Archive for the ‘life’ category

CQ 160 CW

January 31st, 2011

We got a dose of Mid-Atlantic winter weather last week—that once or twice a year event that is too much for the utilities and drivers to handle.  Snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain arrived on Wednesday.  Power was out from 2030 LT to 0200 LT on Wednesday night/Thursday morning and then again from 1600 LT on Thursday to around 1100 LT on Friday.  So, I didn’t get to operate NS this week on account of no power!  I did think of going out to the car, but I was too wiped out and cold from the furnace blower being off.  I just wanted to crawl under a big pile of blankets and sleep until the electricity came back on.  As I have mentioned before, I grew up in an area with many Amish.  A coworker many years ago was teasing me about finding an Amish girlfriend.  I responded by asking him how an electrical engineer would fare in a society dedicated to not using electricity.  He had to agree, although the Amish have rather ingenious mechanisms for harnessing electricity to do their work.  But, as usual, I digress—we’re slightly dependent on electricity in ways we probably should not be!

I like contesting on 160 meters (1.8 MHz).  When you call CQ, you are usually rewarded with blistering rate from loud stateside stations.  When you’re tuning up and down the band, weak DX stations pop out from between said loud stateside stations.  Now that I have something resembling a 160-meter antenna, I gave the CQ 160 CW contest a shot after some friends left on Saturday night.  Another nice thing was that the station is working well enough (with the exception of the K9AY relays and possibly directivity) that I could just walk into the shack and operate.

So, that’s what I did…  Only worked a handful of Europeans, but that’s not too surprising.  They were loud here, even with 10 dB of attenuation in line to reduce IMD from really loud local stations.  There were numerous other European stations that I could hear (on the TX antenna) but was unable to raise.  But, in about four hours (three in the CQ 160 and one in the NAQP) of operating on Topband, I have only the hard states left for WAS from this QTH:  ID, SD, ND, WY, AK, HI.  I’m waiting for the LoTW confirmations to start showing up!

                    CQ 160-Meter Contest, CW

Call: K8GU
Operator(s): K8GU
Station: K8GU

Class: Single Op LP
Operating Time (hrs): 3

Total:  QSOs = 182  State/Prov = 48  Countries = 8  Total Score = 25,984

Club: Potomac Valley Radio Club

Recent tinkerings (9 Jan 2011 edition)

January 9th, 2011

Several people have commented over the years that I should “write more” on the blog.  I usually respond that I could spend my free time tinkering/hamming or blogging, but not both.  Here are a month’s worth of blog posts as freestyle poetry:

  • A section on my workshop has been added to under Engineering.
  • Discovered that although the SoftRock VHF Ensemble II won’t fit (barely) into the Bud CU-473 diecast box I bought for it, it will fit into an extruded enclosure that housed an ancient X-band radar detector I picked up at Dayton in 2002 in hopes of stripping the Gunn diode assembly and getting on 10 GHz.  Bonus points for thriftiness.  Photos will follow once I finish the project.
  • Did not observe Quadrantid meteor pings with the SoftRock VHF Ensemble II, but did notice something interesting about the W3APL beacon.  Need to investigate.
  • Have more CE/K8GU QSL cards again, finally.  Tonight, I might finish the bureau (and, ashamedly one direct) cards languishing.  Some K8GU (and AA8UP, no kidding) bureau cards are sitting here staring at me, too.  Not a big project, though.
  • Operated the NAQP CW on Saturday (8 January 2011) for four hours and twenty minutes and made 318 QSOs x 128 multipliers for 40,740 points before log-checking discounts.  This total is pleasing to me especially considering that it was almost all leap-frogging SO2R search-and-pounce, which can be very fatiguing.  It’s fun to see the rate meter stay over 100 when you’re S&Ping.  Good Sprint practice.
  • Still the best 30 minutes on the radio every week:  I operated the NS Ladder on Thursday (6 January) night and made my customary 30 QSOs x 24 multipliers for 720 points.  Hopefully, adding 160 will give me some momentum to increase this score back over 1000.
  • We had a spell of 50F (10C) weather on New Years’ Eve.  So, I put the 2-meter beam back up on the chimney.  It was formerly mounted on a steel mast that was ratchet-strapped to the chimney.  A strong wind (>50 mph gusts) before Christmas bent the mast (actually a fence top-rail) and I had removed it.  I cut the bent lower portion of the mast off and attached the remaining top portion with rotator to a “girder” constructed from two pieces of treated 2″ x 4″ x 10′ lumber joined with a half-dozen lag screws.  Again, I ratchet-strapped the entire assembly to the chimney.  The present configuration is much stronger and less prone to damage.  The 3-element 50-MHz Yagi is still on the ground until I actually get the transverter finished, which should be soon (as it has been for 12 months now).
  • Repaired a SoftRock v6.2 downconverter for WF1L and learned that you can solder leads back onto SOIC packages if you’re careful.
  • Have had delightful exchanges with KN6X and ZL1CDP about repairing the TS-930S.  Some of these discussions (and their fruits) may make it onto the site at some point.
  • Back in December, I started integrating the W1GHZ transverters using UT-141 semirigid jumpers with pre-installed SMA connectors obtained on attractive terms from Max-Gain Systems.  Mitsubishi RA18H1213G (1296 MHz) and RA30H0608M (50 MHz) modules arrived from RF Parts.  May have a lead on something less expensive with more gain for 903 MHz via HA1AG.  The big remaining tasks in all three transverter projects are the sequencer and IF interfacing.
  • Also in December, I had dinner with NS Ladder father Bill, N6ZFO, in San Francisco at the Hyde Street Seafood House & Raw Bar, which is a favorite of NA Sprint father, Rusty, W6OAT.  Yes, I did feel that I was in the presence of greatness.  (I had their excellent pork chops since I’m not into seafood, especially raw seafood.)  Like most contesters, Bill’s a super, fascinating guy apart from his radio contesting interests.

Locality Bias

January 3rd, 2011

Slate Labs has an “interactive tool” to look at food deserts in the U.S. by county—places where a healthy variety of food is unavailable.  They define a metric of desertification by counting the number of people who do not have access (not sure how this is defined) to a car AND live farther than one mile from a supermarket (not sure how this is defined, either).  So, I went looking at some places I’ve lived.

My home county is Holmes County, Ohio.  If you look at the map, it’s the one that’s an island of dark brown in the middle of Ohio.  27.91 percent of Holmes County is a food desert by this metric!  Blame it on the Amish.  Because the county is rural, there are few grocery stores.  And, because the Amish do not have access to their own cars, they count a large portion of this population.  Other counties with large Amish populations (relative to the non-Amish population) also stand out clearly.

It also appears that the map is distorted by population density, with sparsely populated areas being more prone to classification as food deserts.  Is this fair?  Is there anything that can be reasonably done about these areas even if they are food deserts?  I don’t at all disagree that this is an important, significant problem, but it seems that there might have been a better metric.  Perhaps it’s the most accessible metric with the available data?

Although this map may be revealing in many ways, it also distorts the reality a bit.  For me, it’s a reminder to not consume “news infographics” too casually.  I haven’t read all of the comments on the Slate piece and probably won’t.  So, forgive me if someone has already noted some of the above.  As a final note, most of the people who write for Slate are relatively ignorant of what happens in the part of the country between the Coast Ranges and the Appalachians.  So, as one commenter wrote, it’s a “typical urbanite view” of food.

Ruling the Air

November 29th, 2010

I rolled over another year on the odometer of life last week and as is the custom around here, I received some gifts, several of which were radio-related.  The shirt is from my wife.  The Yamaha CM500 headset is from my parents.

Both of these came in good time since my “CW is the Real Thing” shirt is getting threadbare and my ProSet developed a bad spot in the cable in the past week.  I got to try them both out for a brief period at the W8AV multi-two operation in the CQ WW contest over the weekend.

The CM500 (the manufacturer page for these is gone, but you can get them from the usual places) came as highly recommended by the denizens of the Elecraft reflector via the PVRC reflector.  They’re pretty good headphones.  The sound is good and they have plenty of volume when driven by a TS-930.  The ear pads are a little thicker than those on the ProSet, which is good because after a few hours, my ears feel pinched by it.  The big downfall of the CM500 is that it feels a little bit like my head is in a vise when I wear them.  There may be an adjustment for that.

I was originally thinking that I should send the ProSet back to Heil to be refurbished.  But, the price is much higher than I remembered.  Fortunately, they stock parts for the old models.  So, I will be doing the refurbishing myself.

In WW news, I only operated for about two hours on Sunday afternoon at W8AV.  Goose replaced his big tower with a new one and the lower 40-meter antenna was not back up yet.  But, with a single 2-element Yagi at 140ish-feet and 1.5 kW from a homebrew 8877, I easily carved out a spot around 7064 kHz at 2000 UT and ran off a nice string of Europeans just as the band was opening.

Spontaneous Music

August 4th, 2010

Sarah forwarded me an e-mail yesterday at 9:00 AM from a co-worker offering free tickets to Lilith Fair last night.  “Sure, why not?” I thought and responded.  So, we made plans to leave work early to go.  It was a good show.  And, in keeping with our vow to never repeat “the Shakira mistake” (she played a free concert in Mexico City’s Zócalo, which our hotel faced, later in the same day we returned to the U.S.) we stayed until the end and were rewarded with an encore of all the artists performing the Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen classic “Because the Night.”

An Evening of R/C

July 27th, 2010

It’s been over a year and a half since I flew the airplane, but interest from the young and impressionable prevailed.  We also piloted the newly-repaired boat, went swimming, listened to some 80s rock music, and had the best ice cream.  It was a good way to spend a Sunday evening.

Brookside Gardens

July 24th, 2010

Last night, Sarah suggested that we (finally) make the short trip from our home to Brookside Gardens.  To our mothers:  we are sorry we haven’t brought you there, yet.  We enjoyed ourselves and I took some pictures, none of which are particularly remarkable—just wide-open aperture and low ISO (Nikon D40 : 35mm : f/1.8 : ISO 200).  But, I thought the site needed some color.

Common Loon in DC

April 27th, 2010

Friends from Champaign-Urbana, Matt and Robert (aka Common Loon), are on tour this spring and stopped by DC a little over a week ago.  Finally got the pictures out of the camera—erm, off the card—last night.  (Nikon D40 : ISO1600 : 50 mm : f/1.8 : 1/15)


March 2nd, 2010

Saw a talk by John C. Knight of the University of Virginia yesterday:  The Use of Rigorous Arguments in Engineering.  Basically, instead of employing standards to ensure interoperability and reliability of complex systems, he proposes using a (tree-like) structure of justifications that is specific to the project.   These two statements remained with me:

An argument without evidence is unfounded.

Evidence without an argument is unexplained.

Although it sounds obvious, we engineers and scientists occasionally forget these principles in the rush to write-up our work.

Epic Snow

February 7th, 2010


We got some snow this weekend.  Although it was an average winter storm for my friends in Minnesota, it is a snow-removal headache of epic proportions for the DC area.  With a little effort and the right tools, we cleared our cars out this afternoon:  better life through engineering.  (I was tempted to caption the picture above after the Troy McClure film Man vs Nature: the Road to Victory.  But, you have this instead.)  The plow came through later and it only took 15-20 minutes to clean up the rest and were out to get pizza.