Monday, August 29, 2011

Now That's Ham Radio!

I've been following fellow Ham's blog and reading about Irene. Sounds like it was bad, especially in Vermont, but it also could have been worse. Way to go all you Hams who jumped in to provide EmComm for your communities. Now that's Ham Radio!

Personally, I've been too busy to be on the air. Life is interfereing with my hobby again. I'm sure it's a cruel game being played by the Radio Fates! My good friend and fellow PI, Jake "Tora" Lawson called me in on a stakeout. Copper thieves have been hitting businesses on N. Main here in Wichita, and we set up to catch them. If your read my other blog, you can read about those misadventures.

I got a BS in Business Management and now I'm going for Criminal Justice degree. By going to school, I complete the Continued Education requirements for PIs in Kansas, and it's tax deductible. Unfortunately, one of my classes is on Thursday night, so no more Fox chasing for this hound.

Friday, my brother and I are leaving for Illinois. Our half-sister passed away from an apparent heart attack and we are attending the funeral. It will be about an 8 hour drive from Wichita. I don't think I will be able to go use my radio this weekend either, but there is no helping it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Tuna Tin 2 Didn't Tune

Somewhere around 2002-2003, I bought a Tuna Tin 2 kit and built it in a couple of evenings. It was my first transmitter kit. As my interest in Ham Radio waned, I put it on the shelf and it became a dust collector. I never gave it the "smoke test" to even see if it worked.

The poor beast has been ingored, banged around, and stuffed in whatever convenient place I could find, like my glovebox, for the last eight or nine years. The only modification from the original build that I did was to replace the 7.040 crystal with a 7.055, so I would operate in SKCC territory ( I proabably should have got a crystal set to a frequency between 7.100 and 7.125mhz to operate in the old Novice portion of the band where the slow coders hang out.). Yesterday, I went to the local candy store, (a Radio Shack that actually carries Amateur Radio stuff) and bought some BNC to PL 259 adapters, along with some other stuff, and I decided to give the rig a smoke test. My power supply was a universal wall-wart type, that I clicked over to the 12v setting. I had an old 1/8 plug that I soldered  speaker wire to and then I hooked the other ends to my straight key.

Needless to say, it didn't work. A fact I don't find surprising, nor is it discouraging. This is a very simple circuit and I will do my best to troubleshoot it. This type of effort, trying to find out what went wrong, is probably the best way to learn. Not the easiest, but the best. I hope to get the little beggar pumping out its mighty 500ma, whatever it turns out to be, and I hope to learn a little about circuits as I make it happen. I suspect my power supply, and I'm going to buy the recommended battery pack this weekend when I get a chance. I'm also going to replace the used 1/8" plug with a new one. If that doesn't work, I guess I'll break out my multitester and start checking the components.

Wish me luck,

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sometimes It's Discouraging

How people act on the bands, I mean. Last Thursday, I was trying to participate in the weekly QRP Foxhunt on twenty meters, and I was having a hard time finding the foxes, and then I did hear one, but someone was whistling over the top of them. It is hard enough for a slow coder like me to run with the hounds at the best of times, but I was completely wiped out by some jackass whistling. Not only did he violate regulations by deliberately interfering with someone else's transmissions, but he was using voice in the digital/CW portion of the band. I had had a hard day and was tired, so I just turned my rig off and went back upstairs.

I was so discouraged, busy, and distracted that I only got back on the air on Sunday. Besides checking into the 14.300 Maratime Mobile Net, via relay due to band conditions, I accomplished little. I sent CQ for a 1/2 hour at 5watts and again at a 100 watts, but no takers.

I hope to try and snag another pelt this week, but we'll see.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Radio Fates are Mocking Me

After snagging that pelt during the weekly QRP Foxhunt, I got really jazzed about working some more QRP! My insomnia kicked in Thursday night, so I snuck out of bed and down to the shack to make a few contacts. I was unsuccessful and after an hour I snuck back into bed trying not to wake the XYL. With visions of far away contacts with my rig set to a bare 5 watts, consuming me, I waited for the weekend and radio time. But of course, The Radio Fates scoff at my puny efforts. Stuff came up and I couldn't get down to the shack for hours and hours. Finally, I get to the basement, hoping to work the Battle of Wilson Creek special event station and a couple others, and the propagation is just terrible. I never heard W0C, or very many other stations unless they were running amps. 40M had S8 noise last night and today, but 20 meters seemed to be active, but I called CQ for thirty minutes today (and a hour last night), and no one answered, even when I went QRO to 100 watts. Thus, The Radio Fates taunt me with a little bit of success and then mock me with a hundred distractions and poor band conditions. Curse you Radio Fates!

I am collecting the bits and pieces of equipment I have that have been packed away when I dropped out of the hobby. The one think I'm going to need to build my new mast is the one piece I'm dreading to get. It is my antenna base. Its a homebrew jackstand for airplanes. I picked it up at the local scrap yard for $15. It weighs a ton, but it works very well for the purpose I got it for, that is to hold up a mast without me having to do a permanent installation. My poor back hurts just thinking about lifting that mostrosity.

Once I have all the pieces, I will trim the trees back to make room the Alpha Delta LB Plus dipole. I'm hoping with a taller mast and a more professional antenna, I can get at least 2db gain over my current set up. I've listened in on a few QSOs, and stations that are given (legitimate, not contest) RSTs at 5/9+, I'm hearing them at 5/7. I particularly noticed this when a Ohio station was talking to a New Mexico station and the signal would have come straight through Kansas. I've also noticed I'm at least 2db lighter on receive when I check into the Maritime Mobile Net. This 2db discrepancy is way too frequent to be just a anomaly. Hopefully, my LB+ will restore my lost gain.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I got my first pelt ever tonight in the QRP Foxhunt, WOOT, WOOT, WOOT!

I worked Paul AA4XX at 0229 Zulu, less than a minute before the contest ended! I called the other fox, Al K2ZN for fifteen minutes or more, but I could not work him, even though he had a very nice signal into Kansas. Paul's signal was much weaker, but clear enough and I snagged my pelt from him. I'm a very happy camper tonight! I must send out a big thank you to Paul for slowing down for this slow-coder!

Let's see, Wichita, Ks to Raleigh, NC is 1270 miles and I was using a full QRP gallon at 5watts, so that is 254miles to the watt. Not really impressive by QRP standards. I am going to set a goal tonight of working at least 1000 miles on a single watt. That will be a big challenge, by golly!

I realized after my earlier post today, that I did just what Kenwood did, assume you know everything that I'm talking about. If you are not familiar with the hobby, or if you are a beginner, I should explain some of the terms. If you're an experienced Ham, you already know this stuff.

RIT is Receiver Incremental Tuner. This feature allows you to listen on one frequency while broadcasting on another. This is called working "Split".

SPLIT - When a station is planning on having a large number of people calling them, this is called a pile-up, they will broadcast on one channel, but listen on another channel and the people calling will be an mirror image to the main station, calling and listening on opposite frequencies. Why work Split? It facilitates the exchange of information as, theoretically, only the main station is talking on the one frequency and the calling stations are talking on the other. This allows the calling stations to hear the main station without interference from other stations that are calling.

QRP - Originally this meant "reduce your power" or "Should I reduce my power", but its most common usage today is to identify a station that is low power. A full QRP gallon, i.e. the maximum wattage broadcasted and still considered to a QRP station, is 5 Watts. Hams have the legal priviledge of using up to 1500 watts, at least on most bands. 1500 watts is a full QRO (High Power) gallon. Within Ham radio there are many sub-hobbies, or niches. Some people only want to look for foreign stations, others use satellites to communicate, I like working special event station, and so forth. QRP operators use low power equipment, usually small and light, and rely on technique, experience, and skill to make contacts.

QRP Fox Hunt - A contest where two stations, and they could be anywhere in the US, and I suppose Canada, act as foxes. They send out a broadcast and the other people are looking for them, called hounds. When a fox hears a hound calling him they will make contact and exchange information. The hound is said to have taken a "pelt". None of the stations can broadcast more than 5 watts of power. This is challenging, but it makes you a better operator.

Am I Going to the Dogs?

I don't know yet. Tonight is the weekly Fox Hunt on 20 meters, but I don't know if I'm going to chasing them with the rest of the hounds or not. It seems something comes up every Thursday night, grrrr.

But then, I'm not a great CW operator either. My speed at CW is limited, improving, but limited. The only hunt I've been able to run in so far was the first of the summer season. I only heard one fox near the end of the hunt, but he didn't hear me. That meant I spent and hour and half just listening to static. But was the night a failure?

In one sense, yes. I couldn't copy very well at the speeds they were sending and I had trouble figuring out how to work split. And, of course, I failed to make the contact. Thus, we can consider the night a failure.

However, in another sense, I learned something. By participating, however poorly, I got just a little better and my knowledge increased just a little bit. Because of the need to work split I was forced to experiment after the hunt with my rig. It seems my RIT knob was off center slightly, and thus I could never dial in the split because the gap was too wide. I now know you have to "zero" the knob out, and adjust from there.I didn't know this before because I've never used the RIT before. By rereading the operators manual, which isn't that helpful since it assumes you know how to operate a RIT (and it only really gives a "dictionary definition" of what the knob does), and just playing around I found out why it didn't work for me. So, I have gained more knowledge and improved my operating capabilities. Thus, I can consider the night a success.

One of the reasons for me writing about my misadventures in ham radio is to encourage other people trying to learn about Ham radio to keep at it and succeed. Like most people, I hate to look stupid in front of my peers and there is always some desire to not try and avoid ridicule and there is definitely a bit of hesitation to announce to the world my failures and ignorance such as writing about it in a blog. But I think people who scoff at the efforts of others have their own failings and their own ignorance, the only difference is that I'm trying to remedy mine. Now, really, most of the people you find in the Ham world are pretty nice and encouraging. Some are not so. I can imagine them rolling their eyes and saying, "This guy is an Extra Class operator and he doesn't know how to use  RIT on his own rig? What a moron."

What do you say to that? The answer, of course, is nothing. You keep learning, you keep building, and you keep sharing.

73 Y'all

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Hygain 20m Antenna

I am selling an 20m beam antenna and I'm posting the pictures here for convenience sake. The electrical element will have to be fixed or replaced. These pictures show the condition of the mechanical parts.

The elements, eight total (4 on each side) longest is about 17ft 8"

A close up of one of the pipe clamps showing oxidation and staining.

The element

A close up of where the elements attach to the boom. Obviously, some of the hardware is missing and will have to be replaced.

It's hard to read, but it says Hy-Gain

The three parts to the boom. Obviously the long boom can be taken apart, but as it stands, long boom 14ft 8in and the two smaller pieces are 6ft 8in

The clamp showing some damage.

Well, that's about it. Obviously, I'm selling this to someone who has the knowledge to refurbish this antenna. The drive element did not work when I bought it, and I don't know what it takes to fix it. Some of the hardware will need replaced, and the metal could probably stand a good bit of buffing to get rid of some the staining and oxidations. My asking price is $50

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Radio Fates are Against me

It has been too long since I've even turned on my radio. The fates seemed aligned against me getting on the air. We had a humdinger of a storm come through a couple of days ago, and I had to detach and de-plug my rig so it wouldn't get fried by lightning. We needed the rain desperately and the relief from the heat. Last week it was 112 degrees here. We have had storms all around the city in the last couple of days, but none have rolled over us. I've seen storms in a line split as they approach the city and even reform after passing us without us getting a drop. Other storms disappear when they get withing  a few mile of us. My completely unscientific opinion is that the heat absorbed from the sun by the city has an effect on weather conditions when they approach. We don't have a big population here, but the city is spread out. We don't build up in Kansas, we build out. I think this heat effects the weather and the weaker the storm the more it is effected by city's heating effect. Again, I can't prove this theory, but at least it explains a common phenomenon.

One of the most aggravating things about not getting on the rig is I can't make my one QSO-a-day on CW. I do not think that there is any training aid out there that is better than just firing up the rig and sending a CQ and working someone else on CW.

I missed the QRP Foxhunt again this week, as I had to have some reports done for a client the next day. Sunday I played guard dog at a grain mill that was being fumigated from 6am til 5pm. Nothing like slow broiling in your car for 11 hours straight in triple digit heat. At least it wasn't as bad as the last time, because I had shade most of the day Sunday.

I was really, really wishing I had an HF rig in the car. I thought about the feasibility of hauling my 38lb Kenwood and a mast to hold up my homebrew 40 meter dipole out to the site, but decided against it. Having thought about it, a QRP rig that could be run off my Suburban's battery or solar with a vehicle mounted antenna would be just the trick. I really wanted one of those HB-1A stations, or PFR3, but I got married two years ago, and with the stepkids and a wife, it is just not in the budget. I think 20m and 40m would be my major bands of operation, but maybe 30m as well. I am not WARC capable, so I've never used 30m.

If the storm clouds north of city go away, I might get to fire the rig up tonight and make a few contacts.

Wish me luck!