“Don’t you remember?” –Starship, “We Built This City”
Haven’t done much radio stuff in the last week or so, except for finally getting on the air with the group of locals I hear on 146.52 – one of them was demoing FT8 for another on 10m, and I replied. When he said on 2m, “man this guy is loud” I finally found my comfortable opening to key up and say, “I should be, I live two blocks away from you.” Laughs were had and I found a group who was quite welcoming to my presence, we all chatted for an hour or so before turning into pumpkins.
The other big thing I did was bit the bullet on a virtual table top license for Foundry, and started setting up the campaign I ran with the kids before using the Lost Mine of Phandelver module from the D&D starter set. Already I’m more comfortable with some of the things I’ll need to do as a DM, and the only reason we haven’t started playing yet is because there’s some areas I want to pre-stage before the kids might decide to go that way instead of towards the main storyline. Of course I could fix that by asking them if they’re sure that’s how they want to go, and if they say yes then I close the window and say “then you’ll have to wait until I finish setting it up, now get ready for bed.” 😀
“When I’m on the mic, the suckers run.” — The Beastie Boys, “The New Style”
Back when I first started doing DJ type work, I picked up a microphone from Radio Shack. That Realistic Highball-7 has seen a lot, and when I started using a mixing board for amateur radio work I plugged it in and gave it a slider as “Desk Mic” for sitting on the keyboard tray in front of me so I could work hands free without the headset. But since my headset was starting to show signs of wear (the right speaker is “crunchy” due to a broken wire in the crossover from left to right) and I was going to get new headphones anyway, and since not only am I using the mic for radio work but now every day for work I use it in meetings, I decided it was time to upgrade to the Right Stuff.
So I picked up the Heil PR-40 that I’ve wanted for almost as long as I’ve been a ham. A kit from B&H included the mic, an Auray boom, shock mount, and wind screen all for less than the sum of the parts. At the same time I did some research into headphones and found that of the two best ones on the market for general use – the Sony MDR-7506 or the Sennheiser HD-280 Pro – the Sony had a slightly better rating for breathability when just about every other metric measured was the same. This tells me that after a long day of wearing them, your ears will feel more comfortable with the Sony than with the Sennheiser, even though from all accounts they’re almost equivalent in likability. So they went in the shopping cart as well, and now I have a nice pair of studio cans to go with my broadcast-quality microphone. It’s even getting me to make more SSB contacts because I *know* that sounds better than the old Realistic microphone ever did!
I mentioned elsewhere about problems I had with my antenna tuner. While nobody asked, I figured it’s good writing practice to sit down and tell the story. Also, then it’s preserved for hysterical reasons. There’s also the fact that this stems from buying a new house and setting up everything in the ham shack all over again, which is a story that might deserve to be told, but at least right now that’ll be for another day.
I alluded before to a problem with my antenna tuner at home. To not tell the long story yet but get to today’s point, it’s on the way back to the manufacturer to be diagnosed and hopefully replaced. Meanwhile I took the old unun (which is a 4:1 transformer that connects the coax from the transmitter to the two points of the antenna, the radiating element above ground and the ground radials) and mounted it back on the antenna. Kept my homemade RF choke coming off the feedline, and connected the other end of it into the unun – probably overkill but so be it for now. Then managed to crimp two ring terminals onto a piece of 10ga wire I had laying around from an old UPS, and used that to connect the ground lug of the unun to the mounting bracket so it would ground things properly. Finally went to take the positive wire that mounts to the radiating element and put it on the positive lug, only to find the stud is too big for the ring terminal. Well fine, this is temporary anyway – so I literally sandwiched the ring terminal next to the stud and between two washers, then twisted the wing nut down nice and tight. Hey, it’ll work in a pinch right?
Right I was, when I hooked the tuner up in the shack and found I was able to get on the air quite easily. Even turned the power up to 100W with no problems either from the tuner freaking out or from RF coming back into the shack. Did I mention that since this is temporary I didn’t connect a ground line to the tuner either? Today I got a couple 90-degree PL-259 to SO-239 adapters so I can more easily mount the thick coax onto the tuner, and since I had to buy a four pack when I only needed three I used the third on the back of the radio too just to make that a little easier.
So things aren’t how they should be: I should replace that 10ga wire with a better crimped 12ga one (I failed to mention I didn’t have 10ga ring terminals so I spread the 12ga ones out a little), I should replace the other wire with one that has properly sized ring terminals as well, not to mention I should have my actual tuner sitting there instead of this hack, and maybe when that tuner returns I should put a better choke balun at the antenna feed point either in addition to the homemade one or to replace it. But all that aside… I have a working HF station that maybe even works a little better than it did at the previous house. I noticed during lunch today when I hooked everything up and tested quickly that the noise level on 20m was quite low between transmissions, something I don’t remember seeing here previously and may be better than the previous location as well but I can’t recall. So it’s all still not right, but it’s getting better. Just gotta remember that, it’s getting better.
When I started in amateur radio, I did the simplest of things – used the hand mic plugged into the front of the rig. Over time, I drifted away from radio usage for a bit and then came back into it (that’s a story for another post.) When I did, I started to make my shack more complex and versatile, and even added new radios for more functionality. Now I had the problem of having different ways of talking into different radios, and I didn’t like that as much. So I designed a switch box that could take some inputs and mix up the outputs to make things more convenient for how I like to operate. I had someone on my radio club email list ask about a product that could do a similar thing, and I mentioned that I built one for not that much time or money. Since he was interested in more information, I wrote the whole thing up as a nice article. And now, I present it to you, my Home-Made Microphone Switch.
I’m starting to get there with the site layout. Adjusted some things, I think I broke some things too, but it doesn’t look half bad. Except the black text in the top bar, I don’t think I like that. Maybe I’ll play with other themes and see if I find one I like soon. Meanwhile, back to the topic of “why are you reviving this”, some information on ideas I’ve got and whatnot. Strap in kids, it’s gonna get bumpy.
I seem to have formally ended my affiliation with the DVRA today. This has been on the wall for some time apparently – there’s some who don’t seem to think I, or others that pay dues and help when they can, are doing enough and that we need to do more. Of course, the problem was that when I brought in a bunch of new folks who were more than interested, eager and willing to do a lot more, they were all met with apathy and indifference, occasionally opposition. A few times lately I’d get the snarky comments.. “Missed you at the meeting” (which I refrained from replying with, “I had a nice dinner with my family, you were not missed”) and more recently a flat-out “maybe if you showed up you’d know.” I’m sorry, but isn’t it the dream of an organization, to which membership doesn’t cost the organization anything, to have members who send in dues and do nothing else? What if that person sends in dues, and maintains websites, email lists, Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts and more? Apparently, it’s still not enough as some now want to mandate that people must attend other functions, or – get this – give six months notice they’ll be unable to attend, so that other suitable tasks can be set aside for them. You have got to be fucking kidding me, I thought. Nope, all seriousness. Give your money, give your time (or give more money), or you’re out. Let me think about that.. oh yeah. Good riddance.
A copy of my “farewell” letter is below the fold, for those morbidly interested in reading it. I really do feel bad about this, and got a bit emotional writing it. There’s a select few who appear to be running the organization into the ground as quickly as they can, and if not for the group there’s some very fine people I never would have met. But some folks are just hell-bent on getting things their way at all costs… I wonder how many will be left in the group when others who have no desire – or ability – to participate in mandatory events take stock of what they really get out of the club, and what downsides there are to leaving it. I certainly couldn’t think of one.
This past Saturday was the baby shower. Stephanie wasn’t too sure when it was going to be – just that it would be soon – but we had enough diversions all over the place that she didn’t know for sure that it was Saturday. Things went smoothly, and now our living room is full of stuff. Maybe in the next week we can move things around and find our floor again :>
On Sunday, I also checked off an item from my long-term to-do list. Mostly, anyway. Got the 2m groundplane antenna that I plan on using for APRS mounted on the garage peak, and the coax run from the shack out to it. Just need to solder the end on the coax inside the house, and the project will be completed. But when I finished up last night, I didn’t feel like doing anything more with it, so the coax just got coiled and stuck into the passthrough box for later. Hopefully it’s tuned properly for somewhere around 144.390, and I don’t have to get back up there to retune it or anything. Especially since I’d have to undo all the tape and lower it foot by foot to get to the antenna again. Oh well.
Reached another milestone this weekend. Earlier in the week, I’d mounted the NEMA enclosure inside the shack which would serve as the coax passthrough (a way to get the coax connections into the house, without running them through the window as I had done since the antenna was first setup). This Saturday afternoon, David (N0YMV) and I decided – almost spur-of-the-moment – that now was a good time to mount the dualbander on the house as I’d wanted to do since quite awhile ago. I had stopped short of doing it before because I wanted the coax passthrough done first (so I could close and lock the shack window again). But now that the box was mounted and working out, there was no excuse. Not even the slight cold and mild wind 😛
Photos available in the gallery as usual. Next project, mounting the 5/8 groundplane antenna for APRS on the garage peak. Stay tuned…
For those that might be interested in APRS, here’s a bit of information. If you just want to look at pretty pictures, you can see a couple screen grabs in my gallery, or a snapshot which is updated every ~5 minutes of the live Xastir station running at home. The image on that snapshot will change not only based on what stations are nearby and heard, but also on what maps I have loaded at the time and what area I was looking at.
APRS, or Automatic Position Reporting System, is a neat thing in Amateur Radio where you connect your radio to a TNC (Terminal Node Controller, a modem for on-air use) and optionally a GPS receiver. The GPS spits out messages to the TNC to tell it where you are, and the TNC will format those messages and send them out over the air. What’s neat about this is other setups, called digipeaters (for “digital repeater”) will hear your message and echo it; since digis usually have a wide coverage area, this means your small signal can be heard for quite a ways. I’m now running this at home, using the TNC-X kit that I built a little while ago and a new Yaesu FT-2800M, which is currently hooked to my old magmount antenna sitting on the grill. Have a new 5/8 groundplane antenna which I’m going to mount on the peak of the garage, possibly this weekend – the NEMA box I’m using for passing coax in/out of the house should arrive Friday, and I hope to spend a good chunk of Saturday getting that mounted and holes drilled so the window in the shack can finally be closed all the way.