When I was actively engaged in my engineering profession we used to speculate, ‘How many ducks does it take to make a roll of ducktape’. Or, ‘How do you make a dapterduck?’.

Of course these were all Bushism bumpkin distortions of the very usefull DUCTTAPE.

Imagine my surprise to find that some fool company actually produces a product they call DUCKTAPE. You can buy it at Wallmart for about $4.00 a roll but it is only good for taping ducks.

Ducktape is super thin, does not stick to everything equally well, and is probably made in China from hazardous waste with child labor.

Real DUCTTAPE is much thicker, fiber reinforced, and sticks to everything. You won’t find it at Wallmart. You have to go to a bonified hardware store. We found our ducttape at Sam’s. I bet Bill’s or George’s, or Herkomer’s has it too. Or you might try Cosco or Lowes. Home depot might have it too but there you risk the chance of having to hire someone who insists on showing you how to use it.


I had been using the Thunderbird email program but recently started using sylpheed.

Sylpheed loads faster and handles spam a little better than Thunderbird. Better in this case means easier with less user attention required.

The fact that Thunderbird is slower in loading is disturbing. Evidently it is doing something it does not want the user to know about. So I quit using Thunderbird.


You may already know that reasonable cost factory radio repair does not exist. Read on for proof.

If your radio acts up or stops working and you can’t fix it yourself, your best bet is to sell it as an as-is non-working parts radio and buy a new one. Maybe, this time, select a brand that is less likely to fail.

Here is why this is your best option.

If your radio was made by one of the big three (ICOM, Yaesu, Kenwood), good luck. Even if you do get an rma chances are the radio will be shipped back to you with a note that they could not duplicate the problem. Of course you will be able to duplicate the problem and the rig will join the many offered for sale after just having been to the factory and serviced. You can compensate the round trip shipping and $100 evaluation fee with whatever some poor fool pays for your nightmare radio.

Why do they do this, you ask. Because you are one of thousands in a nich market of toy hobby radios. The manufacturers don’t make any money repairing. The make money selling. They also know you will most likely buy another of their radios since you have already demonstrated that you don’t have the ability to repair the one you have.

I know of two personal experiences with radio problems. One involved an Omni-D. It was sent to the factory for service. They replaced two electrolytics and a resistor. The repair charge was $250 plus round trip shipping. At the time the radio was worth $500. The total cost of the service came to close to $300. A sick Omni-D could very likely have fetched $250. Add that to the $300 that was wasted and you would have had half the price of a new and more capable rig.

The second horror story involves a portable rig that got fried by a power supply failure. it was sent to the factory for repair. The factory promised repair after five weeks due to a backlog. Less than a week after they received the radio, they called back and declared it unrepairable. They implied that there might be some surplus boards available to replace the bad ones in the radio but the boards in the original radio were beyond economical repair.

A few days later I got an email from their sales guy offering me a replacement radio for 75% the cost of a new one, or I could pay them for three hours of technician time at $100 an hour. No mention was made as to disposition of my broken radio but they did declare that the replacement radio was only warrated for six months.

My first inclination was tell them to stick it where the sun does not shine.

After I declined their offer, they offered to reassemble my busted radio for an additional $100. This was getting close to ass kicking time!!!

I ended up talking to someone in sales that had a brain. I explained that I had no problem paying a tech $100 an hour as long as he was worth $100 an hour. A person who takes 3 hours to conclude he cannot repair something is only worth $30 an hour.

So I ended up losing a total of $160 for round trip shipping and worthless tech help.

I also have a pretty good idea why the factory used radio only carried a 6 month warranty. They buy the boards from a board manufacturer (possibly off shore) who gives them a 12 month warranty. The boards in the radio they were offering me were already six months old hence the six month warranty.

This may also explain why this radio is available as a no-solder kit. The soldering is done in a reflow furnace by their board manufacturer. Surprisingly, the radio is also available as a factory assembled radio at $100 more than the ‘kit’ price.

I have no problems with the radio. It is/was superior in all respects. I do have a problem with the sort of nonsense their sales guy tried to pull. Having lost all respect for this manufacturer I look forward to not having to do business with them in the future.

UPS or USPS which is the better shipping solution

Companies in the business of shipping do not produce anything. They merely provide a service. At best they safely deliver a customer’s goods to a destination on time and at reasonable cost. At worst the lose or otherwise damage the shipment. Fortunately loses are rare.

Since there is no product that can be evaluated, comparisons between carriers rely on convenience, price, risk, credibility, reputation and other service related factors.

If you use UPS at a UPS Store you will be charged nearly twice what UPS would charge at their distribution hub. This was true when these stores were known as Mailboxes Etc. The situation did not change when the Mailboxes franchise went under and became ‘The UPS Store’.

Since the UPS hub is a 30 mile round trip drive for me, saving ten to twenty dollars on shipping may not be significant when you consider the convenience of the neighborhood UPS Store. However, the local post office is just as convenient. USPS priority mail costs less than UPS ground at the UPS hub and gets to the destination in half the time.

The post office requires a from and to address on the package and a disclosure of contents.

UPS requires from, to, telephone numbers and more. They enter all this into their database and print out a label with most of this information available to anyone reading the label. If you do this at the distribution hub, you will be required to enter this information on their computer yourself.

I already have a job. I did not come to work for UPS. I also don’t need to have unnecessary personal information stored on their unsecured computers. If the information on the shipping label I provided is not sufficient, maybe I need to ship elsewhere. It is never a good business policy to annoy the customer.

Both claim to have tracking. That is you can obtain information regarding the last checkpoint cleared by your package.

USPS tracking tells you the package has been shipped.

UPS tracking reports multiple locations as the package progresses but a recent experience has me doubting the validity of the information presented.

Recently I had a package shipped via UPS ground from California. It tracked all the way to Dallas and then was delayed three days due to bad weather. There was no bad weather in Dallas and I suspect there was no package in Dallas either.

Additionally UPS offers services that I consider unnecessary and dangerous. Recently they have offered a ‘redirection’ service. If your package is in transit you can change its delivery destination. I consider this a valuable tool enabling theft at all levels.

So which is better? I have used both. Both have worked without incident but USPS beats UPS on price, delivery speed, security risk and credibility.

I tried FEDEX a year ago. I placed a 40 lb. box of electronics on their counter and was asked how fast I wanted it delivered.

When a customer approaches a service provider, the customer gets to ask the questions. The most obvious first question is ‘how much is this going to cost me’.

I did not like their attitude and have not been back since.

Computer Turns Itself Off

Sometimes my computer problems are software related but most often they are caused by hardware problems.

Recently I experienced a problem where my desktop was turning itself off. This destop is somewhat a cludge. Its top is off and one of three drive ports contains two SSD disks, one for windows, the other for debian. The operating systems are selected by moving the data cable from one drive to the other. In order to accomplish this the drives have extra long cables to allow their mounting tray to be removed for access.

After accessing the drives the tray is pushed back into the computer. The last time this was done the longer cable got jammed against the blades of the CPU fan. When the CPU overheated, it would turn off the computer.

Solar Power

I have had a small 50 watt solar system up and running for about two years. It keeps a single 12 volt automotive 24F class battery charged. The system provides power to light and run a modest 2 meter ham station located in my bedroom closet. The station is on all the time monitoring the local repeater.

Recently I have been considering adding a more capable solar system to compliment the 1KW emergency gas generator in the generator hut.

My interest in solar was raised when I discovered 100 watt solar panels priced at under $150.

The solar panel is not the only thing you need to build a solar power system but at $1.50 a watt, it becomes competative with gas powered generators.

So I bought a single 100 watt solar panel. It has been cloudy for the last two days since the panel arrived but even with light overcas the panel produces 20volts open circuit and 2.5 amps lighting the large filament of an automobile brake light.

The final system will have four 100 watt panels connected in series to produce up to 80 volts. Provision will be made to route the 80 volts to a 1000 watt sine wave inverter. The inverter costs $100 and will provide over 300 watts of 120vac 60 cycle power when the sun shines.

Antenna Switches

Over time I have used a number of tower based antenna switches. They all worked but were never able to select between morew than four antennas.

These switches were controlled through the coax feedline by using chokes and capacitors to isolate the control voltages from the RF energy. This seemed to work even at high transmitter power levels but the additional components required to do this would certainly have an adverse effect on reliability over time. I did not need another toy to repair at some future date so I decided to run a separate control line to power the relays used in my antenna switch.

By using a tower mounted antenna switch I need only one coax feedline from the shack to the tower and I have relatively short feedlines runs from the switch to the five antennas. Otherwise I would need five long feedlines into the shack, one for each antenna. The antenna switch more than pays for itself in money saved buying coax. The main downside is that you can only use one antenna at a time.

So if you own more than one ham rig, you can’t use that other ham rig on the antennas connected to the antenna switch when they are in use by the main rig. That is actually a good thing. Two rigs in close proximity and running power could easily blow each others front ends.

There is one valid reason for running more than one feedline to the shack, diversity reception. That is using two receivers one one a vertical and the other on a horizontally polarized antenna to enhance reception.

My antenna switch uses three 12 volt 30 amp SPST relays and a four conductor control line. Two of the relays have thier coils wired in prallel to act like a DPDT relay. They are wired just like the Heathkit four position antenna switch but use an additional SPDT relay. The extra relay takes the normally #4 antenna selection and translates it into #4 and #5.

The control cable is an old landline phone line. It has red, green, yellow, and black conductors and is dirt cheap. Power to the relays is 14 volts provided through diodes and a rotary switch at the operating position. The diodes isolate the five selections needed to provide proper sequencing of the relays.

Key Line Isolation

Interfacing the keying line to an amplifier used to be very simple in the old days when transceivers used a spare set of contacts in their TR relays to do that job.

Today modern transceivers use solid state switching to key external amps. The solid state switching is quieter making QSK operation much more pleasent. Solid state switching is also less capable of handling the higher keying voltages found in older amplifiers.

There is no shortage of interface circuits to solve the problem. You can build your own or purchase ready made devices available at under $100.

We do not like spending our money on ready made devices when we can build them ourselves. We also dislike external boxes with their wire leads cluttering the operating area. So we build our own and install the circuit into the transceiver if at all possible. We feel the keying problem is caused by inadequate transceiver keying ability, not excessive amplifier keying requirements. Besides, if you have more than one old amp and you don’t want to build more than one higher voltage keying circuit, the circuit needs to go into the transceiver.

Most decent interface circuits use fets, transistors, and diodes. The diodes isolate the amp from the transceiver, the fets switch the higher amp keying voltage, and the transistors control the switching fet. All this circuitry can be replaced with one small relay. The relay provides superb isolation but introduces time delays that might effect QSK operation.

The circuit we employ uses opto isolators which provide the superior isolation while preserving high speed keying.

A 4N35 is energized from the transceiver keying line. As the keying line goes to ground, it takes the cathode of the opto LED to ground causing the LED to illuminate the opto output transistor. The output transistor collector goes to ground taking the positive bias off the PNP fet driving transistor. As the base of the PNP transistor goes to ground, it conducts and allows a positive voltage to arrive at the gate of the fet. The fet turns on and keys the amp.

Custom Control Console

This concerns antenna switching and SWR measurements. For convenience the switching and measuring is best done close to the operating position. Perhaps in a console located right next to the radio.

We have built such a console. It contains a multipurpose power supply, a 100 watt linear amplifier, an SWR/Power meter and controls, and switches allowing selection of three antennas on each of two coax feedlines.

Initially this supply was intended to provide power for a small solid state linear amp and some LED lighting. The amp was for use with the KX3 to boost its 10 watts to a level better suited to drive a larger linear close to full power. The small amp needs 24 volts at up to 3 amps. A 5 amp linear regulator was used to supply the 24 volts.

The transformer in this supply is capable of delivering at least 500 watts. A second 5 amp regulator was installed to provide 14 volts to the KX3 and LED lighting. Additional 1 amp regulators were installed for 12 and 5 volts. The 14 and 12 volt sources were brought out to the back panel through PowerX connectors.

The power amplifier is an EBY design using a pair of IRF540 fets. It covers all bands. A band switch is provided on the front panel. The amp is built into the console along with the power supply. This amp is not protected and must be used cautiously.

This is an old heathkit meter that can measure up to 2000 watts. Its sensing unit is located remotely to make antenna cabling more convenient.

There are two switches mounted to the front panel. One for each of two coaxial feed lines. The switches are double pole double throw with a center off position. The switches are connected to remotely located power and coax interface boxes through four wire shielded cable.

These switches route power to antenna relays located on the antenna tower through the coax feed lines. Plus polarity, negative polarity, and power off, select one of three antennas through the relays.

This system is patterned after a Heathkit remote switch which allowed selection of four antennas. The fourth selection was accomplished by feeding AC to the relays where two half wave rectifiers and filter capacitors activate both relays simultaneously. I could not make the AC feature work with the relays I used so I ended up with only three antenna selections.

Both feed line isolators and their power supply are located near the two amplifiers they serve. The amplifiers are located on the floor below the desk. The remote isolators are mounted to the back of the desk.

A patch panel located below the center console allows connection of any number of radios to the amps. When the amps are not powered up or set to standby, the radios are connected directly to the antennas.

Soft Key – where to install it

References to Soft Key are normally found in articles dealing with linear amplifier modifications. The Soft Key circuitry is most often installed in amplifiers whose design incorporates high voltage bias to fully cut off the tubes when the amplifier is not keyed.

Typically this bias voltage is around 120 volts. This value is conveniently chosen to provide full cut off as well as current needed to actuate the 120 vdc antenna changeover relay. By taking the relay return to ground these amps activate the relay while also removing the cut off bias. So by a single connection to ground we route the exciter input to the amp input, route the amp output to the antenna, and remove standby bias all at the same time.

The only problem here is that the 120 vdc keying line needs a device that can handle 120 vdc at 10 to 30 ma.

That is not a problem with exciters that provide a relay closure to activate the keying line. Modern solid state exciters may not provide relay closures. Those that don’t may not be able to handle 120 vdc.

Recently I bought an exciter that will not handle more than 40 vdc at 20 ma.

If I install Soft Key in the amp, that amp will be the only amp I can use with the new exciter. I do have other amps. All the amps I have work well with all the older exciters I own. I do not want to install Soft Key in every amp I own to make them all safe to use with the new exciter.

That is why I will install Soft Key in the new exciter and enable its use with any amp.

Since the new exciter is portable, its use with other amps (amps I may not own) is a very real possibility.

The Soft Key circuitry will operate off 14.8 vdc. The same 14.8 vdc that runs the exciter. The soft key output is a high voltage switching transistor. The Soft Key circuit is conveniently mounted into the same box that contains the 2 amp hour Lithium ion batteries that can be used to run the exciter as a portable.

To prevent damage to the exciter in the event of failure of the Soft Key circuitry, Soft Key circuitry uses an opto isolator between the switching circuit and the exciter.