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A few words from Rob K9RST…

Between now and then

For me personally, this has been a period of total insanity.  I have been able to garner a few more work projects than I normally handle in the fall and this in combination with our busiest public service events makes life around here more than interesting (oh, yes, throw in a total redo of the driveway and all of the work to prepare for the work!)

Still, life goes on…I have gotten a large number of emails from concerned folks looking to see what ham radio is doing to support Puerto Rico.  I personally was not aware of anything but did ask around.  Most of the people who wrote, I passed their names on to the ARRL, because I figured they would have a more global picture.  I did hear that many companies were using hams in their place of business to set up health and welfare traffic from PR to us…but with no power and no infrastructure, communications have been strained.  I was heartened to see that the ARRL is deploying 50 hams to stay in PR for up to 3 weeks.  To my knowledge this is the first time that has every happened. Generally hams deploy through a served agency (Red Cross or Salvation Army or some other entity.)  What has happened to that island is hard to watch. They are on the verge of a true disaster in the making. Being an island, there are no quick solutions – not that there ever are…but the amount of support they need will take years to recover.  It is an unfortunate fact, that too many people have come to totally rely on cell phone for their communication and I am not sure what ham radio support there is in PR right now (I abbreviate PR because I can’t spell Puerto Rico very well!).  You have to have people in the disaster area and a systematic way of managing the traffic to help get the word out.  Social media isn’t working when the entire infrastructure is destroyed.  There is more that ham radio can do for people caught in these circumstances. As a group, we need to do better, but I am glad that we are doing something.  I know there are several nets here in the US that have been handling hurricane relief traffic, some of them have been monitoring internet sites for information. 

Meanwhile, we did successfully complete our support of the Evanston North Shore Century. We had 36 hams help out…and not all from the NSRC.  We deployed lots of technology and actually pulled some new faces into the mix.  It was great to see all of the new people who got involved.  This is a great event and a terrific partnership for our club.  The Evanston Bike Club runs this event for charity and pulls in as much as $40,000 which they in turn return to the biking community.  They are a great organization.

This event will be a major part of our upcoming meeting…which I will not be able to attend because of an out of town video project.  So, you will get to hear from new folks who helped make the event a success.

My garage is still loaded with Bike event equipment and now I have to make room for the Chicago Marathon.  We have 135 hams supporting this event from 5 states; 12 radio club groups, some from as far away as Peoria and Madison Wisconsin. This has become the premiere ham radio public service event…serving one of the world’s top marathon’s.  I have been proud to have been part of this great event and ever proud of the number of fellow hams who have stepped up to help.  Our club is well represented.  NSRC folks are the leaders in many of the aid stations, but we are not the largest club represented!  There is a group from the Southside, WillCom, lead by Jerry Watts, who double the number of folks we bring. We also get strong support from Dane County, Wheaton Community Radio Association, York Radio Club, Lake County and several others… who routine bring 6 or more radio ops to the event.  Not only is working the Marathon intense fun, it is also great practice for real world events.

So, if you are not on the team this year, please consider joining us next year.

There was a recent QST articles that suggested we tackle what we learned from Field Day and put it to practice.  Well, your fellow NSRCers are doing just that…there were at least two groups who took to the parks and set up some impromptu events.  I was part of a team that met near my house.  With a simple canopy, table and a few chairs, we had three stations up and running in a matter of minutes and worked people across the US.  I would love to see us do many more of these events and build on this momentum. 

Well, I have got to get back to preparing for my role at the marathon (and work)

73, Rob K9RST

K9RST Blog- A few words from our club President

As I watch with mystifying horror, the devastation in Texas unfold, I am reminded of just how vulnerable we all are in times of natural disaster.  This monster storm has just been amazing to watch. Day after day, the rain continues to pour in. They are talking about it being a once in a 1000 year rain! (what does that really mean?!!)   And because this has been more of a flooding event, much of the infrastructure is still in place, so cell phones and radio networks still function well.  What is not working are the roads and usual transportation routes.  And the scale is hard for me to fathom. Some have said the affected area is the size of Lake Michigan. I am moved by the number of people reaching out to assist in any way they can…got a kick out of the folks from the Cajun Navy (bunch of random folks with swamp boats) who came to people’s assistance.   Disasters truly can bring out the best in us…and also the worst. So far, however, things have been reasonably well managed.  The issue will come when people return to their homes and work places to begin re-construction. I spent three years working on a team to rebuild houses in Biloxi.  It has taken years for people to return to normal down there and now we are talking about an urban area many, many times larger.  It is going to be a mess.

 

Seeing this event also triggered my own desire to respond.  Having served on the Red Cross Emergency Communication Truck (ECRV) for almost 10 years that pull to help never really goes away. Alas, for me now, it is more a matter of just making a donation of money and not time or resources.  I always said to my team of 50 volunteers who served on 4711, the truck assigned to our region, the folks from the Midwest are often the best poised to help.  Generally, we are spared huge catastrophic events like this…although we have had our share of flooding and tornadoes as well.  The call for help is a powerful siren.  And as ham radio operators, we have a special place in this environment.  Maybe not with this Texas disaster, but there will be other places and times when we will be called.  Are you prepared?

 

We have spoken about this often in our club meetings.  All disasters are local.  So, to be prepared means having your own house in order.  I asked my wife this morning, if we had to leave right now, what one thing would she grab?  What would you grab?  It is an interesting question to think about.  Once important lesson my Florida cousin taught me during the hurricanes they often faced, in a real disaster have cash.  Often credit cards will not work because power is out, pumps don’t work for gas and water is a premium.  So, being  prepared yourself is a key first step.

 

Beyond that, volunteer.  But here is the key: if you want to volunteer, it is almost too late!  Most disasters do not allow people to self deploy. It is always best to be part of a recognized group that responds and get credentialed and trained.   The other point worth considering is that the real need starts tomorrow. When the storm final relents and people need to rebuild, that is when people will really need your help.  This call will go on for years to come!

 

Where does ham radio fit into this picture?   I am currently working on a planned event called the North Shore Century and the Chicago Marathon.   These two events teach us how to work as a team and be prepared to deliver a product (communication messages).  These are live event but they are also great training grounds for other events.  It is more likely that our services will be needed for this sort of response than for a natural disaster…but it could happen.

 

In fact, as I am typing this note, I just got an email from the Red Cross looking for volunteers to go to Texas.  I can’t deploy this time…as I will be working the Chicago marathon (and business deadlines!).  Readiness partly means being prepared to serve or to lead.  Responding – volunteering – giving of your time and talent is not a singularity.  You need to make it an everyday practice so that when you truly are needed, you can deliver.  Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the people of Texas. 

Field Day

We just ended our club’s 2017 Field Day effort. Once again, we did a great job as a team. Our score seemed to be right in line with past years and we discovered some new talent. Greg Karlove built this amazing satellite set up and worked the skies with authority. Casey Diers served as our safety director, but really spent more time deeply studying the CW and SSB stations. I loved his eagerness to learn all that he can about ham radio. The weather was perfect. It threatened to rain Saturday night and we dug out our tarps and tied down the tents. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the threat of rain went away. Operators magically appeared to do their duties at the CW and SSB tents. Overnight, the SSB tent got a little quiet, but I had fun running on 40 meters with Jerry Weiss, former NSRC President. I hadn’t worked with Jerry in years…and interestingly, he was Prez of the club when I joined and he was the one who asked if I would mind running for president upon his retirement. Well, I had just become licensed and I had no idea what being president meant so I declined. I did serve as program director for 4 years, a position I greatly enjoyed. I loved seeking out speakers and programs that fed the issues that I was passionate about discovering. It was a great way to learn. Along the way, I was asked to be the Field Day chair. Again, I had no clue what to do, and I said yes! At first, I followed the template set by the older guard. For a couple of years, I never deviated from the basic model – radios in the Village Green gazebo and antennas in the trees…all in a line. Everything worked well, and I felt like a hero!

Well, times and locations changed. We left the Village Green when the Park district in Northbrook wanted close to $2000 for the overnight use of the park. It was a great public park and we hated to leave. Several of us embarked on a long search for new venues. We scoured the north shore. Finally, we found a place that seemed possible: Northcroft Park in Lake Forest. In the early days, we did not have enough people to do Field Day and so we partnered with the good folks at the MAC club. They provided necessary manpower, but we had differing philosophies about tactics and we ended our partnership. We slowly built our own team…and it has taken years to recruit the talent and hone our skills. Then one year, the Lake Forest Park District double booked us…and we got bounced. They offered us the Grove Cultural center, where we have been for the past eight years. It is a great place, but totally hidden from the public. In fact, this year when I couldn’t lock the doors to the building, I had to call the Lake Forest police for assistance. The cop told me that even the police weren’t sure where the place was! It was a total shift away from the Village Green…where we often ran into crowds of people who said, “Hey, I’m a ham…I should be out here with you guys (and gals).” We saw much more of the curious public at the Village Green than we have ever seen in the other parks.

Still, we focused on our operating and build up a solid team and have been a consistent and productive operation. We always ranked very high in the state and in the nation. When Randy Brothers came on board, he became the champion contester coach. He stressed valuable skills that have helped us see our scores soar. I continue to focus on logistics and securing the potential 2000 bonus points.

One of the ARRL bonus points asks us to invite elected officials. Well, I asked my Glenview Village President to stop by and to my surprise, he did. He showed up at 7:30 a.m. Sunday! He caught me stuffing pancakes into my face and just recovering from my overnight operating. I grabbed about 30 minutes of sleep and was still groggy. Still no coffee. He hit me with a zillion great questions, many of which I am still trying to figure how to answer: “Would ham radio work if we got hit with a Pulse bomb?” “How long would it take for you guys to get set up, if we did need you?” “Why do you do this?” “Who are all of these people?” “How many points do you think you will score?” On and on…it was fabulous. I had another elected gentleman from Glenview show up around 11:00 p.m. He was amazed. He loved seeing the satellite station work and attentively watched as Greg Karlove made several contacts right there. The whole idea caught his imagination and suddenly he got it. He understand what value ham radio could be to a nation and a community. So, from this point of view alone, Field Day was a success. If we can get a few public officials to at least top to think about what we do and how we could be of service, the next time one of those antenna covenant bills comes up, or they find themselves in need of supportive volunteers, they might stop to reflect on what we mean to the community.

Thanks to all who helped serve our Field Day. Please feel free to drop me note to tell me what you think we can do better to serve the membership and this event. We need a public face…and this is a good one.

73, Rob K9RST

Dayton (Xenia) Report

For me, my Dayton trip has evolved into a small odyssey. It starts a couple days before, running through the shack looking for items to sell. Strangely, I have been trying to sell the same boat anchors for a number of years now and I might have to surrender this effort to the web. I typically head off on Wednesday for the QRP seminar on Thursday.

For the past couple of years, I have partnered up with Bill Steffey, NY9H, who used to live around here but now lives in Prosperity, PA. (Yes, that is the name of the town!). If you know Bill at all, you know he is a tireless advocate for the hobby and a great promoter. He seems to have single handedly invigorated the ham community in his town and often brings along a couple of his new hams for their initial tour of Hamvention. We take a dorm suite at the University of Dayton, which can easily accommodate 6. So, Bill brought some folks from PA and I brought a few folks from Chicago: Greg Karlove, Ron Steinberg, Casey Diers and Randy Brothers.

The QRP event is always a highlight of the trip. The all day seminar is not only about operating QRP, but it is about building, electronics, new inventions, and some good practical ideas for the hobby. This year, every single topic was terrific…from Ed Hare’s (W1RFI) talk on the impact of man-made noise on the hobby to proper ways to tackle rebuilding those old boat anchor radios safely to learning about some of the newest WSRP strategies out there. The best talk was Howard Zehr’s (K4LXY) discussion on some experimental builds on his own magnetic loop antennas. Loops seem to be all the rage these days, as the QRP flea market at the conference was loaded with several commercial offerings. As an aside, I picked up a loop that was donated to the club a few years ago and dragged it over to Greg Karlove’s place. We tore it apart and cleaned out the zillions of bees that made the hollow tube a welcome home. In fact, it was so packed with bees; their nest prevented any of the tuning capacitors to work. Greg did some testing with the refurbished loop and we found it had similar characteristic as was described in this talk. Directional, extremely narrow banded but effective. The loop was one of the antennas of choice for Joe Everhart, N2CX, who activated several national parks, as part of the NPOTA program this past year. He demonstrated some of his successes for the 200 QRP attendees.

The QRP seminar is one of many pre-Dayton seminars you can join. Randy Brothers, for instance, went to Contest University…he must be working on his PhD! I have never gone, but for those who have, this seminar garners equal rave reviews.

Friday is the Hamvention itself. I was filled with anxiety about access and parking…and my anxiety was quickly realized. The turn lane to get off Route 35 to Trebien Road was back up for miles. The light, unaccustomed to this much traffic, was only allowing 3 or 4 cars through at each change. Once through the light, heavy traffic led us to the various country road turns to the new location. There were police cars at every turn, but there wasn’t much traffic control. And one member of our party had an accident with someone who did not stop for the light. Once we got closer to the actual site itself, parking traffic seemed to flow better. We pulled into the larger flea market area…all freshly lined out and nicely marked with the smallest flags. You had to get out of the car to find you flag and slot. I ended up walking until I found our spot.

It was a bit chaotic, but not unlike any event that is setting up for the day. There were disputes over territory and grumpy people who just abandoned their car and blocked others from getting it etc. Unfortunately, the person bringing our tents, tables and chairs was late to arrive. So, we threw our wares on the ground over a tarp and tried to stay out of the blazing and steamy morning sun. We discovered later that Bill’s buddy had a serious accident on the way over and arrived about 10 a.m….well past when they allowed vehicles to enter the park. Fortunately, the organizer escorted him to our site without fuss! Selling in the morning was slow. Seemed like no one was in the park. I learned later that the parking was a very long hike from where our booth stood. We were at the opposite ends. People would go to the convention buildings first and then come to the flea market. The afternoon was much more robust and I sold most of the smaller things I had hoped to release. I was not able to walk around much until Saturday. I did see an issue, however. Since parking was such a long hike, people seemed reluctant to buy boat anchors….anything heavy. Although, we all learned that Dayton provided cart pickup for folks who needed to transport heavy gear, dragging heavy stuff still seemed a tough sell. Eventually, the grass field turned into mud. It rained both Friday and Saturday, only compounding the mess.

Saturday, I stopped selling to focus on my own journey. I went to the NSRC booth. Nice location and terrific set up by Al Hovey and Robert Landgren. The new Hamvention location is a marked improvement over Hara…it is smaller, so the vender buildings were tightly packed, and when it rained, they were jammed with people. The seminar building was air conditioned and a huge improvement over Hara. Clean, comfortable seats and decent sound systems. I only went to a couple of seminars, as I wanted to check out some of my favorite venders. Of course, all of the major radio manufacturers were there. All with new toys to show off.

On Saturday, I caught up with a young man I know from the video business who decided he wanted to get into ham radio. So, I showed him around the place and armed him with some books. It was great to see new folks entering into the hobby. His reactions to the place reminded me of my own very first days coming to Dayton and the feeling of being totally overwhelmed by all of the technology and options.
In general, Dayton was terrific. Muddy, yes! Hot, yes. Cold, yes! It is a place of great contrasts!! But great fun seeing old friends and making new ones. I only ran into a few NSRCers…but I know we were well represented. I agree with Mark Klocksin. Kudos to the Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA) for making the quick switch to a decent location. Of course, there were issues, but they will work out the kinks and hopefully the grass will recover! It is a good venue, if not somewhat smaller than what we have grown used to in the past. Still the old sure fire ingredients were in place: old friends, new friends and lots of toys to examine.

The drive home almost became harrowing. I was merrily playing loud music when the radio erupted with those annoying weather bulletin announcements. Well, turns out I was within 4 miles of a sited tornado. I pulled off the road and sought shelter in the nearest gas station. The rain came down in curtains. The wind rocked the canopy over the gas pumps. It was a little frightening…but it left as quickly as it came…and I arrived home safely. Sign me up for Dayton next year. It is a great adventure.

73, Rob
K9RST

May musings

March and April flew by in a buzz…or maybe I am just getting old? (I won’t admit that if pressed.) In the past couple of weeks, I have been working on a number of grant proposals on behalf of our club and we are often asked to describe what the North Shore Radio club does. On the one hand, there is a simple answer. I often turn to a statement in our By-Laws: “The Club is organized primarily for public service; educational and scientific purposes to advance the art and science of amateur radio communication provide educational programs of interest in the technical aspects of amateur radio and provide disaster, emergency or public service amateur communications without pecuniary gain.” That about says it all! Right? Or does it? I have always been intrigued by the line “scientific purposes” because we don’t discuss that very much and I have been told that phrase was included to satisfy some legal requirement to qualify us as a not-for-profit (sidebar…I have to tell you, I am forever grateful for the incredible work done by our club’s forefathers. They did things right for us…and we enjoy the benefits. To apply for not-for-profit status today is a rigorous course.) So, back to that science line, I have been reflecting back on some of the things that Kermit Carlson mentioned about how we will be inheriting some new frequencies that will soon be made available. For years, hams have pioneered new ways to use some of the frequencies that others have discarded or the world felt was useless. Of course, because of that, we are now seeing some of our more valuable real estate being deeded back for commercial products. Fact is, this is one aspect of our heritage that we can be most proud, and one that I am eager for us to do more. I enjoy exploring various ways to test or create new communication modes… makes me wonder, if we should teach the scientific process along the way? I have benefited greatly from the Elmering others have shown me on how to trace down a bad circuit or try out some new software. There is a method to all of this stuff.

Exactly what is amateur radio? Now that is the more complicated part of the question. I re-Tweeted a post recently about the difference between an amateur and a professional. We seem generally nagged by the “amateur” in our collective name, even though it is meant to suggest the name for an unpaid devotee. The passion for our work generally is no different from a pro, and perhaps that is why so many of us use the term, “ham radio” instead of amateur radio? I don’t know. I am heartened to see that many of the official public service organizations have come around to really giving ham radio a seat at the table again. FEMA and others have acknowledged the potential benefits of supporting the ham community – it is up to us to do the work to earn a place at the table. Fortunately, today, there are many more opportunities for those inclined to public service. Still, I get the question often, what is ham radio? Do you still do ham radio? Is it valuable even in these times with such robust cell phone coverage? (Well, you all know the answer to that, I hope). Explain what this hobby is to someone who is not a techie (and that might be almost anyone) and you quickly realize it is not easy. It is a hobby, a public service, a way to learn, a way to spend excess money…but it is also a great way to meet smart, engaged people from all walks of life. What other activities bring people from so many different walks of life together? Doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, police officers, heck, even rock stars all enjoy ham radio? What is the attraction to this hobby? I suspect we all have our own answer to that question, but, I would love to know. Drop me a line and tell me what makes this hobby work for you.

73, Rob K9RST

Public service - our public face

April Blog

Working Public Service

A friend of mine advertised his blog on Twitter recently outlining the differences between serving as a ham radio operator at an event like the Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon. Essentially, he said that to prepare for the marathon took time and to work the event took skill.  Brian McDaniel should know, he has been working both of those events with us for several years now and has demonstrated his skill admirably. 

Well, you say, what is the big deal?  It is just a public service event! How hard can that be?  Well, allow me to provide some insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for a single 4 hour event. Even before we begin working the Shamrock Shuffle, I personally have gone through at least six Public Service Courses to prepare to be a communicator for events like these. The courses were both ARRL and FEMA sponsored courses that teach you how to work in a multi-disciplinary environment. The Shamrock and the Chicago Marathon blend their own professional management teams with thousands of volunteers, Police, Fire, City Services and Chicago’s Office of Event Management.   In January, we had our first meeting with the medical team to which the ham radio group is a part. This is a group of 20 leaders who gather to discuss strategy for the upcoming event.  We did some talking about what performed well at the last event and how we would prepare for the next.   Most of our meetings since that one have been on-line, but we have been focused largely on organizational issues.  For the hams, it was finding and developing a team.  The Shamrock is a much smaller event and does not need the man power of the Marathon (where we can use up to 145 ham radio operators).  For both, our jobs are the same: we provide communication support for the volunteer medical teams…at each of the aid stations and those who roam around Grant Park.  Doctors want to treat patients…not communicate over radios, so that is where we come in. We are the link between the field teams and the Command staff, including the ambulance company hired for the event.

About 45 days out, the radio team is invited to sign up and assignments are made.  Next, we begin to lay out the plans for our work…band plans, assignments, roles and duties.  We confirm our work with the event organizers and discuss back-up strategies and contingency plans.  About 10 days out, the teams are locked in place, credentials are established and we begin in earnest the real work of preparing for the event. For me personally, I am about the last person to deal with my own personal gear, since I am pretty busy helping all of the other teams get ready. For some, it means buying gear for the assignment. For me, it is assembling what we need for the project. Since no public service project is ever the same, every event requires careful planning and assembling of the equipment. Even though, we have done this event for about 10 years, it is a new experience every time. So today, for instance, I pulled out all of the radios and double checked the frequencies against the band plan.  Murphy always shows up. My tried and true Kenwood TH-F6 has been programmed many, many times using an ancient Toshiba laptop with an older XP operating system.  It was old reliable.  I could fire up the computer and re-image my radio in minutes.  Well, not this time.  Something went wrong and I spent about 4 hours trying every trick in the book.  It is a long story, but there is not a simple answer. Finally, Mark Klocksin, WA9IVC came over with his computer and we could verify that the frequencies were right…and didn’t need to be re-programmed, but still, I am left with a radio I cannot program if I need to make changes.  Tomorrow I will write up the equipment inventory, collect computers, antennas and transport cases. For me, this is a mini- Field Day exercise.

Set up begins this week. Friday we install some local repeaters.  Saturday we set up 3 radios for net control at the event’s command facility downtown.  By 2 p.m. on Saturday, we will be ready to roll.  At 5 a.m. Sunday morning of the race, I need to be in my post, in the temporary tent they have built for Forward command.  About 60 -70 other people work in this facility to help manage the event. At 6:30 a.m. our other teams set up their stations and get their final instructions.  It is usually a very busy time making sure medical teams are ready, supplies are in place  and everything is  setup  and in place for the race.  At 8:30, the event begins and our work begins in earnest.

By noon, we are done.  Tear down takes about an hour and I am generally home by 3:30…ready to unpack and clean up from the event.  That usually takes another day.

So, my point?  Doing public service work is a discipline.  It is great fun…but no matter where you stand on the plan…as Aid Station team or a rover with an imbedded medical team or at Forward Command, everyone has to make sure they have prepared properly for their job.  It takes some effort.

For me, I would conservatively estimate that I have put in about 40 hours of preparation…many other would have done much less…and some have done none.  We know who those folks are because of the complaints we hear about people who have not read the briefs or don’t know their assignments or don’t have their equipment readied.  Some don’t even know how to use their own radios. It is at events like this that you learn the discipline involved.  It is great fun to work with a large team and it is reward when everything goes right.

So, this note is a nod of appreciation to the many ham radio operators who have devoted some portion of their ham radio time to give back to their communities. Public Service is our public face. That is about all the world sees of ham radio.  For that reason alone, it is important stuff.

73, 

Rob, K9RST

 

Fusion is on my mind.

I have quietly embraced the Fusion explosion around here by purchasing the FTM3200. Frankly, I just wanted to get a toe hold into that digital space. I was immediately impressed with the audio quality of this radio and the fact that Fusion can do both analog and digital modes. Then I learned that this particular radio has severe limitations. I cannot access the vast network of online rooms and services offered through Yaesu’s WIRES network. Thanks to Warren (KC9IL) Pugh’s efforts to link his WIRES equipment to our repeater from his home, we have been able to get a taste of what is out there. All he has done, though, is whet our appetite more. I am certain that 3200 radio will soon be moved to my car while I get a more robust base radio for the shack, one that has more features than this one offers.

At first, I was reluctant to jump into yet another digital mode because we are in an awkward moment in time with too many competing digital modes. Some would say that is the job of the marketplace, you know, survival of the fittest and all of that. Somehow, cheapest, most flexible product will survive all while driving most of us slowly into bankruptcy as we purchase all of this gear. I now have D-Star, DMR, P-25 and now Fusion. Each has its attributes and devotees. Each has splintered the VHF/UHF market into multiple submarkets. There is select traffic on all of them but has fractionalized the digital ham community. Progress is painful and without a doubt, digital is the future. I have certainly seen this in my own business over the years. Video production formats have come and gone and we have endured huge radial shifts in production methods and strategies. In the end, we are still just telling stories and, in this case, we are still using radios to communicate. That is what these things do. Oh, but the investment is killer.

Meanwhile, humbled by a car wash.

I have been somewhat radio silent from my car lately because the car wash shredded roof top network. Mind you, I did take the actual antenna elements down before entering the wash. That left the feed wire to the Diamond motor mount and the coax. Somehow, the cables got caught up in the car wash equipment and were yanked from the radio and the antenna. I generally hand a wash my car myself so this is less of an issue, but when the wife said, “The car must be washed”, and it is 10 degrees outside…I generally don’t do the car. Plus, I have been to this place many times and rarely with a problem. Why now? I don’t know. All I can say is that it is a royal pain in the rear wire. I will spare you the details but it requires getting back into the motor and re-wiring everything. But, hey, I love soldering…I do, but I really hate de-soldering. The mounting connector for this antenna is a very difficult fit. There is barely room for the mini coax to feed to the special connector/mount. It must be done perfectly, under heavy sedation (coffee) and magnifying glasses. So, I hope later today, I can complete the soldering and get back on the air.

Entropy

Meanwhile the old trusty Kenwood Tri-band TM741A I had purchased a few years back from KK9H finally stopped working. This is a classic radio and can still be repaired, but I am debating what to do. It is tough to live in this throw away culture. I hate to throw things into the dump when it can still be brought back to life. The ugly truth is, many replacement radios can be purchased readily (perhaps not as good) and have it can be delivered overnight. I will probably get this one fixed because it is a rare bird: 2 meters, 220 and 440 all in one compact unit. Might leave some room in the budget for that next Fusion radio! But then, how many radios does a person need to have! (Don’t answer that question!!)

73, Rob K9RST

Too many kits too little time

Happy New Year to all my fellow ham radio aficionados! Hope you had a great Holiday season and are all resuming your normal lives. Make any New Year’s resolutions? For me, I hope to improve my typing skills and complete some of my many radio projects, many of which I have already started. Actually, in many ways, restarting is worse than not starting at all because you have to remember where you left off and find all of the parts.

I bought a preamplifier kit that uses a single vacuum tube many years ago at Dayton and never built it. I wanted to see what it was like to work with tubes…but I had no practical reason to build the thing, since it is really used with guitars. Well, the opportunity presented itself when my son-in-law announced that he was learning guitar! The Vectronics kit was actually a great deal of fun to build and the instructions were generally clear. The first instruction was to inventory and list all of the parts. As a modest ADD type, I hated this step. But I knuckled down and started inventorying the parts and labeling them in a project box. And son of a gun, one of the key components was missing! We needed three 100uf electrolytic capacitors and I could only find two. I did my usual search on the floor…I am getting used to spending time on the floor (see former posts about the importance of not having carpeting below your project table.) Anyway, the part was definitely not to be found. So I moved on and would look for another later. The project proceeded nicely until I got to the final assembly. The instructions stated that I needed to cut wires precisely at 4”…so I did. But when it came in installing it into the project box, there is no way the 4” wire would work. I ended up changing the entire final assembly strategy because it called for some crazy heroics that just seemed impossible, like it is very difficult to solder a wire under a PC Board once the board has been installed?!. That is just one example. It is good to read ahead and conceptualize what they builders had in mind. That also doesn’t include the craziness of trying to get my fat fingers around nuts that are the size of a pin head when the Board is already in place. And, oh yes, the missing capacitor…. So, in the old days, I would dash off to Radio Shack or Tri-State Electronics and hope they had something to use. Nowadays, it’s not so easy. Enter the project box.

The Project Box. This is key to any ham radio shack’s inventory. It is a treasure trove could fill an entire room or just be a shoe box with some bags of stuff. Whatever it is, it is the nemesis of most wives. Clutter they call it! Salvation, I call it. When I chopped the shielded wires too short, well, I had to get a replacement. I only needed 12” so it seemed dumb to order something for such a tiny quantity…plus I want to get this project done while it was still 2016. DONE. I have a great three-tiered case my son gave me that is loaded with all manner of small length project wire. There, way down on the bottom was the stuff I needed. Same with the capacitors. I have several small drawer cabinets with all sorts of left over stuff. It took a while, but eventually I found the capacitor I needed. (Someday, I will get around to actually labeling the drawers!) Of course, you can always put the call out to the wider community. I often called on my ole buddy Greg…who also had ample supplies of wacky stuff to share. Between us both, we had what was needed. The point is, it pays to be somewhat self reliant these days. I now have a longer list of small things to buy at the next ham fest.

My kits-to-build box still is not empty. Got two more radios to build…but then I received this little book on Alexander Hamilton for Christmas (like 600 pages) and, well, I got side tracked. I have been reading that whenever I have a chance. You have to lead a balanced life!

Wishing you all a health full New Year! Let’s hope the bands open a bit more in 2017.  

73, Rob K9RST

'Tis the season

Tis’ the season…Thanksgiving has always been my most favorite time of the year. It’s not just because of the changing colors and the leaves dropping, but because so many people stop and give thanks for what they have in their lives. Thanksgiving around our house was a bit unusual. Our grown up kids and their families had dinners with their respective spouses’ families…so my wife and I were home alone! No worries, we spent the day productively finishing our respective favorite projects…and then on Friday, we celebrated with a giant feast with our clan. We still have plenty of turkey leftovers!

I finally finished my personal project: to re-engineer my shack…all of the outside coax has been replaced, all with new connectors. Probably made up 30 coax connectors! Lots of soldering and practice involved with that project. So now my coax for all of my antennas comes to a single box outside my house. From there it is properly grounded and travels to my basement. It is still not perfect…but it works much better at tracking down issues, like bad connectors or bad antennas and certainly knowing that the right type of coax is now being used for the right antenna is a huge benefit. Part of the fun of this project was the purchase (I know, I should have made it) of a new short wave antenna. My old one was among the first antennas I bought 20 plus years ago and it was really shot. This new one is designed for shortwave with some heavy duty wire and a couple of traps. Well, I was thrilled to fire up my Icom R75 and actually hear noise on it again! I immediately started to log stations that I heard…Australia, South America, Europe…tons of religious stations…there actually still is life on those bands. Once I got my computer fired up and started to search some of the stations and frequencies, I discovered that all that I had known before in shortwave listening in print had moved to the Internet. There is software and programs available to log your reports with graphics and all sorts of detailed information that I just never bothered to seek out before. Shortwave listening is how I came to this hobby. Listening. Now how rare is that! In an age when everyone can broadcast, it is fun to stop and listen. When I was a kid, I loved the incredible diversity of opinion and languages that you could find on shortwave and I have to say all of this came rushing back as I spun the dial around. Now, it is true, that there are not nearly the same number of stations that there were in the past and most of them you can stream on line, but for a guy who loves the simplicity of a wire and a radio, this filled my Thanksgiving with great joy. Really, it was like the thrill of re-discovering on old lost friend.

Also, Thanksgiving gave me a chance to fix a ton of broken parts that were laying around in various stages of disrepair. The really ugly part of this story is the number of replacement parts you just cannot buy anymore. It is frustrating to live in a throw away culture…and nothing is built to be repaired. Still, I enjoy tearing things apart to see if I can fix them. That’s how the wine cooler ended up on the dining room floor. It stopped working so I ripped it apart and learned a few things about Peltier coolers and power supplies. There is a vast network of folks like me who enjoy stuff like this, so I found all sorts of useful advice from people who had faced similar problems. I did order some parts and will have to see if I can fix it…but the process of going through the unit was fun. Meanwhile, as I was on the floor searching for a screw that fell out of my connector I was repairing, I was thinking about the age old adage about not working with small parts over carpeting. This was a tiny screw…and I thought I could easily swipe my hand across the surface and it would pop out. Well, it never did. I used an intense flashlight, even a large magnet…nothing. Finally, I surrendered and looked for a replacement part - eh, electrical tape! So, I guess my next purchase will have to be a piece of plastic for the floor so I can find parts that drop!

I am thrilled to have my shack back. One more section to clean up and I will be fully operational…look for me on the air, chasing DX again. Enjoy the Holidays.

73, Rob K9RST

Coax season

Don’t ever do this when you are old!! Actually, I was just trying to get your attention, but what I am talking about here is the need to change your station’s coax feed lines. I have been a ham for more than a few years…20 almost now…and from the start, I have been slowly adding to my station and moving antennas and coax around as the need demanded. Most of the time the scenarios went like this: I got a new antenna or radio and needed another antenna! I used whatever coax was around. I had developed a rather nice feed point through the space around my chimney in the attic, which hid most of the coax until I started to think about the danger I was inviting into my shack. All of that ungrounded coax running right through the middle of the house! Oh, I had a station ground…but that was different from my lightning ground and my electrical ground…you see the point. But that was only half the issue…because I had lots of RG213…that was the coax of choice for everything. Turns out that’s fine for HF, but perhaps not for other applications. So, I pulled all the wire out of the attic and laid it out on the roof. One by one, I started to replace them all with appropriate less lossy coax.

There is a story here as well. Buying coax has turned into a very confusing business. Most of the providers do not make their own cable…and some don’t even label them properly. Any cable not labeled with a brand and type was trashed first. Go to any one of the representative cable and wire provider sites (and of them all ABR is the most informative and educational) and you will find all sorts of conflicting information…numbers don’t always match across lines… Pasternak’s RG 217U does not match the Wireman’s of a similar style and type. So when I bought connectors for the RG217U I bought from the Wireman, Pasternak’s connector’s didn’t fit? Baffling. (I am not using this coax in my house…this was for a different project).

The journey continues as I am not entirely sure even today that I know the very best type of coax for weak signal 2 meter or UHF work. I suspect it is hard line, but for now, I will take the losses because the money tree we planted last year still has not produced fruit!

So I pulled most of the old RG213 and replaced it with LMR400 and RG8x. I have been buying stuff for this project for a couple of years, so now the issue was finding it all! I had a ground bus bar, and an exterior connection box, which was too small for this project, and then my buddy Greg Karlove came up with an interesting plastic weather proof box. I retrofitted the grounding bar into that box and put a PVC pipe to join it with the other smaller box. And yes, I could have bought something even larger, but beggars…etc. It’s fine because I am making one box for HF and other for all of the VHF and UHF connections. So, this box is now outside of the house. All of the coax leads to it…and so far so good. Now, I find myself short about 10 feet for most connections to the shack! And, that bag of PL259’s that I have been coveting for years for just this sort of project is all but gone. No idea where it ended up (probably used on our various Field Day enterprises). So, in went my first order to our new neighbor to the north, HRO, Ham Radio Outlet. After I managed to set up an online account….for some reason it would not acknowledge my email address????!!! …still not sure why because I have never purchased on-line from them before? (Where do all of these phantom email addresses end up? I think Facebook keeps them and calls them subscribers?!!!)

So, now I am at the soldering phase….lots of soldering. I wish I could say that has been therapeutic, but since most of this work has to be done outside, it is not as much fun as I had expected. I need more warm fall days. And, frankly, it has been tiring to climb to the roof, add a new cable, build a connector, run down the roof to the box etc. But I am optimistic that all of this work will pay off. It is hard work…reversing and re-engineering the work done slowly over many years…but that is part of the hobby. Learning. Building. Re-building. So, by the time I get this project done, perhaps the solar cycle will grant us better conditions to do HF again!!

Next, thinking about beverage antennas…no Mark, these are not for drinking!!

73, Rob K9RST