Archive for July, 2007

Entertainment stream-of-conciousness

July 31st, 2007

For Sarah’s birthday, we went to see Allison Krauss and Union Station in Peoria last Friday. It was a very good show and we enjoyed ourselves, well, save for the fidgety enormous woman with enormous frizzy hair and meticulous posture who sat in front of Sarah until we traded seats. It was also pleasant to listen to well-mixed live music without ear plugs. All of the band members are characters and very good musicians in their own right. During the show, Dan Tyminski told an anecdote about being the singing voice of George Clooney in the movie Brother, Where Art Thou?

We were worn-out last night and decided to rent the movie (which neither of us had seen) and drink cream soda. It gets our highest recommendation. We’ve struck-out on a lot of recent movies, the last two being Babel and The Good Shepherd. By the way, both of these other movies were very well-done, just not particularly relaxing or satisfying for us. Brother was a different kind of movie…one we’ll look for more often when we just want to take a break from real-life and enjoy a good story.

Upgrades at K8GU

July 30th, 2007

K9BF told me months ago that he had a pile of TA-33jr parts in his garage attic and that I would be welcome to dig through them. I finally had a chance to do just that a couple of weeks ago. He actually brought all of the parts over and dumped them in my garage (actually, our duplex neighbor, Ruth’s, half of the garage, since she was on vacation). It turns out that he had two essentially complete sets of elements and one boom. So, I sorted the best-looking antenna from the rest of the parts. It was time to do some refurbishing.

Mosley is somewhat (in)famous for charging an arm and a leg for replacement parts; so, I bought all of mine from McMaster.  That place has everything for the antenna-building ham!  I put the antenna up on two pieces of fence top-rail next to the garage.  As NO9Z says, “That bracket on the eves is doing all of the work.”  I have an old TR-2 “bell” rotor in the garage.  I think it might be a little too much antenna for it; but, when am I ever going to use this small of an antenna ever again?  It is fun to install an antenna by yourself, by hand.  Probably won’t be able to do that again, either.  Not like I’m complaining.

I played with the new antenna in the IARU…caught some Es on 10.  That was fun.  It’s about on-par with my groundplane on 20; although, F/B is better.  None of this is particularly surprising since it’s so low and surrounded by clutter.

After about two weeks, the landlady noticed the TA-33jr.  She seemed slightly annoyed that I hadn’t consulted her; but, didn’t seem to care that it was up there.  Note to renters:  this is a good example of shoot first and ask questions later.  Feel-out your landlord before you try this, though.

I’ve kinda had the itch to get on 160 since I got here.  I’ve been able to scratch the 160 itch once a year in the ARRL 160 with W9SZ, K9BF, and NO9Z, out at NO9Z’s.  The first year (W9SZ, 2005) that we did it, we did pretty well—it’s the first time I’ve ever had four straight 100+ hours—hard to complain about that!  Technical problems got the best of us last year (K8GU, 2006).  We’ll probably try again this year.

K9AN and I had a good discussion about wire antennas back in June that inspired me to buy a slingshot.  I was just playing around and easily launched a line over the spruce tree in our side yard.  When I realized that it was close to 60 feet up, I decided to put up an inverted-L for 160.  The DK9SQ mast was indispensible for maneuvering through tree branches.

I bought 1/4 mile of #16 aluminum for $17 at Farm and Fleet on Saturday.  I put four radials down (this is a lot of work when you’re trying to be somewhat stealthy) yesterday.  I’m going to wait until after the lawn guy comes again this week to see whether I’m doing a good job stapling it down.  Compared to the price of copper, I won’t feel too bad about leaving aluminum in the grass when we leave and it only has to last for one or two Topband “seasons.”  I figure I’ll just put a few radials in at a time until the feedpoint impedance stablizes or I get lazy, whichever happens first.

Inside, I re-routed some wiring and got rid of most of the crosstalk “hash” that I get between the TS-930’s.  NO9Z and I have most of the parts to build the KK1L antenna switches, thanks in no small part to the generosity of Ron in giving us the Gerber files for the board and K9BF for turning the Gerber files into a boards.  I still have parts for the N6BV SO2R box from ARRL Handbook sitting on my bench.  Sometime, K9SD is shipping me a dead ex-CB FT-757 to work on.  Plus, there’s some non-ham stuff there, too, like my iBook.

I also have a 160-meter SoftRock v6 kit to build.  I sold my 40/80 SoftRock v6 to KC9IKL—still not sure if that was a good idea or not. When I finally order the parts for the KK1L antenna switch from Mouser, I plan to buy some more FST3125’s to build a SoftRock interferometer (more on this at a future date).  I mentioned this idea some months back on the SMC reflector, to the great interest of at least one well-known Topbander.  It looks that VE3NEA has a version of Rocky that can do this now, too.  That man is amazing!

We acquired some “old” PC’s through surplus at work; they had SoundBlaster Live! cards in them, which, since work doesn’t require them, will form the A/D portion of the K8GU SoftRock interferometer.  The biggest problem with using these rather than an M-Audio card like the Delta-1010 is sample synchronization.  But, I’m a cheap ham…I’ll figure out how to calibrate them.

I think I’m destined to be an average contest operator with an above-average interest in the technology…

Selling Ourselves Short

July 23rd, 2007

Ham radio’s ability to set up ad hoc communications networks that are immune to natural disasters and jamming is legendary.  Rightly so, I add.  However, it disappoints me that so much ham radio recruiting has turned to this as a selling point…be a ham, carry an HT, be a HERO (a HERO…a HERO…a hero…a hero—if you don’t get this, it’s from a long-forgotten episode of the Simpsons.)  Of course, in this time of “war on terror” (“terror” is not a state and therefore does not deserve capitalization) and heroism and emergency preparedness are all the rage.  Why should ham radio be any different?

When I was in high school, I spent my summers working at a two-way radio shop. We installed and maintained the public service communications equipment for the surrounding towns and the county as a whole.  This was an enlightening experience on many levels…I learned some of my most important troubleshooting skills at that job.  But, another thing that I recall is the sheer enormity and robustness of the systems, especially for 911 and dispatching.  I’m sorry; but, ham radio has nothing on these guys.  It’s organized and has better back-up power , redundancy, and lightning protection than 95% of hams.  And, I’m talking about a rural county with a population less than 40000.
So, what about disasters that destroy or disable this sort of sophisticated system?  I’m glad you asked.  The efficacy of ham radio as a communication resource is heavily rooted in its ability to self-organize and self-deploy…flexibility and technical competence.  Have you been to your local radio club meeting lately…or listened to your local repeater lately?  Flexibility isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind.

The technical competence of the average ham has been declining since commercial equipment was first available, probably in the 1920’s.  When I see and hear about some “go-kits” and “emergency comm centers” that have been built, I shake my head.  An FT-817 to a screwdriver antenna does not an emergency communication system make.  Sure, they look pretty and professional.  But, trust me; when the poop jumps off, I’ll be the guy with the communications-grade transceiver using full-sized antennas.

And then there’s the paramilitary types.  The genesis of this blog entry was the following ad on  Advertising, even on the Internet, costs money.  Somebody thought that hams were an important part of this market.  Note that the other ads on the site are almost exclusively about ham radio.  It’s like the old Sesame Street game, “Which one does not belong?”

Self-organize, self-deploy, and self-defend?  Right.  If you want to serve your country in this way, you should be in the National Guard or the military.  If they don’t want you, there’s probably a good reason for that.

Anyhow, the point of all of this is not to point fingers at those who are interested in emergency communications.  Rather, step back and evaluate what you’re doing.  Playing the emergency communications card repeatedly is not sustainable.  Do we really want a ham population that’s gung ho on emergency communications but has no other skills or interests in the hobby?  My primary interest is contesting; and I’ll be the first to say that I’m glad not every ham is a contester!  Think about that one.

Requiem for an iBook…

July 16th, 2007

The title is needlessly dramatic.  After 4 years, 11 months, and some 6 days, of faithful service, my iBook G3 has finally bit the big one.  Actually, it’s presently with some Apple “Genius” somewhere awaiting diagnosis for it’s problem (does not turn on).

In the mean time, I am most grateful to a research scientist in the RSSS group who lent me his old 12″ PowerBook G4, which I have spent the day outfitting to act just like my old iBook.  I was really hoping to get 5 years out of the iBook.  But, I suppose as long as I can keep the G4 going, all’s well that ends well.  The only things I still need are MATLAB and the data from my old hard drive.  Hopefully, the Geniuses don’t destroy that.

Unfortunately, the ECE Department has stopped  paying for “stand alone” MATLAB licenses.  So, I’ll have to get a “group” license and run my own license server.  At least the computer is honestly University-owned.

Gallery update

July 3rd, 2007

Since 2001, I’ve had access to a server ( colocated at my alma mater.  However, due to lack of interest by current students, this server has become increasingly unreliable to the point of not being rebooted for almost a month after the latest crash.  I have moved the gallery to this server (as I have intended to do all along) and updated it with pictures from our recent travles.