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Opinions, observations, feeble attempts at humor from the OM at AI7AA (ex-N7GGJ)

Your input is encouraged: please click here to send me an email message. Better yet: send an NTS radiogram to AI7AA c/o WSN.

Inverted L Ready (sort of) for Winter

posted Oct 19, 2013, 10:25 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Oct 19, 2013, 10:41 PM ]

Oh, I have not kept up with this account of my ham radio adventures. What can I say? Rather than trying to catch up, and tell you about everything I've done since Field Day, I'll just recount the most recent adventures. 

About 3 weeks ago, I took down the 46 foot dipole (this worked on 30 and 10 meters, with a little help from the tuner) and hung a full-wave delta loop for 40 meters in its place. Here's a (crude) drawing of that antenna:




It did come out much like that drawing, and it does seem to work OK. I haven't operated much with it so far; the real test will be CWSS coming in a couple of weeks. 

Well, that antenna fell down due to some bad design, and I put it back up with a little more thought. One of the corners failed. I had secured them with wire twist ties, and they just aren't strong enough. Now the corners are secured with two cable ties, and I doubt that they will fail. 

Next, I wanted to get the inverted L back on the air. I had been experimenting with random elevated radials, but decided to go back to the ground-mount configuration. This took a bit of fooling around.  I picked up a nice bus bar somewhere (All Electronics?) a long time ago, which has been sitting in the junk box. This was about 16 inches long. I cut it in half. I used one of those plastic shoebox storage boxes to protect it from the elements, by fastening the shoebox lid to the 4x4 at the base of the antenna. Then I fastened the two pieces of bus bar through the lid to the pole with some self-tapping screws, and connected them together. I ran a heavy piece of wire to my old set of ground radials that were terminated about 5 feet away, and added a few more radials directly to the new ground bus. In time, I'll add more.



In November QST, there was a piece in "Hints and Kinks" that came in handy in both of these projects. N5VTU said that he used bicycle inner tubes to protect coax connections, by cutting a six-inch length of inner tube and securing it with cable ties. This makes a nice waterproof cover that can be easily removed without making a mess. I used that trick on the delta loop, and also on the coax and DC power connections to the SGC 239 tuner. 



In doing some ham-radio-related Internet surfing, I discovered a product that I used a little bit today as I added some new radials to the new bus bar. These are lawn staples, supplied by Ross Radio, KB8NTY.    They are neat little wire staples that can be easily pushed into the sod to hold radials close to the surface. In time, they should sink in, as the grass grows up around them. This is a lot easier than trying to cut slits in the sod in the rocky concrete that we have for soil here. I also used a pile of well-used U-bolts, somewhat rusty and damaged, pounded into the ground with a hammer, to secure the radials at some points. This worked extremely well, and if one has a supply of junk u-bolts, it's not a bad idea. It would be far too expensive to buy new ones. 

I had to yank the inverted-L down out of the trees and untangle it. It had become so twisted up at the apex that the SWR was about 3.5 to 1 on 160 meters. Straightened out, it loads well on the low end of the band, and not well up around 1.9 MHz or higher. I haven't operated up there in the past, so it's not worrisome, but I wonder what I could do to improve the SWR at the high end of the band, should I desire to use that portion. The "L" also loads up on the higher bands, though it's a bit skittish about 10 meters.


AR

Field Day is Closer

posted Jun 8, 2013, 8:16 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Oct 21, 2013, 7:36 AM ]

I am not the kind of person who does things ahead of time. Typically I am the guy who starts a contest about two hours late because I have to set up my logging software, read the rules, and then fix three or four things that are messed up in the station before I make that first QSO.

And so, it is with some amazement that I find myself trying, now two weeks in advance, to get ready for Field Day. As I related earlier, we have a reservation for a campsite at Manchester State Park. I have upgraded the "house" batteries in the motorhome to a couple of new, larger (if they were a quarter inch longer I would need to find a new place to put them), and much heavier (my arms are a little longer than they used to be) batteries. These are from Les Schwab, made by Johnson Controls. Part number 31DC-700, rated at 125 AH. These are 12V batteries, running in parallel.

I have, over the last two weeks, gone over my equipment, ordered a few odds and ends, and put things together in the motorhome where it sits next to the house. In this way I am slowly getting things ready for Field Day.

I began to worry that even with the new big batteries, it just isn't going to be possible to operate with the FT-100. While I have a generator, the 4KW Onan that is standard equipment on our Winnebago Minnie, it's bad manners--and against park regulations--to run it when people are trying to sleep. Quiet hours are typically about 9pm to 8am, or something like that, and I don't want to hear a generator running all night long any more than my neighbors will. For that matter, I don't want to listen to it much during the day, either.

The FT-100, as I mentioned in the last post, is a bit of a current hog. It will consume 22A when transmitting at 100W, and about 1.2 A at idle (squelched receive). The HW8 hardly makes a dent, using only 90mA in receive, and 430mA when transmitting. [http://home.frognet.net/~mcfadden/wd8rif/hw8.htm] So, today I set up my HW8 and gave it a test run.

One thing I discovered is that the HW8 really doesn't have enough power to operate the SG-239 automatic antenna tuner. This is disappointing, as I like to use an end-fed wire with that device as an "all-band" antenna which, with my 33 foot fiberglass pole, is possible to erect in almost any campsite. I had set up a test antenna in the yard, and was using it with success with the FT-100. The HW8 will tune it on some frequencies, if the phase of the moon is just right and I hold my tongue in a certain place in my mouth, but it's not the way I'd like it to work.

It is possible, I suppose, that if I had a shorter coax run between the rig and the tuner that the power level might be high enough, as it is obviously very close. On 40m it tuned just about every time I tried. 

The next thing I experimented with was the G5RV Jr and the LDG AT100Pro tuner. That tuner worked very well with the HW8, even providing a match on 80m, which I didn't expect with such a short antenna. 

To hedge my bets, I will bring along at least one hand-cranked antenna tuner. The automatic ones are nice, especially when working in cramped quarters, but there's nothing like Armstrong Power when Murphy comes to visit.

After running the MH for about 7 hours on batteries only (they were well charged from the AC mains for several days), the battery voltage remained at a satisfactory 12.4 V at the operating point, and slightly higher on the voltmeter I installed at the monitor panel near the galley -- closer to the batteries. So, it may be possible to run the FT 100 after all. I'm not sure. It might be nice to just use the good old HW8, which will make the QRP bonus easily (it doesn't put out more than 2 watts, and on some frequencies, less than 1), and be very easy on the batteries.

If I decide to spend more time messing with this before the actual event, I may think about making a dedicated 20m antenna. I have on board a 40m dipole (good for 15, too, as we know), the G5RV Jr. (which will usually cover 40 -10m), and the random wire, which I usually erect as an inverted L, using the telescoping fiberglass pole braced against the ladder at the rear of the vehicle. 

Hm. I still have that wire yagi. Maybe I should bring that along, in case there's a place to put it up. One never knows.

My plan for logging, at this point, is to use xlog on the Dell mini-9, which I hope will have sufficient battery life in between generator runs. I hope. If not, well, I may be using a pencil and some kind of dupe sheet. Hm. Hold on for a few minutes while I find a 12V adapter for the mini 9. Yep. $8. Another FD purchase. I wonder if the ARRL realizes how much FD stimulates the economy?

What else. I have an MFJ-4416B battery booster coming from DX Engineering that ought to be here before FD, and an MFJ QRP antenna tuner coming from MFJ that might be. 

I've installed more Powerpoles, and acquired a decent crimping tool that makes putting them together a bit easier. I put 'poles on the SG-239 for the DC line, and soldered banana plugs to the random wire and the ground radials that work with that antenna system. 

So, we'll see what happens. I've got enough parts and pieces that I ought to be on the air for most of the contest. I'm not going to stay up all night, so maybe I should say "much of the contest."  Those days are gone.

So, please listen hard for my peanut whistle, and work AI7AA, 1B WWA. 

73,

Eric AI7AA

-AR-

Field Day 2013, On the Horizon

posted May 29, 2013, 2:00 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated May 29, 2013, 2:16 PM ]

In just 26 days, if I'm counting correctly, it will be Field Day, 22 June 2013. I am planning to operate from Manchester State Park, WA, which is located here: 

Manchester State Park


I will be in campsite 38, a site that has no electrical power. Therefore, I plan to operate on emergency power, provided by the generator and battery system in the motorhome. 

A few weeks ago we took a week's vacation and started out camping on Camano Island, in a state park, where there are no "hookups" at all. That park didn't even have a functioning trailer dump, a sad commentary on what's happening to our parks system. That was an educational visit. In one evening of operating a few lights, an exhaust fan, and the FT100, I brought the house batteries to their knees. I had to start the engine in order to have enough juice to start the generator to recharge them. When they failed (I measured about 10.5V), it was fairly late in the evening, and I risked annoying other campers as well as running afoul of a park ranger or campground host by running my generator at all, so I only ran it for a short time. Fortunately, due to the early (5 May) date and the lack of amenities, the park was very thinly inhabited, and I don't think we bothered anyone--but the batteries were only barely charged in that short run. I got the generator going again the next day, but we decided to move on to a location with power, and a place to dump the holding tanks. 

Since that trip, I have decided to replace the existing batteries with new ones, which have higher capacity. This should improve things, but I still have to wonder just how much I can really expect to operate, especially in a contest, without the Grid. There are, of course, ways to calculate what the load will be, and compare that to what is available, but all that will take a great deal of time, as well as some math, and engineering knowledge, quantities of which I don't have a surplus. I am, by necessity as well as by nature, inclined to a seat-of-the-pants, gut-feel type of calculation, and that is leading me to think hard about running a real QRP station for Field Day.

If I'm fortunate, I'll have my new house batteries installed in the next couple of days, and will be able to do some testing with the FT-100, to get a feel for how well it might do on the air with some other things consuming current in the motor home. Obviously, I'll have to run the transmit power fairly low, but being a bells-and-whistles microprocessor-based radio, it probably consumes 1-2 AH in receive. I believe there is an option not to backlight the display, I'll have to look in to that. I have battery (dry-cell) powered LED lights that I use in the cab for operating, and I can run my MFJ piggyback keyer with a 9V dry cell as well. 

If the prognosis is poor, I will then look at using my HW8 transceiver, which is a nominal 2 watt rig that should draw very little current on receive, and not much on transmit, for that matter. I should actually be able to run the HW8 from a separate storage battery; I have one of those power-pack gel cells that I keep charged in the garage for emergencies. Even if I connect it to the house power, I doubt that it will draw that system down enough to cause a problem. 

One area of concern is the power draw from the SGC SG-239 remote tuner. I often use this to match a random wire antenna when camping. I have had fairly good results with this setup. According to SGC, the SG-239 uses 300mA of input current, or 230mA "average" as stated in the manual.  It is unclear whether the tuner draws that all the time, or just when it's actually tuning. (I just sent an email to SGC asking about that.) The other non-resonant antenna that I might like to use is a G5RV-Jr that I carry in the motorhome. For that antenna, I would normally use the FC-20 tuner with the FT-100. I also carry an LDG AT-100Pro automatic tuner, which might be a good option for the G5RV-Jr, as it uses only 500 mA maximum, and 7mA idle. The LDG has latching relays, which are good for battery use. According to its specs, it requires only 1 watt to tune. This last item concerns me a bit, and I will have to test it, as the HW8's power output is often not much more than that. 

So, this will be interesting, and no doubt a lot of the real testing and learning will happen right in the thick of the contest, as that's what usually happens to me.

More will be revealed...

-AR-

JT65-HF

posted Apr 28, 2013, 9:11 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Apr 28, 2013, 10:43 PM ]

My digital adventures continue. As I tune around the digital sub-bands, in pursuit--among other things--of an elusive first Hell QSO, the tones of what I have learned are JT65 transmissions are nearly always audible. It's hard to ignore that oddly musical sound, which is a little bit like someone playing a handful of notes on a very limited electronic keyboard. When I identified this mode here, and read a little bit about it, I wanted to try it. 

JT65 is the invention of Joe Taylor, K1JT. I won't attempt to explain it here, as there is plenty of high quality information at the WSJT site. What I will say is that JT65 is a digital mode designed for weak signal operations. I have learned only about the use of JT65 on HF, for skywave operation. I mention this because the mode is also used for weak signal VHF/UHF work, including EME. I've restricted my experimentation to HF at this point. It allows stations to exchange minimal information, including callsign, signal report (in dB), and QTH (using the Maidenhead Grid system). It is narrow-banded (200 Hz), and HF stations on this mode normally run fairly low power. 

Today, running only 16 watts on 20m, I contacted AC0NF in Missouri, using JT65. Before the successful QSO, I think I managed to mess up a sort of partial QSO with someone else. If that individual happens to read this, my apologies. Somewhere in there I clicked on the wrong thing. JT65 involves using a slightly complicated GUI. All information goes out of and comes into that interface. 

I originally downloaded and installed the WSJT software. I did have it working, but was a little confused about how to proceed into actually completing a QSO. A little more reading led me to download JT65-HF from IZ4CZL's terrific (and colorful!) website. JT65-HF is a little more user-friendly, as is the documentation that comes with it. Using this, I was on the air in a short time. 

I look forward to learning more about this mode. WSPR is a related mode about which I'm also curious. JT65 and PSK-31 are both suited for low power, weak signal operations, and may be good to use when I'm camping. I've been able to use the FT-100 with a laptop in the motorhome for N1MM logger, so it should be possible to operate digitally as well.

-AR-


N1MM Digital

posted Apr 21, 2013, 6:26 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Apr 21, 2013, 6:28 PM ]

I decided yesterday to try to make a few QSOs in the Troy, NY Amateur Radio Association's " TARA Skirmish" digital modes contest. As I've been trying to get on RTTY, PSK, and Hell lately, this seemed like a good idea.

What I found was that it wasn't easy. I did manage to get N1MM on the air with RTTY. I decided to run 20W, the "Great" category in the TARA contest. This may not have been a great decision, as I did not make any QSOs in RTTY during the two or three hours that I tried. For that matter, I didn't actually find any stations on the air using RTTY in the contest, much less contact any. 

My attempt to get PSK-31 to work with N1MM was dismal. I started out trying to use Fldigi, but Fldigi continually failed with a strange error message that I didn't save. (I deserve this, as I am always complaining when my users at work tell me that they saw "an error," but can't tell me what  error.) I then became aware, from the N1MM documentation (zzzz), that the MMVARI software is the native path within N1MM to PSK-31. Well, that may or may not have worked, but I couldn't make any sense of it. 

Finally, I shut down N1MM and loaded DXLab. I managed to make a few Qs via PSK-31,  confirming that there actually were some stations participating, at least in PSK. I'll have to do some experimenting and reading, not to mention brain-picking, before the next time I want to use N1MM in a digital contest.

-AR-

A Clean Yamshack

posted Apr 13, 2013, 10:05 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Apr 14, 2013, 6:59 PM ]

I did some cleaning and organizing today, and took a few pictures of the shack during this brief period while it still looks good. In the first shot, it looks like there is a bush growing right out of the top of the monitors. That bush is outside the window, though. The wooden structure outside is the Catio, an enclosure for the enjoyment of my feline ruler.




[Below] Dad's bugs are proudly displayed on the shelf. They don't get a lot of use, but once in a while I hook one up. It's an exercise in humility every time. 


[Below] Sitting on top of the MFJ-969 ATU, just next to that little telephone box tea-tin, is the USB Interface III, the most recent addition to the shack. I've been having a lot of fun with that tiny gadget, along with DX Lab and Fldigi software.




In the next one you can see the backs of the monitors. I used a couple of steel brackets that used to hold a TV in the motorhome o allow the monitors to sit right on the shelf and at the front. This is a little easier on my neck, and brings them closer to my weak eyes. Ah, old age. 




By Any Other Name

posted Apr 9, 2013, 8:10 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Apr 9, 2013, 8:27 PM ]



Yam Radio: a cholesterol-free, low fat, low sodium, and vegan alternative to "Ham Radio."

Yes, my friends. This could eliminate those awkward moments when new friends inquire about your hobbies and interests. It is no longer necessary to present our love for  radio as carnivorous. And, when traditionalists hear you say it, they'll probably assume that you're saying it the old way -- or that you have an unusual regional accent. 

Not that there's anything to be ashamed about. I've been a Ham for fifty years, after all. But times change, and a person has to be flexible, and there isn't anything better than a lovely dish of baked yams, is there? 

So, thanks to my good friend Robert for
pointing out that perhaps in this Brave New World, our old hobby could use a new moniker. And thanks to all the great (Y)(H)ams out there, because I know that the vast majority of you have a terrific sense of humor. See you on the (Yam) bands!

73

-AR- 



Juliet:
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose 

By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)













PSK-31

posted Apr 5, 2013, 4:12 PM by Eric Lester

Well, the fun is just beginning. I have managed to figure out how to receive and transmit PSK-31,and have made something like 3 QSOs now.  For anyone out there running an FT1000MP, I found that I had to go to menu option 8-6 and set up the "user" button so that I could have PKT and USB. This is necessary because the PSK31 signal is an audio signal from the USB Interface III soundcard (generated by the PC) and has to be sent to the transceiver through the rear panel connector. (Well, it doesn't have to be, but that's the way I want it.) To make the rear panel connector audio input active, one must have either the PKT or RTTY button active. PKT defaults to LSB, and RTTY is set up for "real" FSK, so -- if I've been confusing, don't hesitate to contact me for help. 

In any event, I have put more details of this adventure here, for future reference.

Onward and upward!

73

-AR-

US Postal Rates

posted Apr 4, 2013, 1:09 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Apr 18, 2013, 11:05 AM ]

Since I mentioned this subject the last time postal rates went up, here's a brief update on the new rates, effective 27 January 2013:

Highlights of the new single-piece First-Class Mail pricing, effective Jan. 27, 2013 include:

  • Letters (1oz.) — 1-cent increase to 46 cents
  • Letters additional ounces — unchanged at 20 cents
  • Letters to all international destinations (1oz.) — $1.10
  • Postcards — 1-cent increase to 33 cents
The above was copied mercilessly from the USPS website at http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2012/pr12_114.htm

NB: Unless I am missing something (hold the comments, please) this means that there is no longer a slightly lower rate for letters to Canada and Mexico. Under the old rates it was only $0.85 for a 1-oz. letter to our North American neighbors. No more, apparently.

18 April 2013: A visit to the Post Office confirmed the above. 1 oz. letters to Canada and Mexico are sent at the same rate ($1.10) as to other foreign countries, such as the UK, Italy, Brazil, or New Zealand.


RTTY

posted Apr 3, 2013, 7:06 PM by Eric Lester   [ updated Apr 3, 2013, 7:28 PM ]

I just made two QSOs via RTTY for the first time in quite a few years. I'm not sure, but I think I used to operate some RTTY when I lived in Black Diamond in the early 90s. I had a PK64 TNC, which was capable of several digital modes. Prior to that, when we lived in Renton, I had a HAL CT-2100 and an old GE Terminet console that I used with my Kenwood TS520SE. 

All that stuff is gone away, long ago. Today owing a PC is about as unusual as owning a frying pan or a telephone. I work in IT and I can never quite keep track of exactly how many computers are rattling around the house. Here in the shack I have a more-or-less dedicated PC, a Dell Optiplex 755 running Windows XP and the DX Lab suite, as well as N1MM for contesting.

I have used DX Lab and N1MM with CAT and computer-logging by means of a simple CW interface, and a serial cable from the PC to the rig. As I got interested in running some other modes, such as RTTY and PSK31, and read about what I'd need to do, it became attractive to have something a little bit more sophisticated.

What I'm using now is a microHAM USB Interface III. This is not the fanciest little box they make, but it really does simplify my operation, and works beautifully with the computer and radio. microHAM makes some really high-quality equipment, and I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to recommend them to anyone. My brother Carl K2YR owns one of their microKEYERs, but I'm not sure which one, as he runs SO2R and the array of black boxes on his desk is more than confusing to me. 




And so, after several days of puzzling over settings, and reading all kinds of information, I've been able to make 2 RTTY QSOs. This is always the most fun of ham radio for me, making something new work. While it's frustrating, and sometimes tempting to just throw in the towel, it's hard to think of many things that are as much fun as getting some new antenna, or radio, or mobile install, or mode, on the air. 

So, if you hear (see?) AI7AA on the RTTY sub-bands, please do give me a call. 

Next task: PSK31!

73

-AR-

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