A few more notes on the OpenBeacon…

June 7, 2012 | Amateur Radio | By: Mark VandeWettering

A few days ago I wrote about my experience building the OpenBeacon, and Jason Mildrum, NT7S, it’s creator was nice enough to happen by my blog and leave a comment. In that original article, I said that the instructions were (and I quote) “barely adequate”. Jason asked (perhaps more politely than was truly deserved) what I meant and how he could make the instructions clearer so that someone could build the kit with greater confidence.

A very class act, I must say.

First, I should mention that I find no mistakes in the instructions. I built it as described, and it worked the very first time. I don’t think any experienced kit builder will have any difficulty getting the kit to work.

But I think instructions as they written make assembly a little less smooth than they could be. Here are my specific suggestions.

  • First, I thought it was odd that the BOM was the only place that you could find the component values. For instance, if you are marching down the component list, and you see you need to install Q4, you have to refer to a different document (in my video, you can see me hopping back and forth on my iPad) to find out what Q4 actually is. It really wouldn’t be that hard to expand each of these with the actual component value in line.
  • It would be nice to clarify the general way idea of how it’s going to be assembled. First the USB/Microcontroller. Then the oscillator. Then the power amp. Although I actually found it simpler to mount pretty much all the caps and resistors first, and then worry about the rest, but that’s nit picking. It would also be nice to have a diagram showing the components installed in each stage to help you navigate a bit easier and check for errors.
  • I built the kit while working from the BOM as it was displayed on my iPad, but I kind of like instructions that have a checklist that you can check off as you do each part. Helps keep me organized.
  • Link the schematic on the same page. At one point I powered on the microcontroller, and D7 wasn’t lit. I consulted the schematic, and then realized that it was driven by the 2N7000, which I had forgotten to install. It would be nice to have that handy.
  • The troubleshooting page is linked from the top of the page, which isn’t typically where you need it (put a link at each place where you make a check perhaps). When a check fails, you won’t have to search for where to go.

For all that, I’m nitpicking: I shouldn’t have used the words “barely adequate”. They are entirely adequate, just not as conveniently organized as I would like. I think a section describing a calibration procedure for the WSPR mode might be nice too.

My OpenBeacon is off the air until next week, but expect it back shortly, in a more temperature-controlled enclosure. And thanks to Jason for the cool kit.


Comment from Dave Richards
Time 6/7/2012 at 5:45 pm

Hi Mark –

I was a bit confused when I read this post because I didn’t remember having any issues with building my OpenBeacon. You mention that it would be nice to have the general order of assembly clarified. Unless I’m much mistaken, it’s all on this page – http://docs.etherkit.com/OpenBeacon/Assembly_Guide which is linked from this page – http://docs.etherkit.com/OpenBeacon

I could be wrong, but from what you’re saying, it sounds like you didn’t see the assembly guide.

I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now but I think this is the first time I’ve commented, so hello!


Comment from Jason Milldrum, NT7S
Time 6/11/2012 at 12:53 am

Hi Mark,

I really appreciate the detailed response. The best thing that a smart entrepreneur can receive is good constructive feedback, so I’m grateful that you took the time to respond.

I think all of your points are valid and I will most likely implement most of them. A few quick points about my thought process. I didn’t include values in the Assembly Guide because there were a few minor component changes at the time of writing and I didn’t want to get out of sync with the BOM. I’m used to checking off the BOM as I build, but I have to remember that not everyone does things like I do. 🙂 In the same vein, I eschewed a printed manual because things were still very much in flux when the instructions are published. On top of that, having the instructions be online-only allows me to implement suggestions like yours to the documentation much better than having to re-render a PDF every time something changes.

Again, I appreciate your thoughts!

Jason Milldrum NT7S