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A few words from Rob K9RST…

Dayton 2016

How can I ignore Dayton? Yes, that is the biggest event in my ham radio life since we visited here last. Dayton was its usual mix of fascinating talks, new products, old friends and curiosities. And yes, it rained!

My routine has been to go to the QRP event – Four Days in May at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn on Thursday. They had an overflow crowd of more than 300 people. We jammed into the main ballroom to listen to some interesting talks. Right off, Elecraft introduced their newest HF radio, the KX2. This is a sweet little radio that is half the size of the KX3, which is already a small radio. No one explained why the KX3 came first! But why quibble with success. The KX2 is virtually a hand-held HF radio. They had 50 to sell at the show and they were gone within two hours. Our buddy Bill “New York Nine Hotel” Steffey stood in line and was able to grab one of the last ones. It looks like it will be a terrific mobile rig or adventure radio. I was not in the market for yet another HF radio, so it was more of a curiosity for me. There didn’t appear to be many new radio offerings…rumors about the new Kenwood HT echoed through the halls, but most vendors were showing last year’s models. I did get a show special on the Icom D-Star radio, the ID51 anniversary edition. Now this is a great fun radio and has truly made D-Star more accessible. They have many repeaters already stored in the radio and software that makes adding reflectors and other stations relatively easy to do (meaning, you can do it without having to program the radio with a computer.) I moved away from D-Star a couple of years back because it was too taxing to program the radio…this actually makes it fun! This was a panic buy…I was not going to buy any radios, but that is what happens at Dayton. There is something in the water or earth that makes you buy stuff! I have Greg Karlove to thank for that purchase. This was Greg’s first Dayton and I felt obliged to show him around. We stopped at the Icom booth and…the rest is history! Next year, I hope to sell….as I now have too many HT’s.

It was fun running into all of the North Shore folk, although I often find myself spending time with hams I don’t regularly see anymore. Since I was showing Greg around, I was all too aware of the “image” we project. We are an interesting crowd…all shapes, sizes and dress. There are the slightly touched – people with far too many radios or antenna hats or WW2 radio sets on their backs. Not sure they would ever get away with these antics at home, but here at Dayton they feel right at home. I suspect many people have given up on using radios to communicate. I saw many more people using cell phones. The RF in that area is just too intense. I saw many more club booths this year. Gathering areas for socializing. Ham radio tailgating! There were almost no computer vendors…not sure why that was the case…and so the flea market area was busy but not quite as full as it had been in past years.

Friday was glorious. I watched Bill NY9H sell much of his gear in the first hour. He was a sight to behold. I have never seen a selling machine like Bill work the crowd. He asked me to hold the fort down while he went to buy his KX2…well, sales plummeted to $0 under my watch (To be fair, I didn’t know all of the product features of his gear. Last year, I sold everything I brought…and actually brought money home. Imagine that!)

Ron K9IKZ was there working out the kinks with his brand new knees. By Sunday he had given up on the rental cart and worked the flea market upright! Way to go Ron!!

Inside Hara, it was the usual hot, sweaty pile up of vendors. The Saturday rains brought even more inside and so it goes. Rumors continue to spread about the disposition of Hamvention for future years. To be honest, it is a crumbling, nasty facility. I can tell you this…once you see pictures of the Dayton Amateur radio club house, with their new 4000 Sq foot addition and their massive mobile operation truck, I can assure you that they have a vested interest in making Hamvention work for them. Dayton, would be hard pressed to find another event that fills so many restaurant and hotels. So, yes, Virginia, I’d bet Hamvention will be back one way or another next year in Dayton.

This will be my 12th year in a row going to Dayton. I am glad to get away…learn new things and enjoy the ritual.

73, Rob K9RST

Transitions

Marilyn Gardner, W9LUO, SK

None of us are good with transitions. Hams, as a group, seem eager for new things but reluctant to make room for change. Then there are the changes that happen where we have no say in the decision. This past season we have seen several from our NSRC ranks pass on to the ham shack in the sky (geez, I sure hope there are ham shacks!). This month, we lost Marilyn Gardner, W9LUO. Marilyn has been an amazing ham radio supporter. Motivated to become a ham by her father, who I have since learned was a talented electrical engineer and ham radio operator. Marilyn was totally dedicated to helping others get into the hobby. She was one of the key founders of the Evanston Radio Club and held the most consistent VE sessions on the North Shore. She served where it was needed. She was on the NSRC Board for three years as our Membership Director, a responsibility she really energized. Many of you may have known her for her steady hand as a net Control operator for our weekly nets. You could count on Marilyn. And that is the point. We are losing a generation of dedicated people you could count on to help where needed. More on that in a moment. We will miss Marilyn, for sure.

Dave Weingart, AA9PK, SK

Earlier in the year, there was another passing of one of our own, AA9PK, Dave Weingart. Dave served the NSRC Board for many years, in various positions and was also known for his tireless enthusiasm for the hobby. He was an insurance agent by trade, but really he was a natural salesman for anything he believed in: photography, ham radio, and Rotary to name a few. Dave loved to buy new stuff…but he often tired of it early on and would pass it on in trade or make a deal for something else. I often benefited from these trades. Dave made the hobby fun and exciting. I loved to stop by his insurance shop and talk about ham radio (and counter his appeals to get me to join the Rotary Tuesday afternoon group!) I am still in shock that he is now gone. Dave represented the friendly smile in ham radio.

Ken Miller, KW9I, SK

Before the New Year got much of a start, the news of Ken’s passing came down the pipeline. Ken was an amazing person. He and his wife Anne, AA9GD, were known best for their world travel adventures, Christian ideals and their tireless service to the Club. They had sailed the world…and had many, many sea faring stories to regale you with. Ken was also absolutely reliable. Ken was at every single Field Day event I have managed (now going on my 12th Field Day). He was always ready to hang ropes in trees to support dipoles. He was civil engineer by trade and always had wise advice on how to get things done (always in a positive way). His strategy for the getting antennas up was to use his trusty sling shot device –the popular EZ hang, the type you find at Dayton. Well, these things have one flaw: often the string would be caught up in the reel and get knotted up. Most of my memories of Ken are sitting in the woods pulling large pools of fishing line out of the reel and re-spooling back to the reel of the EZ hang. Then, we got that monster sling shot device…and Ken took to it like a pro. He became our most deadly shot…and our chief antenna hanger. He also helped me with many Boy Scout demos. He would pull out his old tried and true rig and send code to the amazement of the young people gathered. Now that we are preparing for Field Day 2016, I feel Ken’s loss even more. You could count on him.

The May meeting is about public service and emergency preparedness. The theme that I am pulling through this story is that we have lost a generation of hams who understood the power of being reliable, helpful, supportive and passionate about what we do. Fact is, in the public service area, ham radio lost its primo position as the group of choice for many governmental and non-governmental agencies because we forgot that we need to serve first. Our technology was quickly outmatched by more reliable technology. The good news for us, though, is that we are winning back the confidence of these entities. We will discuss this more at the May meeting, but for now, let’s us fondly reflect on these three who so selfishly gave their time, hearts and energy to this great hobby. Who will take their place? Marilyn, Dave and Ken leave large shadows for us all to fill.

73, Rob K9RST

Go Kits and other related matters

Right now, my basement floor is loaded with radios, power cables, programming software as I prepare for the Shamrock Shuffle. My Go Kit is largely my storage locker filled with specialized gear that we need to support these events. Every single event is slightly different, so I go through this gear check ritual every year. It is the same process I have used for years in my film and video practice. Before every shoot, we would test the cameras and equipment to make sure everything was set right. It was a sacred ritual! And a good one. I cannot tell you how many times I have discovered issues that got managed before I put into the middle of chaos…radios with issues, headsets that don’t work, programming that is wrong.

So while I subscribe to the notion that one should have a “go kit” ready to roll, the fact is it may not always be a simple portable kit. It might be more of an attitude. Am I prepared to do my job? What contingencies do I have along with me in case of failure (extra batteries, tools, meters etc.)? When I worked as film cameraman, I used to have a three tiered storage kit that contained everything that I had forgotten in previous shoots…all little things, but all essentials for getting the job done. I retired that case a couple years back (it became too full!), but the attitude still lives on. Although, I still keep dental floss in my emergency kit…I have used it to fix all sorts of things!!…even made a soldering iron out of a penny once to fix a mic cable! Heat up the penny on a stove and boom…enough heat to re-solder.

In many ways, life is all about preparing our own collective “go kits.” This past year, we have seen the passing of many, really too many, of our fellow ham friends. This brings up another thought; let’s call it “Gone Kits!” We all know the day will come for us all when we are called to the master control room in the sky. What we often don’t reflect upon, however, is the impact our ham radio lives might have on our spouses or families. I am not just talking about the loss of a beloved one. I am talking about leaving behind our legacy gear! I have been involved intimately with a couple of these this year…and every radio, every cable, every part, no matter how small carries with it the hopes and aspirations of the one we knew. You touch it and you touch them, again, and again and again. Of course, for all of us, the legacy of our ham lives is usually marked in mountains of collected treasures. Like my three tiered box, we keep everything that we might need forever!

One friend’s byproduct of his collection was an enormity of empty boxes that once held the brand new radios. Well, this guy loved to horse trade and would sell, trade, give stuff away - but didn’t always include the boxes. I know, I have a locker full of empty boxes myself. I am revising that notion as I write!! You can always buy another box! The more difficult part of this transition is trying to demonstrate to the people left behind that most of the gear does not have much monetary value, unless you can get it into the hands of the right people. It is a tough problem and can be a difficult assignment for whoever is charged with the duty of selling off the gear. There is not good answer here…except perhaps to occasionally spring clean our shacks to make sure we aren’t harboring things that truly will be a burden to others. I will be the first to volunteer for spring cleaning!!

73, Rob K9RST

Part 3--Continuing series of Man vs. Machine

I have often extolled the pleasures of using our ham radio skills to fix stuff! It was in this spirit that I decided I would attempt to crack open my iPod Nano and replace the battery. First, I found the replacement battery from a zillion online services that specialize in these things. In fact, that was no simple task. But I ordered a battery from a vendor that cost me almost as much to buy as to ship! The normal price from, say Apple, and would have been 5 times that price. The company did explain that changing this particular battery would be difficult, by their own rating system, and for an additional $50, they could do the job. Still, I felt confident. The battery arrived with a great set of instructions and an online link that walked your through every step of the process. It was insanely maddening to remove screws that were the size of dust particles, fortunately, I have powerful magnifying glasses. Anyway, after removing the very well hidden screws, I was able to remove the guts of the device and pull the battery. In this case, it required soldering the replacement…which I handily did. I completed the job and slid the pc board and the battery gently back into the casing. Amazingly, the device fired up and it looked like I was all set! I completed the project and declared it a success! The next day, I tried my little iPod and found that one channel of the audio was missing. No problem, I’d just dig back in and see what the problem could be. Well, I was not as successful on this attempt. There is a tiny ribbon cable that connects the ear plug to the control slider on the face of the iPod. Tiny is not tiny enough…it is like thread! If you breathe on it, it would break!! Somehow I had severed one small part of it! Now, I know when I am beat. Sure, I could have purchased another controller and a new audio cable, but I figured it was time to declare it a loss. I did solve the power problem! So, I was half successful. I went out and bought a new iPod Nano the other day. You have to know when to count your victories.

Meanwhile, continuing this “maddeningly small world” theme. I purchased some kind of Japanese cartoon superhero for my grandson to build as a Sunday afternoon project. He is 8 and the Japanese instructions seemed to indicate that this was for folks 14+ years. It had about 275 of the smallest snap together parts I have ever seen or have held! Turns out, though, the pictured instructions and the layout of the parts were extremely clear. If you moved one frame at a time and carefully checked your work, you would be rewarded. This was perfect for a young man with ADHD…who wants to eagerly skip along to the final stages. My job was to snap the plastic parts out of the holding frame and keep him riveted to the instructions. This crazy little samurai whatever? Transformer? I don’t know…took us almost 4 hours and he was with me the entire time. It was a great bonding moment and turned out to be one of the more rewarding things we had done together…all for $20

Public Service

We are beginning our public service season…the Shamrock Shuffle is coming up in April and the Tour de Cure is looking for hams radio support for their event in June. If you have an interest in either of these events, drop me a note. They both have online registration links.

73, Rob K9RST

New Year's Resolutions - Revisited

So, I started 2016 with some really firm notions of what I want to try to do in 2016 with many things, including ham radio. One is to complete the many radio kits and build projects that have accumulated in my project bin. The other is to get back to CW. When I first got back into the hobby, I struggled to build my CW skills, and eventually got good enough to pass the 5 word and 13 word test for General. My strategy for Extra was to get the code down and then to work on the written test. Well, about that time, they changed the code requirements (like dropped them) and I became President of the NSRC (which meant I had less free time.) So, CW faded away while I worked to strengthen the club. Along that same time, I got over my head involved with public service work, so my world became even more focused on UHF and VHF. So, to make a long story longer, I am trying to renew my CW vows. I learned CW from a program developed by a Dr. Wheeler, who had a curious idea that we should learn CW as a language. He created several mnemonics (word clues) that were sound likes for the letters. I have to tell you, I have learned the letters, but not necessarily word groups. Plus, I stopped taking the lessons when we got to the numbers, so A-Z, I’m pretty good…throw a number into the mix and I am lost! It is hard for an adult to admit that they are not able to conquer this skill but that is just what I am admitting. I am thrilled by some in our club who are trying to energize CW…it is not a dead art. Ron Settle and Dave Hewitt have been putting some of our members through CW Academy and they report they have gotten good responses from their students. Back in the day, I am told, the Army would teach CW by pure repetition (Hmm isn’t that I learned French and Spanish and German?). People would listen to tapes for hours till they got it right. And CW still has practical applications for ham radio. For many QRP QSOs, CW remains the best way to communicate. For DXing, it is still the most reliable way to get your message through some of the noise. Yes, the commercial world and the government have stopped using it as a tactical practice, but it is still viable. So, I cranked out my trusty MFJ code practice device, and so, I am on to renew my CW pledge to myself. It is good to learn a new language even at my advanced age!

Meanwhile, just before I left for Florida in January for a family wedding event, I had an interesting encounter that I am going to recap here. This has nothing to do with ham radio, but it is a dangerous sign of our times. This note was written for my web site blog (another 2016 resolution!). Read on.

Crooks and bums:
I almost became the victim of a crime…and it started out innocently enough.

I have worked my entire career using the power of a man’s word and a handshake to make agreements on projects. I trust people, perhaps to a fault. I got an email request for a bid on video. I noticed that it also went to out to three of my competitors as well. I wrote back immediately, but added, that I would like more information and asked if we could talk on the phone. Three weeks later he wrote back and said he was recuperating in the hospital from ear surgery and could not talk. Texting had to do. So we carried on for several weeks texting about the project at some point he insisted that I invoice him for half right now. I was in the middle of another project, and kind of preoccupied, so I didn’t mind accepting a down payment, although that is pretty rare these days. In the course of this, I did do some initial due diligence and saw that he living in a neighboring suburb and his story seemed to make some sense. That is when he dropped the bomb: he wanted me to pay cash to his meeting planner.

Now, I have always tried to find solutions for my customers and, in an effort to be accommodating, I said I would see what I could do (at this point I was more concerned that he wasn’t getting ripped off!!). The money was processed and cleared. Before I would pay this person, I requested an invoice from the meeting planner and contact numbers. I was flying out the door for a trip to Florida and didn’t have time to sort out all of the details. When I was in Florida, I started to do more homework and found all sorts of cracks. The stories were not adding up. The meeting planner did not work at the address he gave. Her invoice suggested the event was in a hall that was not book for that date. His phone number and hers were both Google voice numbers…meaning there was no way to trace them. About this time, I started to ask the credit card processing company how to verify their card information. Well, they told me this sounded like a scam. This was a common trick…hearing loss, test messages only, hospitalizations all fit a known pattern. They use a stolen credit card, process a lot of money and then have you pay to another account cash. When the owner of the lost card disputes the charge, you are left to cover the expense. Nice deal. I shut this operation down, returned the money and stopped answering his texts.

I am only slight embarrassed to report how I had been victimized, but because I did not send any money to anyone else, and acted slowly, my research kept me from getting burned. I am slightly wiser as a result…but I lament how these folks have used the system against us. We have to fight back…and so I am writing this post to warn others to beware of such scams. Know your customers. Trust people, but keep both eyes and ears open.

73, Rob K9RST

Happy New Year

Instructions are for wimps! Right? How often have you heard people say, “I don’t need no stinkin’ instruction manual?” Every year, during the Holiday break, I enjoy pulling out the various kits I have purchased throughout the year and try to finish them. In my journeys to find a nice project kit for our club to enjoy, I came across an interesting Anderson Power Pole low voltage distribution project that was offered by another club as a fund raising project. I bought this device at Dayton last March and threw it into the projects bin…for a cold wintry day. Well, that day arrived this week and I started to tackle it. Turns out, there were no instructions included in the kit. I did find a web site where one could find some instructions (not a complete set!!). After puzzling on the instructions for almost a day (I savor instructions…sorry. I love to read them. Ponder them, sometimes for days before I start to work. For me, it is part of the joy of the process.) Turns out that either they didn’t include all of the parts (there was no parts list) or I was missing something. Both might be the case.

Brief side bar…you know properly written instructions in your native tongue are a real joy to read. Someone who carefully describes a process well enough in English so that another person can follow it is an amazing skill. I know we have all suffered from reading Chinese (or previously to that Japanese instructions) that were obviously lost in translation. Here is a link to an interest site that has several mis-translated signs: http://www.buzzfeed.com/nataliemorin/chinese-signs-that-got-seriously-lost-in-tranlsation#.yaBlkA3R0

Or just Google “bad translations” and see what you find. Some of these poorly translated signs from this site are hilarious (and rather lewd). One sign from this collection reads: “Garden with Curled Poo” (They meant a “Garden with a Curved Pool”). Ok, I get it, they don’t speak English, but these days, with even tighter budgets or no budget, instructions are simply not included – at all.

Over the years, I have enjoyed many building kits with terrific instructions. Elecraft tends to be extraordinary, as are the Oak Hills Research Kits. This Club kit one in front of me…is the exception. Other than stating how they are orienting the board so that the instructions might make sense, the rest goes quickly downhill. And yes, there are parts missing! I ventured on carefully without the instructions and so far so good. I have not yet quite finished the kit…I had to stop to write this note! So, this is a short tribute to the good people who can still write instructions. May the force (and budgets) be with you.

Meanwhile, my grandson wanted this roller coaster kit he saw at the American Science Surplus Center. This is another gem of a place, if you have never been there. They have all sorts of crazy stuff…largely warehouse surplus. So, I got him the roller coaster kit and when we opened it my son said, “Where are the instructions?” Well, in this case…there were no instructions. It was a bag with lots of parts - an erector set of sorts. They give you the tools, you provide the design. Once he overcame the fear of not doing it wrong, we dove in and had a great time creating all sorts of interesting, gravity defying tracks (meanwhile, my grandson, who got bored with our labors, took a few parts under the table and made a very clever his own bow and arrow contraption on his own!!) Kids have no fear!!

Somewhere between these two spaces, there lies a truth. Perhaps all roads lead to Mecca. Don’t be afraid to take one.

Enjoy 2016. Live dangerously… a little. Don’t always follow the instructions.

73, Rob K9RST

Hacker fun

I don’t spend much time searching the Internet for bargains. I leave this for my favorite Internet explorer Greg Karlove, K9GAK. He has found some of the most amazing weird items for sale that he has re-engineered for modern uses. For instance, he recently bought a retired military HF antenna for a fraction of its original cost. All it needed was a whip on top, which he created himself and then mounted this thing on the back of his pickup truck and tied to his Icom 706IIG. It has some auto tuning features, which he demonstrated recently. I couldn’t believe the performance. When he would tune, within a fraction of a second, his SWR meter would fall to a perfect 1:1 and he would be on the air. He said he had been talking to folks all over the U.S. that day. Normally, this antenna retails for just under $2k but he got it on eBay for much, much less.

Now part of this fits Greg’s style…he likes to tinker and do crazy things. Who can’t like that…I mean, isn’t that what we are supposed to do as Ham radio people? Try stuff out…explore new combinations of hardware, software and modes?

So, I was not prepared for his next visit. He came bounding into my office demanding that we track down a website to watch a video. The video was from a computer hackers’ convention and one of the presentations showed how to hack into 24 things. Well, it was intriguing what this guy could do, armed with a simple software defined radio and some computer skills. He was able to hack into garage doors, security systems, TV cameras, airport security and even airport radar! Now, to be certain, this was not plug and play…it took some skills to develop the tools to be able to crack the codes, but the essential key to his talk was a little USB device that allowed him access to a vast universe of frequencies. This is sold as a remove TV for your computer, but it has a huge range and combined with some software, can be a very useful tool for cracking into systems or just monitoring the radio. I am not going to show the web address for the hacker’s forum…that is not the point of this discussion. Instead, I will point you to the simple device: RTLSDR RTL2832U DVB-T Tuner Dongles. For a couple of bucks you can use this device to analyze common signals, largely on the VHF and UHF side of things, and combined with readily available software, you can study the signal.

The R820T2 RTL-SDR is currently the cheapest, most common and is the best in terms of general usability. The R820T2 has a frequency range of 24 – 1766 MHz and is fully 100% compatible with any software for the older R820T. Cost online is around $10.00 shipped. And here are a couple of you tube videos that put the systems together:

https://youtu.be/qDb9-EhbNno

https://youtu.be/IaKEYEyrRgk

The point here is that there are many, many things that use RF, not just our ham radios, and it can be fun to try to discover what the noises are and what they control.

220 MHz back on the air

We finally got back up to our 220 site and swapped out the antenna for something that had a bit more gain. The trouble with our site is that it is prone to high winds and potential icing in the winter. The original antenna snapped in half, most likely from ice buildup and wind so we replaced it with a much stouter antenna, but it did not have the gain we were hoping to have for that repeater. So, get on 220. Try it out. It works great and is one of our oldest running repeaters! The heart of the 220 MHz system is a Hamtronics repeater kit and was put into service well before I was a member of this club. We took it out of service while we sought a new home for our 2 meter and other devices. So it was off the air for several years, but it is now back and working well. Get on the air and exercise it. I have always been a firm believer that we should use all of the frequencies that we are allowed to use. With the shrinking of the UHF world and the move to more digital modes to accommodate the smaller bandwidth available to us, it is fun to have some frequencies that don’t have much traffic and can be just as robust as their more popular neighbors.

Finally, as we move to the New Year and set off another round of New Year’s promises, don’t forget to take a moment and thank the people around you for making our world such a wonderful place. I know there is plenty in 2015 to lament, and perhaps that has been the case all through history, but more often we don’t take the time to just say thank you to friends, family, loved ones. And so with that I say, thank you to my fellow NSRC members. Thank you for making this hobby so much fun, so engaging and educational.

73, Rob K9RST

Fall report

Radio. All of you take for granted that people know what radio is…and I am talking about simple AM and FM radio, not even the more exotic ham radio we all enjoy. No. Virtually none of the millennial children I know (my grandkids included) have a clue about radio. TVs, iPads, iPhones rule the earth.

So, now you have some idea of the challenge that we faced when Greg Karlove W9GAK and I set up a bunch of radio gear at a Cub Scout event recently to demonstrate ham radio. But the good news here is that most of the Dads (and some moms) truly understood what we were trying to do…and, in fact, that is where we have found many of our newest club members. There was one mom who knew her son was fascinated by technology and actively encouraged him to talk to us. Took a while, but we eventually teased some interest out of him (you could see it in his eyes…he just didn’t want to give his mother the satisfaction!) No doubt, PSK was the most attractive mode. Kids just seem to be naturally attracted to anything computer. So it was fun to show them what we can be done with a keyboard, a radio and a simple antenna. The kids got it. Some enjoyed talking to other scout groups that were doing the same event as we were around the world. We held a long conversation with a ham/scout group on the Cayman Islands. It was freaky how we had a solid pipeline on 15 meters to them all day long and could call with certainty that we would get a reply. That always helps when you are dealing with impatient scouts. (“What do you mean we have to listen for a while!!?”)

One of the larger PR concerns we encountered was that Greg brought an old fire truck ambulance from his Boy Scout Troop. It still looked like a fire truck, even though I had placed NSRC signs all over it. So we looked more like an official truck on stand-by than hands on activity. I have to admit the warm truck was much more inviting than our make shift canopy tent from years past. It was great fun to play radio and teach the young folks what we do. Most of the young kids seemed to understand how an HT works…although the tendency to scream into the HT mics still amazes me! And, the concept of push-to-talk is still a skill that needs to be taught! After an intense fall season of public service work, it was great fun to get back to HF.

Meanwhile, quickly dashing back to public service…I went to a wrap up meeting for the Evanston Century Bike Club’s North Shore Century. We have helped them for 7 years and it has evolved into a nice partnership. We support the 2000+ bicyclists on course that day. There are ham teams embedded at each of the rest area, and hams in cars (called SAG cars) patrolling along the course. We are looking for broken down, distressed or just tired cyclists. Of course, we have a large team at the Command tent who receive phone calls from the field and can dispatch SAG cars via the radio to meet up with the riders. We have been using some interesting dispatch software, called TicketsCAD. It is a very sophisticated integration package that allows people to manage the entire operation. It’s really a great way to spend a fall day…unless it rains and then most of the rules change. (Rain usually means more flat tires.) We have been fortunate that for the past several years the WX has been perfect. After discussing some of the things that went well — and many things went very well — we focused on what to do next year to make improvements. One major challenge the Bicycle Club faces next year will be a dramatic change in leadership for this event. There will be many new folks working in new positions. I have signed up to serve as the ham radio lead for this event, and would like to encourage all of you to help join me. It’s good for ham radio and good for our club.

I have been excited to see the number of requests that have come in to help build or rebuild antenna systems. For too long, most of our work has been to take aluminum down, and while we don’t mind the service, it is always more rewarding to help get new stuff in the air. When I first joined the club, we had a robust team of about 15 people who would be called upon to descend on a fellow ham’s house and have an “antenna party.” I am glad to see those days return.

Finally, congratulations to the Club on an outstanding Field Day achievement for 2015. This is the first FD I have missed in years. I had a good excuse, my daughter got married at the Grand Canyon that weekend. I do look forward to jumping back into the battle for 2016. In fact, I have already started fixing tents!

Meanwhile, my own shack remains in a state of shock. I have been re-engineering it for the umpti-umpth time, each time with new knowledge, insights and gear. It is just frustrating not be able to sit down, turn things on and expect it all to work flawlessly. I’m not there yet. And, yes, I know the answer…and it is one that I cannot spell. My wife tells me, I need to learn to say, “NO!” Well, what fun is there in that?? Hmmm, maybe I’ll practice here: No, I won’t rake the leaves and NO, I won’t clean the gutters, but, NO. I don’t think that is what she means!!

73, Rob K9RST

 

 

What's in your scarbox?

I am a filmmaker. Well, I used to be! Now, I am a video person! In the not so old days of yore, we prided ourselves on being prepared for any contingency. We carried extra gear, spare parts, lots of little things that may not be needed, but it was great to have when you needed it. That was the day too when we used to have 4 or 5 person crews to carry all of this stuff. Over the years, I started carrying a three tier tool box for all of the little things that it seemed we had forgotten. Things like wire to hold up paintings, or nails, thumb tacks, tape of many colors, nylon thread, rope, clothes pins, pens, sharpies, nuts and bolts, electrical adapters…well, you get the idea. I used to call this the scarbox because every time you forgot something critical, it would leave a scar on your pride. Over time, the box got larger and heavier until just became impractical to carry. Seems that everything I might need today I could buy at Walgreen’s! So the case was dropped from the required equipment list as our crews downsized and speed was more of a measure than preparedness.

I mention this now because I have to return to this practice for some of our ham radio activities. The Club recently supported the Evanston Bicycle Club’s North Shore Century. I usually bring along a tub of stuff, called the NSRC office, which is loaded with all sorts of spare parts and some office supplies. But I do not often carry test equipment. We set up our antennas for the event, one atop a 40 foot pull up mast. It looked terrific. We were thrilled with our work and plugged it into the radio without ever testing it. The next day, the day of the event, we were getting all sorts of mixed reviews about our signals. We limped along the best we could until someone had the bright idea of changing to a different antenna. Voila! Magically, all of our problems went away. Now you might think it was a bad antenna but in testing after the event, we discovered there is something wrong with the coax. I just grabbed a coil from our inventory and never checked it out after it was used last. Lesson learned. I need to carry test equipment and double check everything before leaving the site.

Now in my defense, I had been a little distracted…life…that thing we do when we are not on the radio…got in the way. My mother-in-law passed away that week and chaos reigned all around us. I managed to get us to the event, set up our encampment and surrounded myself with some really talented people so that it all looked goo And we did look great. We did an outstanding job. The scars, however, are still on my back. Lesson learned.

We brought 32 ham radio operators to the event and not all from the North Shore Radio Club. I was delighted by the support we have received from hams all over the city. I would like to encourage more members of our own club to help out with these events. Not only do we provide a terrific public service, but it puts a face on ham radio. It helps promote the hobby in a positive way.

Many of us are working on the Chicago marathon coming up on October 11. We have nearly 130 hams helping out from four states on that project! Meanwhile, a couple of us are going to set up a demo station at a Cub Scout event in October to show the young folks what ham radio even is!! Yes, Martha, there is still a ham radio hobby!! Join us on October 17 at Camp Oakarro in Wadsworth, Illinois. Drop me a note and I will give you more details.

Meanwhile, be prepared.

73, Rob K9RST

Taking it down

There is nothing more exciting than to help a fellow ham get his station on the air, build his antenna scheme and get him or her on the air. On the other hand, it is a different experience altogether when you are asked to take down a retired ham station. Recently I was asked by Shel Epstein (K9APE)’s wife to disassemble his antenna network. Shel was an engineer and a lawyer…and both played a hand in the design and implementation of his antennas. He also had a fairly flat roof, which made access simple. Anyway, as one takes gear down from ailing, retired or hams that have passed on, inevitably you think about how the gear was used, the conversations they must have had, the thought that went into the construction process and, well, you spend a great deal of time thinking about the ham. In this case, I knew Shel, so it was actually fun to reminisce in this way about his work as a ham.

Shel had a 10 foot tower section on his roof with a Mosley tri-bander and a yagi mounted above for satellite work. He also had many wires running around the roof area, including a scheme to use his gutters as an antenna. I solicited the help of Greg Karlove to help take the stuff down since he expressed interest in using most of it. It took us most of a Saturday, but this project came down easily and we recovered most of the gear. You could tell what motivated Shel, however. He used only the best equipment and building standards. The tower was flat mounted to the roof, with stainless guy lines and stainless turnbuckles anchored to the roof. He was also careful not to used long guy lines and used insulators to shorten the section to prevent them from radiating his signal.

The real project, it turn out, was his 6 foot satellite dish. When TV started to play around with beaming signals off satellites, most of the programming was not encrypted. Furthermore, most of the antennas needed to be very large. In fact, Wilmette has ruled that having such antennas was illegal! Wala! Enter the lawyer, Shel. No way was anyone going to impede his right to free TV bouncing off satellites! So, Shel battled the city fathers and won. Then, he had to build the antenna. Well, what he built cost a fortune, I am sure. First, you need a large dish…so he bought a 6 foot stainless dish. This alone weighed about 200 pounds. To support this beast, you had to manufacture a support structure. What he did was build an 8” steel water pipe, buried into a cement block about 3 feet deep. The pipe had two custom built support struts that anchored to the side of his house and to the pipe. Each of the support struts were about 10 feet wide and were bolted to the house. For this sort of work, the antenna had to be stable. At the top, he built a small catwalk, large enough for two people to walk around and at the very top he inserted an X/Y axis mount to support the dish. I have no idea how he ever carried all of this stuff to the top. It weighed a ton. We tried using a gin pole for some things but the pole nearly bent in half!! This structure was a work of art and looked like it did the job very well. We were told that it took 4 men to put this thing together. We had never taken anything like this down before, and you’d think you could just cut and run, but with the weight involved, that would have been potentially very dangerous. So we decided to tear it apart in sections using one of Greg’s plasma cutters. What an amazing tool that proved to be. He sliced up the stainless dish into pie shaped sections. We were off and running and slowly we chopped sections off the thing until we were left with the 25’ steel pipe. We dropped that like a tree and it smashed with a heavy thud.

While this project was not the kind of ham radio work we like to do, it was a very fulfilling day to reflect on the good work that was done by Shel, and to accomplish a huge goal. The towers are down, no one got hurt and we have digested all of the metal. Shel Epstein, K9APE, SK. Gone but not forgotten.

73, Rob, K9RST