colleague, Nathaniel, W2NAF, did a semester of his graduate studies at UNIS and was excited to return for the meeting.  He suggested that the JW5E clubstation “hut” (depicted below) might be both an attractive lodging option for cost, location, and of course, radio.  The hut is a bit rustic with no running water but we did manage to maintain a nearly professional level of appearance and personal hygene due to Nathaniel’s insider knowledge.

jw5e_web

As is typical for the kind of travel I do, there was no straightforward way to get from A to B.  Nathaniel and my flight schedules put us into Longyearbyen (via London, Oslo, and Tromso, in my case) on Friday and Saturday, respectively, giving us a shot at the CQ WPX CW contest.  We elected to operate this under our own callsigns, which proved to be a bit of a limitation since for much of the contest 20 meters was the only band that produced rates.  So, we had to share 20m.  Nathaniel operated high power using the JW5E FT-1000MP mkV and Icom IC-2KL amplifier connected to the JW5E antenna system.  I operated low power with my K2/100 and the JW5E antennas.  He came out a little bit ahead on QSOs and pretty far ahead on points, mostly due to the day of head start and effectively exploiting 20m.  I also worked a lot of empty-calorie EU stations while he focused on 3-pt DX stations.  Despite our initial optimism, neither of us were particularly dedicated to a full effort in the contest.  We both had a bit of trouble adapting to polar day and slept through prime openings on Sunday.

40 meters and lower frequency bands were useless, as were 10 and 12 meters. Nathaniel and I did work each other on 160 with the power turned all the way down.  And, of course we worked each other in the contest for an easy prefix multiplier.  The 12m situation was a little disappointing since I know a lot of people needed JW there.  Had we been there in March, it probably would have been open.  I worked two CTs and that’s it.

During the week of the meetings, I only managed 1-2 of hours operating each day, and Nathaniel maybe a little more.  We developed a protocol of uploading to LoTW first thing in the morning when we got to the meeting (where we had free network access, versus roaming 3G on my phone at JW5E).  Since I don’t use ClubLog, this is a good way for DXers to see if they’re in the log and get a quick confirmation.  As I told a DXer who thanked me profusely for doing it, my employment covers the largest costs of my DX travel and my operating is secondary to my work.  Therefore, I feel no need to extract or solicit donations from DXers. I am ordering cards today and they will be ready to mail in a week or two.

On the last night, I put in a solid 6 hours of operating, making about 600 QSOs in one sitting.  30m was always a struggle with most signals right near the noise level.  The other bands (15/17/20) produced big signals and were pretty easy to work.  I’m always a bit slow to operate split because I don’t want to use more bandwidth than necessary.  With an amp, I could probably have operated simplex most of the time.  Usually once people stop coming back to my 599s or they start duping me mercilessly, I know it’s time to split the pile.

The pileups were generally very responsive to my instructions with only one station really raising my blood pressure to the point that I QRT’ed to cool off.  Based on his QRZ.com profile and how loud he was compared to all the stations he was obliterating, he was running as much as 4 kW on 30m.  Good show.

I heard that someone on a DX club e-mail list suggested that I go next to Jan Mayen (JX).  Please negotiate that with my wife and we can work something out. Don’t forget to include that Jan Mayen has one flight per month.  My Norwegian colleagues were amused by this and asked also about Bouvet (3Y).  Only scientists and hams know about Bouvet and Jan Mayen.  Seriously, if I didn’t have a young family, I would consider doing that sort of thing, but I miss them too much when I travel.  The next DX trip will be someplace warmer with regular commercial air service.

jw_k8gu_web

I’m still sort of converging on the best equipment for portable DX operating. While I like the K3 a lot, the K2 is a bit smaller.  In its flight case, it fits under all airliner seats and not just some of them like the K3.  Although it is a stupendous performer, the K2 has some idiosyncrasies occasionally cause me to notice that it’s not as well integrated as the K3 and modern JA radios.  The diminutive size and negligible RF emissions from the MRF-4125 switching power supply are big pros, but I noticed the fan making a particularly awful noise on this trip.  Need to look into that.  The K1EL WKUSB continues to be a star performer for computer and hand keying.  While I love the action of the Palm Mini paddle, the lack of a solid base can be frustrating.  I brought the recently-mounted Schurr Einbau and it sang. Although, it produces the best reactions from security screeners: “What is it?  Is it an antique?”  And, my favorite from a screener in Longyearbyen: “Is that the new iPhone?”

The real stars of this operation were the Etymotic Research MC5 in-ear monitor earphones.  Wow.  I’ve been using them for a couple of months now at the recommendation of someone on the Elecraft reflector and they are my new favorite headphones for travel.  They do excellent with noise isolation on long-haul flights and in noisy QTHs; they reproduce music flawlessly; you don’t have to turn the volume up to 11 to hear with them; and they fit in a tiny little pouch that’s smaller than a deck of playing cards.  And the best part?  They only cost 60 USD.

The GU Special came along on this trip but was not needed since I had access to an OptiBeam for 20/17/15 meters, dipoles for 30/40/80, and a Cushcraft R7 vertical for 40-10 meters.  I was tempted to take my gear on the 8-hr boat trip we took up another fjord.  However, I decided against it for a variety of reasons including the desire to do some birdwatching and look for polar bears—we saw some seals and an artic fox but no bears.  The seals and the fox amounted to no more than a couple of pixels in the photos I tried to shoot of them, even with a modest 200mm telephoto lens.  OK, that’s a short lens by wildlife photo standards.  Please accept this puffin photo in place of a bear photo.

puffin_web

And the Tempelfjorden glacier and sea ice shot from my phone…

tempelfjorden_web

This photo is looking back up Adventfjorden toward Longyearbyen and shows the JW5E tower right near the water in the center.  (The heftier one on the right.) Also in the background are the dishes for the EISCAT Svalbard incoherent scatter radar.
jw5e_eiscat_web

And a photo from our visit to EISCAT in tracked vehicles.  It was practically June and there was a lot of snow on the ground.

eiscat_visit_web

Finally, here are two YouTube videos related to our operation.  The first was shot by W2NAF and has a tour of the JW5E station.  The second was shot by KB9UWU during the WPX contest and shows pretty much what 15m was like for me: the band was obviously open but I didn’t have many callers.

 

Thanks to everybody who stopped by to say hi.  I worked lots of friends on the air from all over the world and received SWL reports from a few more.

MiQP from Ohio

April 22nd, 2014

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Sarah, Evan, and I had the opportunity to go to her parents’ place for the Easter holiday weekend. Since the trip coincided with the Michigan QSO Party, I decided this might be a good test of the portability of the K2. Unfortunately, I was unable to operate much longer than a half hour but I had some fun on 40 meters and tried out N3WG’s (Pignology) HamLog for logging. Neat stuff.

Handle for K2

March 19th, 2014

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Yaesu MHG-1 hand strap for FT-450 works great on the K2.

ARRL DX with the K2

February 16th, 2014

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One of the goals I had for the K2 that I failed to mention in the previous post was to fill-in for the K3 in DXpedition service.  This is a tall order.  It also necessitated upgrading the basic K2/10 to a 100-watt K2/100—being loud (enough) is an important part of pileup control.  I had the good fortune to come across an already-assembled final amplifier unit at an attractive price a few days after I purchased the radio.  I took that as a sign!

Another rite of passage for the K2/100 would be…how does it perform in a pileup?  One of the really great things about ARRL DX CW since the advent of the CW Skimmer and Reverse Beacon Network is that literally any U.S. station (especially on the East Coast, my Western and Midwestern friends will remind) with a modest signal can elicit a blistering run of Europeans.  I’ve been relatively unhappy with the K3’s response to pileups, with callsigns often being mushed together more than with other radios (e.g., the TS-930S).  I understand that tailoring the K3’s AGC should help this—the KE7X book now graces my shelf but I haven’t had a chance to explore all of his suggestions yet.  Having heard anecdotally that the K2 does better in this regard, I was excited to break it in with ARRL DX.

Sarah worked this weekend and I was frankly wiped out from a full week at work plus shoveling 18 inches of snow and cutting up trees from the previous week’s ice storm!  Nothing approximating a “full” operation was in the cards.  In about two hours of operating, mostly on Sunday, I made about 140 QSOs on 10 and 15 meters.  I’m happy to report that the K2 did quite well with regard to the pileup response and I didn’t manage to break it CQing hard at full power.  The K2 also passed the “W3LPL test”…Frank lives just a few miles away and is frequently quite loud here.  But, I could still hear nearby stations with no problem at all.  The one thing that disappointed me about the K2 is that it seemed a little deaf as the 15-m band was closing to Europe.  A number of stations were right at the noise floor and were tricky to copy.  This might have been “one-way” propagation, too, a topic I should write about at some point.

The upshot is that I’m extremely pleased with the K2 and I look forward many more QSOs with it!

Latest Tinkering (or how Elecraft is taking all my money)

January 28th, 2014

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On Christmas Eve, I was sitting at my in-laws’ kitchen table with the Small Wonder Labs SW-40 I built as a high school kid in 1998 listening to beautiful music and I got the itch to come up with a radio smaller (and less expensive) than the K3 to drag around with me when I go places.  My mind wandered to the NorCal Sierra, which was a featured project in ARRL Handbook’s of my youth.  I was able to come up with a draft version of that Handbook article on the web—pause for a moment and think how revolutionary that is—my in-laws don’t have an ARRL Handbook, let alone the one that contained the Sierra article.  I looked at the bill of materials and realized that I had some 70% of the parts in my junkbox.  This seemed like a good idea until I went searching for a PCB.

Why PCB?  Well, I’ve done the dead-bug thing and it works great but it’s a pain to troubleshoot and unless you have decades of experience doing it, it looks like a Mexico City suburb, sprawling unpredictably in every direction with only the most tenuous connections to the core.  Since I was seeking a travel radio, I wanted it to be compact, easy-to-troubleshoot, and relatively rugged.  Due in no small part to the wishes of the Sierra’s designers (not coincidentally founders of Elecraft), boards are no longer available.  I looked into doing my own board, but if you don’t mix chemicals yourself, you’ve suddenly spent $150 on PCBs, plus the layout effort.  I toyed with making the board smaller (a win in several ways) by using surface-mount parts but even that was a non-starter since my junkbox parts are through-hole, requiring me to buy everything.

Astute readers can extrapolate what occurred next.  I went to the Elecraft web site to price the Sierra’s successor, the K1.  I had all but made up my mind to sell off some junkbox items and raise the capital to buy a K1 kit when something occurred to me:  fellow ham blogger Mike, VE3WDM, had recently moved to a smaller QTH and was offering a half-completed K2 kit for sale.  His asking price was only a little more than the K1 kit with some of the options I wanted and it was all-band.   The ad had been posted for some days by this point, so I fired off a sheepish e-mail to Mike asking if the radio was still available.  It was.  We sealed the deal and the radio made the somewhat tortuous ride (for us, not the radio—it sat in Chicago for two weeks) from his QTH to mine via the postal system.

I would not have bought a partially-finished kit from just anyone.  However, since this was Mike’s second K2 build and he was documenting it carefully in a blog, I figured it was a pretty safe bet.  So far, that is definitely true.

While I was eagerly awaiting the radio’s arrival, I redoubled my efforts to get a friend’s TS-930S off of my workbench, a task that involved replacing all 115 electrolytic capacitors on the cookie-sheet-sized “Signal Unit” board (similar to the K2 and K3 “RF unit”).  That radio still has low drive (it has ALC again and sounds like a million bucks), something I traced to a hard-to-find semiconductor that’s now on-order.  So, I gathered it up and started work on the K2 on Sunday afternoon.

Last night, I got it on 40 meters RX-only and peaked up the RX BPF.  Former K2 owner KL9A mentioned to me that it has some blow-by on strong signals but that he thinks it’s a pretty good radio.  I can confirm that based on my experience last night.  It sounds really really good on CW.

More on the build to come…including a look back at some troubleshooting of the BFO circuit.