# Measuring An Unknown Velocity Factor

When is the speed of light not the speed of light? Of course, that’s a trick question. The speed of light may be constant, but just as sound travels at different speeds in different media, electronic signals move through transmission lines at a reduced speed. When you have a known cable, you can look up the velocity factor and use it to approximate the length of cable to have a given effective length. But what if you don’t know what kind of cable you have? [More Than Electronics] used a scope to measure it. You can see what he did in the video below.

For example, RG-8/U has a factor of 0.77. Even air isn’t exactly a factor of 1, although it is close enough that, in practice, we pretend that it is. If you wonder why it matters, consider stubs. Suppose you have a 300 MHz signal (handy because that’s 1 meter in wavelength; well, OK, pick 299.792 MHz if you prefer). If you have a quarter wavelength piece of coax shorted at one end, it will attenuate signals at 300 MHz. To understand why, picture the wave on the stub. If the close end of the stub is at 0 volts, then the other end — because it is a quarter wavelength away — must be at the maximum positive voltage or the minimum negative voltage. If either of the extremes is at the close end, then the far end must be at zero volts. That means the maximum current flows only when the signal is at 300 MHz.

# A Tale Of Two Pulse Modulators

In the realm of test equipment, there are a number of items that you don’t know you need until you need one. That’s probably the case with the HP11720A pulse modulator. [Tom] acquired two of these even though, by his own admission, he had “no need for these things.” We’d like to say we don’t get that, but — alas — we do.

The good news, though, is he used one of them to measure the quality of some coax cable and shared the exercise with us in the post and a video, which you can watch below. The device can generate pulses with extremely fast rise and fall times (under 10 nanoseconds) at frequencies from 2 to 18 GHz. These were often used in pulsed radar applications and probably cost quite a bit more new than [Tom] shelled out for them.

# Don’t Let The Baluns Float Over Your Head

Most ham radio operators will build an antenna of some sort when they first start listening or transmitting, whether it’s a simple dipole, a beam antenna like a Yagi, or even just a random wire vertical antenna. All of these will need to be connected feedline of some sort, and in the likely event you reach for some 50-ohm coax cable you’ll also need a balun to reduce noise or unwanted radiation. Don’t be afraid of extra expenses when getting into this hobby, though, as [W6NBC] demonstrates how to construct an “ugly balun” out of the coax wire itself (PDF).

The main purpose of a balun, a contraction of “balanced-unbalanced” is to convert an unbalanced transmission line to a balanced one. However, as [W6NBC] explains, this explanation obscures much of what baluns are actually doing. In reality, they take a three-wire system (the coax) and convert it to a two-wire system (the antenna), which keeps all of the electrical noise and current on the shield wire of the coax from interfering with the desirable RF on the interior of the coax.

This might seem somewhat confusing on the surface, as coax wires only have a center conductor and a shield wire, but thanks to the skin effect which drives currents to the outside of the conductor, the shield wire effectively becomes two conductors when taking into account its inner and outer surfaces. At these high frequencies the balun is acting as a choke which keeps these two high-frequency conductors separate from one another, and keeps all the noise on the outside of the shield wire and out of the transmitter or receiver.

Granted, the world of high-frequency radio circuits can get quite complex and counter-intuitive and, as we’ve shown before, can behave quite unexpectedly when compared to DC or even mains-frequency AC. But a proper understanding of baluns and other types of transformers and the ways they interact with RF can be a powerful tool to have. We’eve even seen other hams use specialty transformers like these to make antennas out of random lengths and shapes of wire.

# Printing Antennas On Circuit Boards

Yagi-Uda antennas, or simply “Yagis”, are directional antennas that focus radio waves to increase gain, meaning that the radio waves can travel further in that direction for a given transmitter power. Anyone might recognize an old TV antenna on a roof that uses this type of antenna, but they can be used to increase the gain of an antenna at any frequency. This one is designed to operate within the frequencies allotted to WiFi and as a result is so small that the entire antenna can be printed directly on a PCB.

The antenna consists of what is effectively a dipole antenna, sandwiched in between a reflector and three directors. The reflector and directors are passive elements in that they interact with the radio wave to focus it in a specific direction, but the only thing actually powered is the dipole in the middle. It looks almost like a short circuit at first but thanks to the high frequencies involved in this band, will still function like any other dipole antenna would. [IMSAI Guy], who created the video linked above which goes over these details also analyzed the performance of this antenna and found it to be fairly impressive as a WiFi antenna, but he did make a few changes to the board for some other minor improvements in performance.

The creator of these antennas, [WA5VJB] aka [Kent Britain] is an antenna builder based in Texas who has developed a few unique styles of antennas produced in non-traditional ways. Besides this small Yagi, there are other microwave antennas available for direction-finding, some wide-band antennas, and log-periodic antennas that look similar to Yagi antennas but are fundamentally different designs. But if you’re looking to simply extend your home’s WiFi range you might not need any of these, as Yagi antennas for home routers can be a lot simpler than you ever imagined.

# Homebrew Wattmeter Pays Homage To Sturdy Original

If there’s one instrument that hams and other radio enthusiasts covet, it’s the venerable Bird 43 Thruline wattmeter. The useful RF tool has barely changed in the nearly 70 years since it was first introduced, and they’re built like a tank. This makes Bird meters highly desirable, and therefore quite expensive either brand new or on the swap-meet circuit.

But radio amateurs are nothing if not resourceful, and building a homebrew version of the Bird wattmeter (in Portuguese; Google translate tool at the bottom of the page) as Brazilian ham [Luciano Sturaro (PY2BBS)] did is a good way to get your hands on one. Granted, [Luciano] had a head start: a spare line set, which is the important bit from a Bird wattmeter. The machined metal part is in effect an air-insulated section of coaxial cable that the RF signal passes through on its way from transmitter to antenna. A “slug” is inserted into the cavity in the line set to sense the RF and couple it to the meter electronics; the slug can be rotated to measure RF traveling in either direction, allowing the user to determine how much RF is getting reflected by the antenna system.

[Luciano]’s version of the meter is faithful to the sturdy construction of the original, with a solid steel case that mimics its classic lines — the case even sports the same color scheme and stout leather carry handle. There are some changes to the electronics, and the meter movement itself is different from the original, but all in all, the “Buzz 50” looks fantastic. We especially love the detailed nameplate as an homage to Bird.

The thing about Bird — and Bird-like — meters is that the slugs are like potato chips; you can’t have just one. Curious as to how these slugs work? Check out this slug repair project.

[Featured image of Bird 43 Wattmeter: Martin RF Supply]

Thanks to [Niko Huenk] for the tip!

# Finding RF Cable Impedance

At DC and low frequency, we can pretend wires are perfect conductors. At radio frequencies, though, there are many effects that you need to take into account for wires and cables. One of these is characteristic impedance. If you have a marked cable, you can look it up on the Internet, of course. But what if you don’t know what kind of wire it is? With help from [The Offset Volt], you can measure it as he shows in the video below.

This is one of those things that used to take exotic test equipment like an LCR bridge, but these days meters that measure inductance and capacitance are commonplace. The trick is simple: measure the capacitance and then short one end of the cable and measure the inductance.

# Homebrew Loop Antenna Brings The Shortwave World To You

Radio may be dead in terms of delivering entertainment, but it’s times like these when the original social network comes into its own. Being able to tune in stations from across the planet to get fresh perspectives on a global event can even be a life saver. You’ll need a good antenna to do that, which is where this homebrew loop antenna for the shortwave radio bands shines.

To be honest, pretty much any chunk of wire will do as an antenna for most shortwave receivers. But not everyone lives somewhere where it’s possible to string up a hundred meters of wire and get a good ground connection, which could make a passive loop antenna like this a good choice. Plus, loops tend to cancel the electrical noise that’s so part of life today, which can make it easier to pull in weak, distant stations.

[Thomas]’s design is based on a length of coaxial cable, which should be stiff enough to give the loop some stability, like a low-loss RG-8 or RG-213. The coax braid and dielectric are exposed at the midpoint of the cable to create a feed point, while the shield and center conductor at the other ends are cross-connected. A 1:1 transformer is wound on a toroid core to connect to the feedpoint; [Thomas] calls it a balun but we tend to think it’s more of an unun, since both the antenna and feedline are unbalanced. He reports good results from the loop across the shortwave band.

The shortwave and ham bands are a treasure trove of information and entertainment just waiting to be explored. Check them out — you might learn something, and you might even stumble across spies doing their thing.

[via RTL-SDR.com]