Monday, 13 February 2017

A Great Read

I have to tell you about a book I have got to re-read.  If you like suspense, true crime and factual radio from the turn of the century (20th century, not 21st) you will really want to read Thunderstruck by Erik Larson.  This is the true story of Guglielmo Marconi and how he developed his version of the wireless.

The story follows him from his early years on through his trials and tribulations evolving wireless to a point where it was commercially practical.  It's extremely interesting to see the approach he took and the lessons he learned along the way.  Intertwined with the Marconi story is a true crime story from England of murderer Hawley Crippen and the two stories come together in an very exciting fashion.  The book is definitely worth the time as the story is captivating and extremely informative for we radio junkies.  The fact that it is true makes it all the more interesting.  You will not be disappointed with this read.  Here are the details:



We All Love Maps

Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration but most hams I know are very fond of maps.  I would think it is because we all like to know where we are talking to and seeing new places we haven't heard of before but I know I love maps.  I used to have maps on the wall in my shack and then before too long they start to sag as the thumb tack holes in the corners stretch. Then you make a new hole with the tack and before you know it you have something that resembles a sieve and a saggy map to boot.

In my new shack I will be putting up 2 maps which I bought 2 years ago and have been sitting in the tube ever since.  I didn't want to ruin them as I have in the past but I also hadn't found a way to mount them that was inexpensive but effective.  I finally stumbled upon this post and now I think I am ready to mount these maps.  For the most part all you need is some rigid foam insulation (like the pink or blue type) large enough to mount the map on, some spray adhesive and some duct tape.  And it will take push pins if you so desire.  I'll post some pictures when I'm finished.  Hopefully the cats will let me do this without them "helping". :o)

Cheers es 72
de Scott ve3vvf

CW and its frustrations

I can only imagine what it must have been like back during the war when radio operators would sit for hours on end just receiving and recording Morse transmissions.  They would have had to be good at copying and also transcribing what they hear.   Fast code is something you will clearly get better at after hours of copying but writing the text, especially if it's encrypted and the characters do not form logical words.  I guess the OPs would have no choice but to get better hour after hour.  I do not know how fast code was transmitted back during then but no matter the speed the OPs would surely be capable of keeping up.

I would really like to start improving my copy speed to about 20 wpm or better.  I know with practice this will come but I do not operate often enough to just "get better".  Logically, plain language text is a lot easier to copy because your brain works to predict what word is being spelled and most common words come up more frequently.  The problem is that point where you cannot write fast enough to keep up with the transmission.  I can copy higher speed contest call signs after I hear them a time or two but I have difficulty in a standard QSO if anything "out of the ordinary" is causing me grief.  When I say "out of the ordinary" I really mean "ordinary" because QRM and QRN are there more often than not.  As well, an OP with strong swing or who runs his words all together with very little space between them is quite common and that messes me up every time.  Operators who do not slow down to my speed cause me grief and don't even get me started on all the abbreviations.  It seems there is always one to stump me.  All these things which occur regularly are the things I need to work on to improve.  Incidentally, here is a link to abbreviations and Q codes and more.

The real stumbling block, for me, is that transition from hearing the "letters" to hearing the "word".  I'm not sure at what point that "a-ha" moment will come but I'm pretty sure it is the key (no pun intended) to copying the faster OPs.  More on air time will help but practice with a code generator or listening to QOTD* podcasts at a higher speed is the thing that will put me over that line.

QOTD or Quote of the Day is a series of daily podcasts at various speeds of CW.  They are real language sayings converted into CW and last for a few minutes each.  You can subscribe to them with your Podcast player and they are delivered to you.  I really need to get back to those.  If you are interested in them you can search with your player or go here.



Cheers for now
es 72 de Scott ve3vvf


Sunday, 5 February 2017

Wind Is Not Our Friend

at least not if you're a minimalist QRP operator with wire antennas.  I have a couple dual band "Fan" style dipole antennas up and at this new QTH I have quickly discovered this winter that it is a very windy location being surrounded by farmer's fields.  A wire dipole in an inverted VEE set up is sensitive to position as far the angle of the legs goes.  Add to that the interaction between two sets of legs and the SWR can change continually as the wind blows.  When you operate QRP you tend to try and get away with smaller wire because you can since the power is so low.  The problem with that mindset is that when you are securing the wire legs you perhaps don't pull them as taught for fear of breaking them should the wind come up...especially if they are tied to a tree that will sway.   I made this mistake this past fall in setting my antennas for the winter.  One fan dipole for 20 and 40 was too flimsy and broke off on 2 different occasions at the center support.  A second antenna for 30 and 17 was constructed out of much more robust wire and a factory made 1:1 current balun.  Because of its robust construction I did not have the problem of breaking wires which is great but I did have the problem of the legs wrapping around each other in the wind.  This, of course, ruins the SWR and I had to go and fiddle with the legs.   Of course being winter it is not easy to tighten the ropes when one end goes down through the snow to a peg in the ground.  The solution I will employ this spring to avoid this problem is to offset the legs from being all in a straight line (north-south for example) to having one set of legs north-south and the second set of legs offset by 5 or 10 degrees.  This should eliminate them getting tangled up with each other.  I will replace my flimsy (read cheap) 20-40 fan dipole in the same fashion and hopefully have 4 bands I can use without interruption.

We are always in search of the best antennas or the simplest antennas.  I use tuned dipoles to avoid the bother of using a tuner which I chalk up to my minimalist ways.  I have one that I will use camping sometimes but it just seems like extra loss of QRP power when you can use a tuned antenna and avoid that problem.  I may be wrong there and feel free to set me straight.  I have also contemplated using ladder line to feed the dipoles as I have heard that it is a much better route to take due to low loss but then a balun comes into play and my coax run is quite short at less than 30' from my second floor window.  I'll still look into that as we are always trying to improve.  First order of business is to get that 20-40 antenna back up.  With the condx being so crappy lately I need all the options I can get.

That's all for now,
cheers es 72/73

Friday, 25 November 2016

Podcasts

I know I am late to the game on this but I have just discovered Podcasts.  I was going on a trip and wanted something to listen to on the plane just in case my flight had no TV/movies available.  My iPhone has a podcast player so while I was at home on wifi I went in and started to do some searching for Ham Radio.  I found a few different sources on various topics so I downloaded a bunch to my phone as well as one that I knew was good that was not ham radio related.  The first leg of the trip was a very short (Ottawa to Toronto) 50 minutes so I just listened to a podcast.  I enjoyed it very much and proceeded to listen for the duration of my 7+ hours of travel.  I did the same on the return trip as I was totally hooked.  Not all podcasts are created equal, for sure, and some I listened to, although possibly full of interesting information, were difficult to listen to as the presenters were seemingly unprepared or simply just not very good at presenting.  

There are two main types of Ham Radio podcasts I found.  One type has the presenter speak on a number of topics.  These were OK but lacked the breadth of knowledge and experiences that come with the second type of Amateur radio podcasts I found which is in the format of presenters interviewing guests.  This format, depending on the guest, is far more informative and captivating.  Listening to these podcasts made my travel time pass by quickly and painlessly.  The first podcast I got hooked onto is the QSO Radio Show.  This Podcast is not only a podcast but is also a short wave broadcast.  The program is hosted by Ted Randall (WB8PUM) and co-host David Klimkowski (KG4WXW).  Ted is a broadcaster/engineer by profession so the program is very professional and quite informative.  The guests interviewed ranged from manufacturers of Ham Radio equipment, ARRL Engineers, the CQ magazine Editor and many more.  There are advertisements at various points throughout the podcast from his show sponsors which is to be expected.  The podcasts are usually about 2 hours in length.  



Another enjoyable podcast I found was the QSO Today podcast hosted and prepared by Eric Guth (4Z1UG).  What he does is choose a notable amateur operator as a guest and then proceed to ask them a host of questions, generally the same from show to show.  The carefully chosen questions evoke great discussion and result in 90% of the talk being provided by the guest.  The topics discussed are quite varied and the guests come from far and wide.  The audio quality from the guests is sometimes not the best as Skype is used and the surroundings at the guest's location of the line cannot be controlled.  This is soon forgotten once the discussion begins and I am enveloped by the content.  This is by far my favourite ham radio podcast.



Another type of podcast is the deep technical "work bench" type discussions found in podcasts like Ham Radio 360.  Some of their podcasts are the "work bench" style while others are more guest discussion based.  Both are very informative and some are multiple hours long.  These are great for gaining insight into how various things work such as Oscilloscopes but at an in-depth level.

  
Another, less time involving but equally valuable, type of podcast is the short "Quote of the Day" or QOTD podcasts provided by The Morse Resource and Steve Conklin (AI4QR) that are sent in Morse code at various speeds,  The actual quotations are provided courtesy of The Quotations Page.   The podcasts last a few minutes and are great for working at improving your Morse receive skills. 

I am so glad to have found podcasts albeit years after they have become popular.  I also listen to some non-ham radio related podcasts and there are thousands out there to choose from.  You can subscribe to them as well which means that you always have the latest podcasts ready to download.  Make sure your player settings are such that you only download these shows when you are connected to wifi.  Do yourself a favour.  If you haven't checked out this medium, have a listen with your favourite podcast player or even just from your PC.  You won't be disappointed.

Cheers and thanks,
de Scott ve3vvf

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Tower Up

My last post described my bat dilemma.  Since then the bat guy did his thing by sealing up all the openings in my soffit/roof line/windows with clear caulking and installing an exit tube for the bats to leave but not re-enter.  A few weeks later I was at home during a weekday working on the TV tower I was planning to put up for my 2M antenna, a TV antenna and as an anchor point for my fan dipole for HF.  I got it used for $50 and was quite pleased with that.  I had taken the rust off one of the sections and had painted all 4 sections.  I had 3 sections connected as that would take me up to the 2nd floor facia so I could attach it to the house.  I was trying to figure out how to get it up there on my own when I don't even own an extension ladder and my metal roof is extremely slippery.  Just then bat guy showed up to remove the bat tube and touch up the caulking.  He said to put the 4th section on and he'd help me walk the tower up.  I said 4 sections is extremely heavy but he insisted.  He went about his business with the house while I attached the top section to the tower on the ground.  When he was ready I said "Are you sure?  It's very heavy!".  He said "I work with 40 ' ladders all the time.  It'll be no problem."  I said Ok and got to the base to hold it in place.  He picked up the tower at the top section and walked it up.  I could see in his face that it was heavier than he expected but he powered through and got it up.  I was super pleased.  Then he put his ladder up to the facia and attached one of the brackets and the U-bolts finger tight.  This held the tower in place and I took care of the rest of the tightening and adding the second bracket.  I could not have been happier.

Now that I had my tower up and bolted to the house I had to think of how I would get the antennas installed.   I had gone up to the top of the tower and it was quite high but the height is not what worried me.  What worried me was the unsteadiness of the tower.  The problem with a used tower is that the bolt holes where the sections join get stretched over time so the tower is not as rigid as it should be.  I could stand on the ground and move the tower with my hands even though it was anchored and bolted to the facia.  I needed more support.  After speaking with another, more experienced, ham, VA3RDC, I knew what I needed to do to support the tower.  I got three 32" pieces of angle steel from Home Depot and lag bolted one to the wall of the house as an anchor.  Then I U-bolted the other 2 pieces to either side tower legs and attached the end of each of them to the anchor piece.  The tower was now rock solid.  Time to install the antennas.



I had the mounting pole (EMT) with 2 antennas on it and my plan had been to raise it up and install it as one unit.  I had the TV antenna pointed the correct directions (2 bays) and I had my 2M 5-element beam pointed, hopefully, to the repeater in the city 70km away.  This pole didn't seem too heavy on the ground until you try and raise it over your head as I would have to do to insert it into the top of the tower.  This was going to be a challenge.  I got my harness and climbed to the top to test how this was going to work as I would need 2 free hands to install this pole.  Figuring I had no other choice I contacted a local power pole company that has bucket trucks.  Since it was a Sunday I left them a message on their website.  Thinking about the task at hand some more I realized that I really just needed to take the antennas off the pole and attach them afterwards.  I did this and the pole installation was super easy.  I installed it with just 2 feet showing above the top of the tower.  I then raised up the TV antenna and installed it which was pretty easy since it attaches with wingnuts and the brackets are easily hooked in place with 1 hand.  We tested the reception with the TV and made some final adjustments on the pointing of it.   I then raised the pole another few feet so I could install my 2M beam.  Again installation was quite easy with wingnuts and clamps easily manipulated with one hand.  I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to key the repeater from this far away with only 50W but when I tested it the repeater came to life on the first try.  I guess my compass pointing was pretty good.  From 70km away it doesn't take much of a move of the antenna to be off target.


Now all that's left is to install the pulley on the tower where I'm going to feed the rope for one end of my fan dipole from.  I may, now that I have the real estate, try an inverted L or something like that for 80M or 160M.  It's time to get that done now before it gets too cold.

Cheers es 72
Scott

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Batman

I have lived in the country for years and it is my first choice because of the peace and quiet as well as the plethora of birds and other wildlife.  This new old home I'm living in now, however, has provided my first experience with bats.  I mean, I have always enjoyed watching the bats fly around at dusk gobbling up mosquitos but I have never had to deal with bats actually in my living space.  On 2 occasions in the same week we had a bat in our main floor bathroom.  After some research and a visit from a local bat removal company it turns out that the bats that were in my attic can make their way down the inside of the walls during the hot weather finding themselves in the basement...not by choice.  Once in the cellar they find any opening they can to escape.  A 3/4 inch hole was all they needed to get into the bathroom.  The question now is how to get them out of my attic?  

The job involves many cases of clear caulking and the sealing of every nook and Gap all around the roof and windows.  This includes the ridge of the metal roof and all the soffit gaps.  This is a job that, in my case, will take all day.  What the company also does is install exit tubes where the bats have been entering and exiting.  This will allow the bats to get out but not back in.  The tubes stay in place for a couple of weeks to ensure all the bats are out.  Then the tubes are removed and the final holes sealed up.  The Little Brown Bat is suffering a serious decline as a result of white nose syndrome.  This is the main reason for this method of extraction which doesn't kill any of the bats. 

Once the house is sealed up you need to ensure that it remains sealed year after year as the bats are imprinted on the house and will always attempt to return to it to live.  I would prefer they did not.  The company doing this job is a general critter removal company but they specialize in bat removal and have over 18 years experience doing so.  I'll be happy to have this completed today so I can properly lag my TV tower to the attic wall when I install it in a couple of weeks.