Understand Your Tools: Finger Exercises

A dip meter is basically a coil of wire that, when you excite it, you can use to tell if something inside that coil is resonating along. This lets you measure unknown radio circuits to figure out their resonant frequency, for instance. This week, we featured a clever way to make a dip meter with a nanoVNA, which is an odd hack simply because a dip meter used to be a common spare-parts DIY device, while a vector network analyzer used to cost more than a house.

Times have changed, and for the better. Nowadays, any radio amateur can pick up a VNA for less than the cost of all but the cheesiest of walkie talkies, putting formerly exotic test equipment in the hands of untrained mortals. But what good is a fancy-pants tool if you don’t know how to use it? Our own Jenny List faced exactly this problem when she picked up a nanoVNA, and her first steps are worth following along with if you find yourself in her shoes.

All of this reminded me of an excellent series by Mike Szczys, “Scope Noob”, where he chronicled his forays into learning how to use an oscilloscope by running all of the basic functions by working through a bunch of test measurements that he already knew the answer to.

It strikes me that we could use something like this for nearly every piece of measuring equipment. Something more than just an instruction manual that walks you through what all the dials do. Something that takes you through a bunch of example projects and shows you how to use the tool in question through a handful of projects. Because these days, access to many formerly exotic pieces of measuring gear has enabled many folks to have gear they never would have had before – and all that’s missing is knowing how to drive them.

The Grid Dip Meter: Forgotten Instrument

It used to be a major rite of passage for a hardware hacker to acquire an oscilloscope. Until recently, new instruments were rarely in normal people’s budgets, so you probably made do with a used scope. Now, there are lots of inexpensive options, especially if you include low-end PC scopes and “scope meters.” Digital meters are also now inexpensive (often free at some major stores), along with signal generators, frequency counters, and even logic analyzers.

But there is one piece of test equipment you don’t see as often as you used to and its a shame, because it is a very versatile piece of kit. Admittedly, if you aren’t doing wireless work, it might not be high on your wish list, but if you do anything with RF, it is not only a versatile tool, but a good value, too. What’s it called? That depends. Historically, they went by the name “Grid Dip Oscillator” or GDO. Sometimes you’d hear it called a “Grid Dip Meter” instead. However, modern versions don’t have tubes (and, thus, no grid) so sometimes you hear them now called dip meters or maybe just dippers.

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