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A few words from Rob K9RST…

Marathon Hams

What caught my eye in my college’s Alumni magazine was the headline, ″Boston Alumni Share Bombing Stories.″ There are many folks who have been writing about their perspective on the infamous attack on innocent people at the Boston Marathon. What was interesting about this story was that it was from a ham radio operator – N9JBT, Bruce Tinkler, a Lake Forest College alum from 1987. Turns out he was one of several hundred hams who volunteered their time to support the event. (You may have seen the two-part article in the July and August issues of CQ magazine).

As some of you know, I have taken on the responsibility to lead a team of hams who will do the same for the Chicago Marathon; in fact this will be our fifth year. We have about 120 hams signed up again this year. As these things go, we are relatively new to this game. The folks who lead the Boston ham teams have been there almost from the beginning…well, at least a long time. The event grew around their skills and capabilities. For us in Chicago, we have carefully defined our role to provide primary communication for the medical teams in the field. This is no small task. They have nearly 1500 licensed medical personnel along the course and we provide the link for them to the main medical tent in Balbo Park and the ambulance company that provides most of the medical support for the 21 aid stations. I am just beginning to get myself engaged with this project again, but was struck by Bruce’s single line…″once we realized that we were all safe and ok, we continued to do what we were trained to do: communicate.″

As we move into our busiest public service season of the year (the NSRC supports the Evanston Century Bike Ride and the Chicago Marathon) we are reminded that these can be much more than a simple day in the sun. Often people’s safety, even their lives, can be at stake. So, we take these events seriously. These activities are great ways for us to train for even larger roles, if we are ever needed. They are also terrific, high profile events for our hobby. We are presenting the public face of ham radio - a technology that many assumed died with their parents Zenith television! Yes, Virginia, ham radio is alive and actually doing pretty well. And yes, we are getting older (at least I am!) But it feels pretty darn good to be able to provide a valuable service to our community. Since the Chicagoland area is so well represented by professional first responders, these events really are the closest we get to providing urgent communication services. And, frankly, we are fortunate, because serving in real disaster events is not fun.

I would like to thank all who have dragged your gear out of your shacks and helped out with one of these events. It is good to know that we are still needed.

Antenna party

I have said this before, but it bears repeating. When I started with this club, there were almost weekly antenna parties. Mostly, they were excuses to get together, but we got work done too. Well, I was thrilled to participate in another raising event recently at Hap Holly’s (KC9RP). As most of you know, Hap is legally blind, so there is almost no way he could have built his incredible antenna array without the help of many people over the years. So a group of us headed out on Sunday to work on several projects.

As you know from your own shacks, stuff happens. Well, his beam was 90 degrees out of sync; he wanted to add a newly purchased CB antenna to his farm and move several other antennas around. Mark WA9IVH, Kate KC9IQF, Al K9EAA, Dave N3BXY, Troy K9TOW and Gary WD9HDM all took part. We broke up into swat teams and really did a lot of work in the four hours we had as a window, before Hap had to leave. And like almost every project, one turn leads to another. Bolts that were rusted frozen needed to be replaced; cables that worked before we moved things don’t now, so we need to do some additional follow up work.

One of our best mistakes was a tricky problem. I found out that when you are on top of a tower looking up at a Yagi, it is very difficult to tell which end is the reflector. Hap has a TA-36. It is a beautiful beam and whoever did the initial installation work did a fine job. However, after some time, something is slipping. I asked the folks on the ground which end needed to point north and I followed their directions. However, after reviewing the literature, it looks like the beam is now 180 degrees off! So, back to work we go. At least now I know what to fix. It does raise an issue worth considering - how do you keep a beam from slipping in the rotor? The manufacturer specifically states that you should not use through-bolts, which would seem to make the most sense to me. On the other hand, better to let it slip than to shear it off the pin and have no control. Anyway, the point is, we need to go back. The one thing I totally dislike is folks who start a project like this and not get it done, or do not finish it properly.

One of the issues we discovered is that others didn’t always label their cables. When you have a shack where others need to work, labeling may be the most important factor guiding success. To Hap’s credit, and to our amazement, Hap can tell you what connectors are on the ends of all his antennas, when they were installed and by whom! Pretty good for a guy who can’t see! It is always a delight to work on Hap’s station, not only because it keeps him on the air, but he gives back so much more to us all. He supports our weekly nets, both as a net control station and as a contributor through his well produced RAIN Reports. It is also great to see so many volunteers to help. We did what would have taken any one person a week to do, and we did it in four hours! So, thank you to the folks who helped, but I really want to encourage others of you to spend some time helping at one of our upcoming projects or helping a neighbor. The investment pays double!

Meanwhile, I recently brought our gear back from Boy Scout Camp, where we had set up a HF station for the boys to use to teach the Radio Merit badge. As I understand it, 53 scouts earned their Radio Merit Badge this summer. Remarkable. Now it is up to us to follow up with the scouts and build on this success for next year. The main station was an Icom 7200 that was donated to the National BSA for use at summer camps. Next year, we won’t have that radio, but we are seriously considering purchasing a radio for use at camp and for other training opportunities. We need to do much more to help get young people into this hobby. I think you will all agree.

Field Day and other thoughts

Field Day 2013 is packed up and our scores have been submitted. This in many ways was an extraordinary year for us, no matter what the final score may indicate. We had a terrific team setting up on Friday, which included erecting two towers and most of the tents by the end of day Friday, a feat we have never done before. The Saturday operation had all stations working, our VE exams in session, food on the grill and some fascinating discussions on satellite operations. There truly was much to see and do and, from the various reports so far, we all seemed to have had a great time. The ink wasn’t even dry on the scoreboard when we were already discussing improvements for next year and talking about some of the real trouble spots. One issue this year was that we had encountered much more noise than usual. Certainly, operating as we have just under the huge power lines presents some challenges, but we have not noticed much impact in years past. No question the noise floor kept us from really getting some of the weaker stations, still there seemed to be plenty of loud stations to work. The key, as we all know, is to hold a band and just keep calling for stations. CQ Field Day is still emblazed in my brain! Still the noise on 80 was terrible.

I did do some preliminary driving around the sit the day after Field Day and I found a huge amount of noise from some local power lines, but it seemed greatly diminished as we got closer to our site. What I could not duplicate was the impact our generators, long power runs and feed lines had on the stations. So, more than in most years, we have some issues to sort through. 6 meters had a beautiful opening Sunday morning…and while we could hear many, we could not work them. That is always frustrating and seems to indicate that we could benefit from a real beam on transmit. We learned that there is real power in PSK…we garnered almost 200 points from this station alone, so between RTTY and PSK, there are some opportunities to get more points.

Time will tell if we were able to keep our winning position from last year. We know we are down about 700 points from last year, but in many ways, the points are not the only measure of a good Field Day. I don’t know how many local clubs decided not to have a Field Day. That is even more disappointing, so I am very grateful to our group that we still have the interest, energy and manpower to pull off a real Field Day. There are too many people to thank than I have space here. All I can say is it takes each and every one of you making your own special contribution to make the NSRC Field Day the success it has become.

From a PR point of view, it was very rewarding for me to show the FEMA coordinator from DuPage County, Dave Adler, our operation and discuss the purpose of this event. He asked many hard questions but I think he walked away thinking there truly is a place for ham radio in the lexicon of response tools for emergencies and disasters. In the end, that is the purpose of all of this effort and to have him walk away with the impression that ham radio can deliver when the going gets tough was exactly what we were hoping to show.

So, thank you all for making FD 2013 so much fun. I know I had a couple of fabulous 40 meter runs that were my personal best. Like golf, you get a couple of runs like that and you want to come back for more. Of course, soon as I took a break from my last run and came back to the tent to keep the rush going, the band died and the Q’s stopped flowing in…so I left in frustration and started to focus instead on the final stages of clean up and wrap up. Because of the extraordinary effort of a few people, we had put Field Day 2013 back to its resting place in our storage locker by Tuesday that next week. Another first!

Thanks all.

Rob K9RST

Changing Times - Hams and Scouting + Field Day

Times, they are a changing. That is even more true lately if you have been keeping up with the Boy Scouts (I am not going to talk about the membership issues that have been in the news lately, so don’t worry!!). On the program side, they have been really pushing programs that support the STEM initiatives, so popular in many schools these days. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It is the way that schools have organized their science programs…and to try to keep pace, scouting has adopted many of the same programs themselves. It used to be that Scouting was all about learning “Outdoor” skills – camping, hiking, fire building, cooking, self reliance. And to be sure, these are still strong parts of the program, but I was kind of surprised when they asked if we would be willing to build a ham radio program for summer camp.

(The summer camp discussed here is MaKajawan in Pearson, Wisconsin, 30 miles north of Antigo.)

Summer camp to me always was filled with many outdoor activities…and in fact, radios and cell phones were banned! Ok, so times have changed. Newly installed cell towers just outside of camp allow parents to have instant access to their boys. As a former Scoutmaster, I loved the notion that there was limited home access. To get to the camp phone meant taking a long walk to the camp office and standing outside in line with others trying to call home. Many times the walk to the phone was enough to convince the young man not to call home. For many, this was their first experience away from their parents. So I understand, it can be tough on both. So, I can adjust to modern times. Still seems odd to me to have cell phones in camp.

I accepted the offer to build the station at Camp. Many of you helped test the equipment and we went up this past weekend with Greg Karlove (Mr. Solder Presentation, who turns out has been very active at camp for years!). We very quickly set up a VHF base station and two HF stations. Makajawan is blessed with many trees so finding a couple to handle our antennas was not difficult. The biggest issue was finding something to put the radios on or into. They wanted to use a portion of their camp store and Quartermaster area for the ham station. Turns out, there were no tables…so Greg and I went to the big equipment barn and went rummaging for stuff. We borrowed a couple of self standing cook kitchens - basically, boxes with shelves that were prefect for the job. Greg found an old AV table and cut the legs down a bit so that we could put the radio on one shelf and the PC on another.

So, the plan is for the older camp counselors to get their ham tickets to merit a radio badge to the younger scouts. We have suggested that the Scouts pursue the requirement for the listening portions of the badge. Transmitting has to be handled by a licensed operator. Almost every week, there will be hams in camp (these are adult “Scouters” who are hams and can be control operators).  This is our first year, so we shall see how it goes. I am very excited about the potential…and will keep you posted as to their progress.

Meanwhile, we are all getting ready for Field Day. My garage is completely filled with goodies, ready to roll. We have two towers this year, and we have simplified our wire antenna layout. We will have our usual picnic at 4:30 or so. Please feel free to bring a side dish or dessert. And this year, we will be doing VE testing. If that is of interest to you, please register in advance. You can send a note to me or Mike W9MJD.

If you have not been active on HF, please come to Field Day and get on our GOTA station. We can make a lot of points if we really work that station. This year we will make digital QSO’s on the GOTA station easier than previously.

Thanks all for all you do to support ham radio.

Elmers...and Skywarn

Elmers
Elmers…how on earth they got that name, I don’t know, but without Elmers where would this hobby be? Elmers come in all shapes and sizes and their impact may be short or long term. It seems we don’t often think about these wonderful, sharing people until they pass away. My first Elmer was my former physics professor – I don’t even remember his call sign! Al Shatzel used to love working 40 meter CW at night from his humble home in Glenview. He knew of my life-long interest in the hobby and encouraged me to get my ticket and get on the air. At one point, he gave me his TS-520S radio as further incentive to get going! With the radio on my desk, I had little option but to get my ticket. Well, there has been no looking back from those heady days. Al died several years back, but his spirit lives, and his radio recently was returned to me. I had loaned it to a young man who aspired to get into ham radio and needed a radio.  It is part of the Circle of Life…we give so others can enjoy the hobby…and so it goes.

When I learned that Joe Schroeder, W9JUV, was ill and then suddenly passed away this past week, I felt I had lost another Elmer. Joe’s influence was not as direct…we did not interact that often, but I got to know him enough to understand his passion for DX and ham radio. His amazing DX record has been recognized by many, including this past month’s QST. So while we mourn the loss of some of our greatest Elmers, the pressure grows for us to carry the torch on our own. Maybe that is the best way to honor our Elmers - become one. Who have you Elmered lately?

Skywarn
For many years, I have sat on the sidelines hearing about the wonderful work done by the ham radio Skywarn teams. To be honest, some of the dialogue was more about the frustrations experienced by this loose group of volunteers. In some ways, we are all a loose group of volunteers. Some want more stringent procedures, or discipline or support. There always seemed to be room for improvement. Fact is, even as they discussed these matters amongst themselves, they still got the job done - providing timely reports of weather conditions to the National Weather Service. They have benefited from the incredible work done by Mike Swiatkowski, AA9VI, who built web sites and brought order to the process. He was soon joined by Craig Dieckman, KC9HWK, who took the project a little deeper…and then, both found they could not continue the work they started. Babies, work, teenagers, life….something always seems to get in the way. Well, fortunately, there continues to be another group willing to do what is necessary to keep the Skywarn net together here. Scott Irwin, W8UFO, has agreed to be the Northern Cook County Skywarn Net Coordinator and your NSRC is helping provide some financial support and leadership continuity.

While this service is not as visible to the public as some of our other public service events, it is, none the less, exactly what I think a major part of this hobby should be. We need to give back to the public that so graciously has allowed us to use valuable frequencies. So, you will see many more Skywarn nets and discussion on our repeaters in the coming months. You can help by taking some of the many Skywarn courses available so that you can be knowledgeable and provide effective reports when the time comes.

Storm season is here - and something new at Radio Shack

Radio for me lately has been reduced to preparing to organize several public service events, taking Skywarn classes and preparing for various NSRC presentations. Occasionally, I turn on the HF rig! Still, this has been a terrific, enriching time. I attended the very popular DuPage Advanced weather seminar last month and found the experience most satisfying. They had several college professors as presenters and offered some top notch topics. Many of the presentations focused on the structure of super cell storm systems, the kind that produce potentially dangerous tornados. The pictures of the storms taken on various storm chasing expeditions were simply spectacular, very dramatic but also quite informative. There has been a tremendous amount of on the ground research done by these brave souls during storm events in recent years. Of course, they said that these storms are not isolated to farmland in Kansas, that big cities can also be hit…and that Chicago is due, if you follow climatological trends.

One very interesting discovery for me - they had data on some of the biggest storms in history…and there was one series of storm tracks over Illinois and Indiana in 1965. It was one of the biggest storm events in recent times. I was a Boy Scout in South Bend and I remember being mobilized by our Troop to help clean up after the tornados hit. The damage was amazing.the ground had scars where the tornados touched the earth. You could follow that path to a demolished building or uprooted tree. It was a very visible display of the power at work there. So, with that as a backdrop, I am boning up my ham gear to support our Skywarn team, now that we are approaching storm season.

In preparing to do my class on kit building, I was absolutely thrilled to discover the new “Radio Shack” now called the Shack, I think. Anyway, I have been very dismissive of them in recent times, but this time I went in to seek out some robotic toys that I thought I could build for my grandson. Of course, the toys were sold out, but I discovered a whole new initiative at my local store to offer electronic building block kits. Most of this is created around the Arduino breadboard projects that enable people to experiment or build all sorts of new devices. The young man who helped me was amazing. His eyes lit up and he got very animated when he talked about all that these little things could do. I don’t think I have ever been in a Radio Shack store where I could make that statement. Of course, before I left, they did try to sell me a cell phone! So I nibbled…seems like the least I could do to accommodate his welcome advice.

Finally, several of us are going to be helping with the Shamrock Shuffle. This is the world’s largest 8K event. Nearly 35,000 runners. I used to run this event myself, but now I am stuck in a cold tent, helping provide radio support to the medical teams in the field. It has been a great partnership for ham radio and fun to be involved with something on this scale. This event is not nearly the size of the Chicago Marathon, so we only have 19 hams helping out…the Marathon requires close to 119. These events have become very good ways for ham radio to be of use to our communities and serve the public good. It has been more difficult to find consistent public service roles with served agencies for ham radio, since so much depends on waiting for events to occur. In the Chicago area, we are blessed with many, many professional service agencies. As a result, it is not an easy sell to offer ham radio operators as a volunteer force. No one wants a volunteer…well, until they need one. One place where there is a connection for hams has been the CERT courses that are being offered. The notion being that you and your neighbors should be prepared to serve as first responders in your neighborhood in the event of a true disaster, since most public service might be overwhelmed. There has been an increase in interest in ham radio among this population and I think it is a welcome trend.

So, see you around the block, if not on the air.

Hamfest in Yuma

A Ham Fest in Yuma, Arizona. Yuma? For those of you without a sense of American geography, Yuma is in the very bottom corner of Arizona, next to Mexico and California. And yes, it is still part of the USA. Known best for its old territorial prison and the last port of entry for the Colorado River, before they drained all of the water out of it to irrigate the desert farm land. Yuma is a desert town…and home to a huge Marine base. Yuma is also home for my in-laws and as i was reading the last issue of QST, I saw an ad for the Yuma ham fest, so, we built a trip to see the in-laws around the ham fest.

The ham fest is actually at the Yuma Fairgrounds…and most of the attendees drive up in their RV’s (Yuma is the summer home to about 30,000 snow birds from all over, who drive down and spend the winter living out of their aluminum mobile homes.) So picture the fair grounds loaded with about 100 parked RV’s, and in front of each is a pile of ham goodies for sale. There are four large exhibit buildings, but only one building has exhibitors…not a large pile of vendors, but some rather interesting ones. Seems, that the survivalist movement has discovered ham radio…so there were a bunch of exhibitors who were selling strange tools to survive the …well, whatever. I spent most of my time and money with one guy who, it turns out, spent his entire professional career soldering electronics He had a many different types of soldering stations and stories for them all. He was fascinating to talk to and a font of fabulous information. (I did get his business card!!) He was from California. As you can imagine, there were many vendors selling wares that were suitable for RV applications…many end fed slopers and extension poles for RV mounts.

Outside the main building, a large crowd was huddled around a couple of guys preparing to launch their weather balloon with a ham radio APRS, slow scan and fast scan camera equipment. I watched the proceedings and was very impressed with the launch and flight operation. We had a beautiful picture of the earth below as it climbed to nearly 40,000 feet and went about 35 miles down range. You have to coordinate these launches with the Marine base…but I wondered what would have happened if the winds were blowing south, and had taken the balloon to Mexico! Also, I understand the ballon swells to almost 15 feet in diameter as it ascends and eventually bursts, sending the gear back to earth (look out below…well, in Yuma, there isn’t much out there) so unless you are a hapless rattlesnake, most people are safe from the descending gear.

The other two buildings had VE testing in one and seminars in the other. The seminars were fascinating…although I could not stay for some of the better ones on Friday afternoon.

I didn’t spend all of my money in Yuma. I did save some for Dayton. It was really fun to visit fellow hams in such a distant land…and find that we all speak the same lingo and have the same interests. I wish I could have spent more time at the hamfest…but I did try to be mindful of my limited time with my in-laws and my most tolerant wife.

Teaching teachers about ham radio

Don Whiteman KK9H, Dave Hewitt N3BXY, Derick Bonewitz AB9PR, and I spent a recent Saturday morning at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, WI showing 15 middle school and high school teachers ways they could integrate ham radio into their classroom. It was an exciting day.

As some of you know, we are facing a PR/Membership dilemma in this hobby. Many of us came to ham radio listening to shortwave broadcasts. Most of that is gone today, for various reasons. Others came to ham radio as a result of scouting! (I had to learn Morse code as part of my First Class requirements and that kept many others from ever getting past that rank). Since those days, ham radio has gone deep underground. It is virtually invisible to the public. Over the years, technology changed, radio changed, the Internet was born, and the iPhone generation was born. Wither goest ham radio? Yeah…that’s right…”Is ham radio even around anymore?” we were asked?

You bet! Part of it is in the phone you use, or the car radio that uses satellite technology, or the remote controller for your TV or your wireless phones at home. We are surrounded by wireless technologies…but most people don’t realize that ham radio has been there all along. Meanwhile, we are also facing a tremendous shortage of technically inclined young people so schools are trying to combine disciplines into something called STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. So, what do you think? Do you think Ham radio could play a part here?

Well, that was the gist of what we were proposing. There are countless ways in which ham radio can be used in the classroom, not only to teach core academic skills, but to enhance communications.

Turns out that Lynne Zielinski, a retired science teacher from Glenbrook North, and who spoke to us at the NSRC winter banquet last year, invited us to be part of an extension program Yerkes offers science teachers to find new ways to bring STEM to the classroom. We jumped at the opportunity (even though it was the same day as our own Winter Banquet that many of us were going to attend!)

By all accounts, it was a smash hit. We did an overview of what ham radio is, how we can use it to teach simple science principles, and then let them enjoy some of the more common operating modes - SSB, AM, PSK – as well as experience several of the modes on the fringe of our hobby…meteor scatter, moon bounce and the like (it was Yerkes after all!)

Yerkes is part of the University of Chicago and still houses the world largest refracting telescope. In its day, it was the state of the art facility of the discipline and was the site of some very seminal discoveries itself about our sun and galaxy. Famous people walked the halls, including Albert Einstein and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who did studies on white dwarf stars and other stellar structures.

Yes, Yerkes would be a great place for a Field Day or a special events station and the door is open for us to explore that idea with the folks at Yerkes. For now, we have found several new ways for us to introduce ham radio to another generation of students (and teachers). To me, this is our next charge…not only to keep the hobby alive, but to keep it vital. We must find ways to continue to get our story out to students and young people. We don’t have to compete with iPads - we offer our own unique experience, once people know we are out there. In fact, there are many ham radio related apps for ham radio on the iPad already! We just need to bring it to people’s attention.

Rob
K9RST

A Holiday KISS

The other day my mother’s 7 year old iMac stopped producing a video signal. Being naturally resistant to purchasing service, I started by searching the web for solutions. This strategy has served me well for many of my other monitors…buy some capacitors and do a little soldering. No brainer. It was fascinating to see the long chain of emails related to other folks who had similar complaints. Turns out that there was a large batch of capacitors made some years back that have all gone bad. Dell, I guess, spent millions replacing their capacitors. I downloaded the 35 page booklet on how to access the inside components of this iMAC. This is one of Apple’s early efforts to put the monitor, CPU, hard drive and DVD player all in one sleek device. So you have all of this equipment stuffed in the monitor shell (about an inch thick). Pretty nice deal, until you have to fix it.

So, as I dug into the issue, there are about 30 capacitors that could be replaced, if you can get down to them. You might spend 4 hours digging down to the point where they are installed on the mother board. So, knowing that I don’t have that kind of time, or the special tools needed to even crack the case, I headed off to the Apple store for their advice. We experimented – and in their wisdom, they did provide for a monitor out plug on the back of the machine. We plugged in a test monitor…and it worked just fine! So the solution presented itself: buy a new monitor and plug it….and …eh…wait…yeah, you need a mini VGA plug. OK. Apple should have that. Right? Not right. They don’t carry anything like that anymore, and neither do many other big box stores. If it doesn’t support something in their current inventory, they don’t stock it. So, back to the Internet…where I did find the cable and monitor and it is being delivered today. Doesn’t do much for my hope to complete the task in a couple of hours, but patience is a virtue we all need to learn in this modern age.

So, this set me off on my current rage…cables. In our desire to have the latest, hottest gizmo, manufacturers are killing themselves to produce stuff faster and faster…and they are just leaving the after-market for others to feed on. I have a bag of power cables for my phones, computers and accessories that provide a dazzling array of connections…most of which are now obsolete. I was reading that Europe is considering a law to make all power connections the same….THE SAME…so that you don’t have this cacophony of cables. I know, this might impede progress and certainly the economic recovery…but think of the relief it will provide the landfills!

Meanwhile, back to high tech stuff…I finally found time start hunting for ham Apps for my iPad…there really are quite a few…but they all seem to stop when you get to the all too important INTERFACE. You need to get adapters to take their 19 pin power plug to anything else…and that is exactly how Apple wants it. They don’t want you messing with the plumbing. (Thank you very much…they are so thoughtful). I learned yesterday that they too are planning to change the power plug to yet another soon! Now I know I am in the wrong business. I need to manufacturer adapters and plugs for the old stuff.

Somewhere in between all of this ham radio finds itself. It is increasingly difficult to build your own gear, so we are left to be adapters…adjusters to what we have been given. For this reason, most radios today are being designed to be all things to all people, which means they are extraordinarily complex and expensive. So, as much as I love my technology, I have to wonder what we have done to ourselves. What price have we all paid for living on the edge of sanity and innovation? For me, I am hanging on to my bag collection of wacky adapters and plugs…you never know when you will need that odd ball piece.

So, this Holiday season, reflect on this issues when you buy that camera, iPhone, radio, even your toaster! Enjoy the season with loved ones and get on your radios! Keep it simple (KISS…you can add the last word if you choose). That’s my plan.

Helping hams

When I first joined the Club, there was an active group who worked several weekends a month helping other hams with their stations. We took down towers and antennas. We put up towers and antennas. It was a fun way to meet members of the club and provide an actual service. Since that time, we still do this work, but the volume has dropped considerably. Perhaps it is because so few seem to be on HF? Or perhaps, more are doing this work on their own? I know that I benefited greatly from these work parties, especially in the early days of my ham radio career when I was eager to learn as much as I could about grounding or antennas or even operating. As many of you know, I have an 8 foot sling shot that we have all used on Field Day…now many others have the same device, so the demand for is has diminished, but I still get to do some house calls.

Recently, Randy K9OR asked me over to help put up – well, first take down – his old 80 meter wire. We slung it up there maybe 7 years ago. He had only one request then…get the antenna up the tree in the corner of his lot without having to get on his neighbor’s property. It was a very difficult shot, but I just aimed and nailed it on the first shot. Well that antenna was very well anchored. The tree literally grew around the dogbone at the end of the wire, which is why it was impossible to get down. Pulling with all our strength, we couldn’t get the old wire antenna down at all. So, using a little old Yankee ingenuity (I think I have a bit of MacGyver in my gene pool), I took an extension ladder and braced it up against the base of a tree and then took the wire from the antenna and wrapped it around the end of the ladder…making a giant lever. Now we had a mechanical advantage and we pulled the wire right out of the dog bone (it remained in the tree), with almost no effort. So, we got the wire out. The next challenge was putting up a support rope for the new antenna. I wasn’t as lucky this time. Took several shots, but eventually we did get it and we never had to get on his neighbor’s property. Randy now has a new 80/40 dipole. We had a great time installing his new gear…and I got to practice my sling shot skills.

Cables, Connectors and me

I have been around this hobby long enough to have collected enough wacky cables with unique connectors to fill two file cabinets. I keep them in plastic bags so that the cables don’t mate at night (have you ever noticed how cables will entwine if you just put them in a drawer? The plastic bag solved that problem…it s a social thing. Anyway, I have a Yaesu 8800 radio that needs a unique programming cable. I had the software, but not the cable. I did have one cable I bought on the Internet from a manufacturer in Hong Kong. When it arrived it had a driver disk that didn’t work. I remember sending the guy a note saying his software didn’t work and he send me the file via email…but that was 4 years ago. That’s when I found out my cheap Internet purchase wasn’t such a bargain.

Still, now I needed that cable again. So I ripped through my drawer looking for that darn cable…I had every strange cable but the one I needed. After spending almost a day looking for the programming cable, I decided I was better off just buying a new one…and I made sure it had a driver this time. It arrived the next day and worked like a champ. Then, of course, I found the first cable I bought, along with zillions of other cables for old cameras, obsolete recorders and power cables for every imaginable cell phone that was made since 1995, etc. etc. 

Yeah, the drawer was stuffed. What is it about ham radio that demands that we save every connector, every scrap of wire? I know for me it is the hope that one day there will be a need for that one cable…and, of course, when that day comes, I probably won’t be able to find it and I will have to just buy another. Welcome to ham radio!