If I ever get too cocky and think I know lots of things very well and have a full grasp of the world and all the things in it, I need merely to practice Morse code to knock myself off my high horse.

Radio is hard.

Minister, Siren, Salve

I have a long and complicated history with U2. They penned a mountain of great music that has dotted my life with joy throughout my ages, and stood as a lighthouse when I wandered and wondered what was out there to be had, seen, felt, known, shared. I grew up with them, and gleefully enjoyed their artistic output on a social and personal level, while quietly looking away when their press politics came to the mic.

They were there to minister to me when few others were around to take notice.

Success is a strange thing, and it twists and distorts what is genuine. But despite the pressure, they still managed to get some amazingly truthful, soulful, and bright material out through the noise. For that, I’m thankful. I think I’ll always be grateful for the fruitful venture of Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry, and their parade of producers and engineers.

Drowning Man: unusual song structure throws a lifeline

The Unforgettable Fire: a siren call, stretching me skyward through a dark time

The Fly: a zeitgeist among friends, a touchstone, an anchor

Lemon: having nothing left in my life, I danced in my dorm room on first listen

Last three are from “No Line On the Horizon”, a salvation.

Magnificent: bright, victorious

Fez – Being Born: that chorus of voices grabs me every time. Lights flash past like memories. This is what motion sounds like.

Cedars of Lebanon: most delicate sound to date. The worst of us are a long, drawn out confession. The best of us are geniuses of compression.

Icom IC-706mkII Fan Mod

My mobile rig is an Icom IC-706mkII HF/2m unit that’s been doing me well for months, semi-permanently installed in the car. Lately I’ve been noticing signs of its deterioration, getting signal reports that I’m either cutting out or the audio has a sporadic “electric shock” sound. I’ve been trying like hell to track it down, thinking my custom power cables were either sub-par, that my car’s electrical system (battery, alternator, regulator) were getting edgy, or that my final transistors were starting to fry. All of those options were scary to consider.

The symptoms exhibit more strongly when it’s hot outside and I’m chatting away on a local repeater on the afternoon commute. Eventually, the radio starts freaking out and I have to sign off.

As it turns out, my radio is overheating. The internal fan’s not doing its job.

I took it inside for examination. With the covers off, I put the radio on CW mode, half power, into a dummy load, and held down the key. The fan would only run while I had the key or PTT down, and never outside of that. Even when it was key-down, the fan took a long time to kick over; the driver circuit would attempt to start the fan, but didn’t have enough voltage to push the fan blades except after a few kickover attempts. So it never gets cooling if my talk times are less than 15 seconds (and the heat builds up over the QSO). I was afraid the fan was dying, but when I removed it and drove it with 12v, it blew like a champ (thankfully). So something is wrong with the fan-control thermal circuit.

I found a few references on various radio boards where others have had the same symptom on their own Icom IC-706mkII (and the mkIIg as well). Apparently, the original Icom IC-706 was designed so that the fan would blow constantly. When they designed the mkII and mkIIg, they added a fan circuit to limit the noise and current drain. Unfortunately, once that circuit gets marginal, it stops being useful and actually contributes to the radio’s demise.

Among the references is a rework involving the addition of a 200Ω 1W resistor between L50 and J2 (on the IC-706mkII, at least) which will provide a constant voltage to keep the fan moving at a slower speed. The benefit is that the fan controller won’t need to start the fan; it just ramps up to the right speed.

Two 100 ohm 1W resistors in series for 200 ohms (identified by screwdriver tip), wired between Vcc and the fan.

I soldered a pair of 100Ω in series and shrinkwrapped all connections so they don’t contact the radio circuit (I left the body of the resistors uncovered for cooling), then flew the rework over the board between solder points. It doesn’t appear to wobble or vibrate much, and there’s enough cooling inside that hot case to keep it from frying.

Orange wire (identified by screwdriver tip) soldered to coil L50.
Orange wire (identified by screwdriver tip) soldered to hot side of fan connector J2.

It’s been a week since the rework, and the radio’s still doing OK in the car. I’m still getting spurious reports of noise, but I think my radio’s got an EMI sensitivity when I drive near electric utility substations (EMI/RFI has always been a problem with my 706). But otherwise, it’s doing alright.

It sucks when we have to modify a production device due to engineering mistakes, but thankfully we have the public resources to help us find our way and stay on the air.

Pinch To Talk

Behold my score from Austin Summerfest:

MFJ-564 iambic paddle

I’ve had an iambic paddle on my ham radio grocery list for a while, and now I have one. I guess this means I have to get better at Morse Code to be able to use it frequently. Right?

All shined up and ready to go out.

Picked it up second-hand for about forty bucks. To make it mine, I removed the 1/4″ plug and soldered my own 1/8″ plug to make it compatible with my Yaesu FT-857. Then I tore it down and gave it a complete spit-shine with alcohol wipes, eyeglass cleaner, and a lot of polishing.

I noticed this paddle is representative of the mid-grade build quality of some MFJ products: the heavy metal base is merely chrome-plated, and some of the base has small pock-mark oxidation. The nylon insulators and pivots are a little worse for wear. Some of the adjustment screws could use a dot of threadlock to keep them from walking out of their loose tolerances. But, overall, it’s still solid and highly usable.

Piiiiinch For Looooong and Shoooort Beeps Aaaauuu-to-maaaa-tic-lyyy

To operate any paddle, you simply press sideways in one direction to make a “dit” and the other to make a “dah”. What makes this “iambic” is that there are two paddles, one for dit and one for dah, and if you squeeze both at the same time, you get an automatically-generated string of “dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah“, much like the iambic meter you find in poetry.

The paddle itself doesn’t generate beeps. It’s just a specialized switch. You need an external keyer to take the paddle inputs and generate an output for the radio. Luckily, most radios have a keyer circuit built-in. Mine has a bunch of options like key speed and ratio between dit and dah lengths (1:3 is common).

For the record, there is no hard rule for which direction on a paddle is dit or dah. That’s up to the individual to sort out what is comfortable. Many right-handed operators choose to put dit on the left and dah on the right. It can always be reversed by crossing the connectors or using the radio’s menu if it has that option.

Now that I have all I need to send code (a paddle and a straight key), my last obstacle is myself. Knowing how to send is half the equation: I need to learn how to copy code, to hear what someone else is sending and transcribe it (speed experts do it all mentally and even recognize whole words by sound). That’s the hard part, and there’s just no way for me to do it other than with lots of listening practice.

Wish me luck.