Radio W4KAZ

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Engineer The Possible

Engineer the possible. The “best” is too often the enemy of “good enough”.  If you wait until you have “The Best”, you may miss out on a lot of operating.    Better to aim for “the best POSSIBLE”, i.e., what can be accomplished within the constraints of resources and time frame available.

The recently completed W4KAZ SO2R box is going to be something “New” in the KazShack. But the choices made in building it are all “old” technology. It is a case of engineering the possible.

This has been a project that I have flipped and flopped on. The choice made was based on practicality rather than “the best” approach. The best approach would have been to utilize a new computer and the USB rather than the LPT port. That choice implies using some of the newer CW keying technologies(Winkeyer or Microham). O’course, that would also entail blowing a couple of thousand dollars on the new off-the-shelf hardware, none of which is currently on hand. This approach I characterize as “New Hotness”, per Agent K from MIB. So, where do I get a couple thousand dollars I can divert to this frivolity? (Answer: convince Number One Son to join the Navy rather than go to college? Didn’t work…)

The alternative is to see what can be accomplished using “Old and Busted”.

It turns out that practically speaking, “Old and Busted” is perfectly serviceable, even if it is not quite so much fun as “New Hotness”. New Hotness certainly has an advantage in the effectiveness of generating the CW in a seperate piece of dedicated hardware. Nice, but not essential. New Hotness also uses current technology. Also nice, and also not essential.

The fact is that Old and Busted can be designed to competently and reliably perform the essential basic tasks required:

  • Key the CW
  • Control the radio TX focus
  • Provide the band data or pass it along
  • Be easily home brewed [!!!!!the most important criteria!!!!!]
  • Be easily modified as needed/wanted/for experimentation

Even better yet, “Old and Busted” can be cobbled together very inexpensively relative to New Hotness. For my own part, the cobbling together is tremendously more satisfying than waiting for the postman or UPS truck for delivery.

O’course, price is also a big factor. But I have not found any home brew solutions utilizing USB. A hybrid solution could be derived by using the PIEXX SO2RXLAT device to convert USB to LPT type data. That seems like a workable bridge between old SO2R hardware and new computer tech. Possibly not ideal, but very plausible, and very attractive for those with money already invested in LPT hardware.

So, “Old and Busted” wins. Since I don’t like N1MM logging software, I don’t NEED a better shack computer. I can get by with a clunky old Win 98 box running good ole Writelog. Relying on an old CPU could be a reliability issue, but old CPU’s are free for the taking, and I already have several backup boxes on hand. The old boxes all have LPT ports, which is the approach that seems simplest for home brew of an SO2R box. A single LPT port can be configured to carry the CW, PTT, radio A/B switching, and also carries the band data for one of the radios.

So, Old and Busted wins out, at least for now.

Besides, I just can’t get my head wrapped around “needing” the latest-n-greatest technology for CW contesting. Really? Because CW is so cutting edge? Really?

It may all be moot. I may get the whole kit assembled and decide I don’t want to operate SO2R after trying it out. By going the old an busted route I have at the very least learned a lot by cobbling together several design ideas into a custom solution. That hands on education has more value to me than the cost of the New Hotness hardware. So even if I put the new toys aside after light usage, I win.

Engineer the possible. If you wait until you have “The Best”, you may miss out on a lot of operating.

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