Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's all coming together

Since the last time I posted, I've ordered an ICOM IC-7100, with an upgraded HM-151 mic, Nifty Mini-manual, OPC-589 modular to 8 pin mic adapter, and a 16 GB memory card.  As well as RT Systems programming software.  The radio was practically new, and even still had the plastic on the touch screen.  This is one cherry radio, and at a price I couldn't beat.  Even though it's "used," I was able to save around 10% on the price of the radio, not pay tax or shipping, and I got a number of extras at a value of around $300.  What an excellent deal.

I also had to get a power supply and a tuner, if I was going to use this radio as I'm intending.  I'll be using this as a base radio, which will also allow me to take it on the go and work remotely in the field.  Once I get the radio, which should be in the next two days, I plan to write up a review on each of the products I've purchased.  So stay tuned for that!

It's with a bit of regret that I have to inform you that I won't be going to the Dayton Hamvention this year.  Unfortunately it conflicts with something else I've got scheduled.  Infact, what I'll be doing that Saturday, is far going to trump the Hamvention, which happens every year.  My wife and I will be traveling to Detroit for a comi-con up there, for my birthday, my amazing wife has gotten me tickets to meet with William Shatner, and get an item signed.  I'm still figuring out what that item will be, but whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be a great keep-sake.  So, although I don't get to go to the Hamvention, I still get to do something that's going to be amazing; plus, Dayton will be there next year.  AND, I've already got radio equipment to play with...

So, with that, I am going to say good bye until I write some reviews, of unless something else interesting happens between now and then.  Talk then!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Full Wave Loop Experiment

Well Saturday was a radio experimentation day.  I decided I'd try my hand at building a Full Wave Loop in my back yard.  I decided to go for a 40'  loop, which works out to around 144 feet of wire.  Took a trip to Menard's in the morning and picked up a reel of 500' THHN stranded copper #14 guage wire.  I brought that home and got started.

I measured it out in my living room, which was pretty difficult, and if I do this again, I'm going to see about taking the reel to Menard's or Lowe's and measure it out on one of their measuring stations. It'll be more precise that way anyhow.  I took my now ~144' mass of wire out to the back yard and attempted to get it as high as I could with my bum knee and what little available room I had.  I got it up between a tree, the shed, a garden trellis, and then back to the tree.  The highest spot in the loop is probably 12'.  Not the greatest in the world, considering it should be more like 35' in the air.  But, I figured for a weekend project, that was designed for learning, it would have to do.  I quickly soldered a SO-239 female adapter to the wire, pulled a 50' coax out of the basement and ran all of that in through the port in the wall.

Almost as soon as I turned the radio on, I heard signals on the 40m band.  I autotuned my IC-761, and the signals came in even clearer.  But, alas, it was dinner time.  Went upstairs and ate, knowing that as the sun went down, the band would get better.  Although, conditions weren't great on any of the bands other than 20, 17, and 15.  I did end up making multiple contacts last night, all of which were state-side, and most said I was coming in strong.

In the end, it was a successful project weekend, and I'm happy with the results I had, considering all of the factors that were working against me.  Next, I'd like to try either a 160m or 80m loop, strung up high.  Maybe we can do it as a club project soon and make a Saturday or Sunday of it.  Just waiting on the nice weather.

Matthew, K1BBB

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

QRZ.com - OGRES - Still Hurting

Hey everyone!  Or considering no one has commented, I'm more than likely talking to myself at this point, but hey it's supposed to be cathartic to get your thoughts out there right?  It's been another week or so, and I figured it was time to post.  I suppose I need to get better at this sort of thing, and make it more interesting...how else am I supposed to get a following right?  I expect you all to help pay for my retirement! heh.

Ok, so I'm laid up on the couch again.  My physical therapy seems to have re-injured my knee, so since Monday I've been home from work again, with my knee propped up, along with ice and pain killers.  However, I do go see the doctor this afternoon, though I'm not sure he'll say much more than keep it elevated and iced.  Hopefully I'll get more pain killers out of it, at least those help dull the pain so I can walk around with crutches.

Well that's the depressing stuff out of the way.

I recently changed my callsign from KC9ZFI to K1BBB - a smaller and much easier to remember call.  However, now all of the accounts that I've setup for KC9ZFI will need to be changed, and I also found out that you can't have a gmail account that is that short.  So, I seem to have heaped a pile of "ugh" onto myself.  So, as a note to all of you technicians out there who are thinking about changing your call, make sure you've thought everything through.  ALSO, I found out that if you have a QRZ.com account, with a nice profile page, pictures, and a log book.  This all gets completely wiped out when the FCC updates your call.  Automatically.  There is no back up, and QRZ.com's support team will be of no help.  In fact, they may send you an email with spelling mistakes in it, like I got.  Oh well, I still like my new call =)

I have some money coming in from taxes, and I'm thinking about spending a portion of it on radio equipment, and using the rest to pay off some bills.  I'm torn between keeping my current HF rig (IC-761) and getting a mobile 2m/7cm unit for my car, or a handheld HT 2m/7c for general use.  OR, forget all of that, and go with an IC-7100 - which does HF, +6, 2m and 70cm, as well as D-Star.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to go with this last option, and sell my current HF rig.  I believe with the IC-7100, I'll be able to operate as a full base station at home, but also be able to take it with me to field day, or other club activities that we might do.  Plus it does D-Star which is something I definitely want to play around with.  I'll keep you all updated with what I decide to do...

We had our OGRES club meeting on Sunday, and it was fairly productive.  We got some business out of the way, and discussed some events that we are going to do.  We'll be going as a group to the Dayton Hamvention, in Ohio.  That's probably going to turn out to be a one day event that we drive extra early in the morning to, and come back late in the evening.  And then we talked about doing field day, which after the discussion it sounds as though we'll end up partnering with Goshen ARC and go to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds for their field day.  I hope that we'll have some radios and antennas to take a long and setup, to help out.  We'll also be having a DIY project day on April 27th.  We'll be building a tape measure yagi, which will be used at a future fox hunt.  Now's the time to start inviting people!

Well I haven't been on the air much, other than 2m repeater stuff.  I feel like it's been so long since I've made a contact, although it's probably only been a couple weeks.  I should probably take some time tonight and hobble down to the basement for a few minutes to see if anything is going on...

Oh!  I've found a new interest in antennas.  I think I might try a Full Wave Loop.  I'm contemplating trying it with a 20m one first, which would be a relatively easy size to play around with.  I wouldn't mind a 160-10m version, but those are over 550' in length, and I'd like to try it out first before I commit to a project that big.  A 20m one is reasonable, and gets me on the air in a solid band.  The biggest trick will be to get it up in the air without it touching other objects, and have it not be too near a power line.  I'll have to think more on this, but will also have to wait till I can get up and around properly.

Ok, well I'm out of things to talk about for now.  Keep checking back and I'll hopefully have some more interesting stuff to talk about soon.  73!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Laid up

Well it's been a busy week so far.  After passing my General Class exam last weekend, I've only made one contact on the 20m band, and that was with W1AW/07.  I think my major hold up on getting contacts is my antenna.  I'm currently using a hand built 10m dipole connected to my HF rig, and trying to autotune that.  Although I can hear some folks on the lower bands, I don't think it works quite like it does on 10m.  And the 10m band has been flaky the past week or so.  But all of that is ok, since I just had surgery on my knee the other day.  I've been spending a lot of time on the couch, researching Amateur Radios.  I have to say, I've become quite curious about the more digital modes, like D-STAR and EchoLink.  D-STAR sounds like a fantastic idea, which mixes ham radio with the internet.  Originally I thought it sounded like "cheating," but I've seen come around a bit, and considering it more like an extension of ham radio.  Besides, for Amateur Radio to continue to grow, I think we need to embrace all modes that come into existence, but remembering where we came from.

Which, brings me to my next topic: CW or Morse Code.  Besides attempting to DX, and now looking into the digital modes, CW is next on my plate.  I've already started to learn it, using a method based on Koch and Farnsworth.  The idea is to take the code, play each letter at the speed with which you want to be at; in my case I'm looking at 30wpm, and then slowing down the spacing between the letters, which I've set to 5wpm.  What this does, is to train your ears to hear the characters as the speed you want, but slowing it down enough that you don't get overwhelmed.  Then as you improve, you can increase the speed between characters.  What you don't want, is for your brain to try to hear dits and dahs; rather, you want to hear the patterns that the letters make.  It's like learning a language. You don't learn the individual letters in a word and sound out each letter till you know the word, what you do is to hear the whole word and repeat it back.  It's the same with Morse Code.  Although I'm only 5 letters in, I can see the value in learning with this method.

I'm also looking at getting another radio.  I currently have two radios, one HF rig IC-761, and a Bao Feng HT, 2m/70cm.  And they both work exceptionally well.  Especially my HT, which I hook up to a mag mount antenna while I'm in my car.  However, this is not the best solution.  What I am interested in now is an ID-880H.  What this will do for me, is replace my HT for in-car use, on the 2m and 70cm bands, but will also allow me to do D-STAR.  My thought, is that I can mount the radio is such a way, that it is easily transferable from car to shack.  While in the car, I can use it as I have been using my HT, but also make distant connections using the D-STAR mode.  But, I'll also want to be able to do this in my shack.  What I don't want to do, is to purchase 2 radios, when one will do the job.  Although, what I may find is that it is too much of a hassle to move it, and I may find one location for it to rest at.  If I had unlimited funds though, I would want this radio in my car exclusively, and an IC-7100 all mode (including D-STAR) in my shack. The 7100 would allow me to work in the field as well, in a mobile fashion, without having to lug around a big radio like my 761.  I will tell you this though, I'm pretty sure that ICOM is going to be my company of choice from now on.  They seem to have fantastic quality, good user reviews, and D-STAR built in.

Ok, so...what else is new.  I'm contemplating working on my Extra Class exam.  This would allow me to get a shorter call sign, such as a 1x2 or a 2x1, making exchanges even easier.  I'm also going to try to do a contest tomorrow, very early, with Kazakhstan.  I don't know if I'll even be able to make any contacts, but it's worth a try.  Worst case is that I'll lose some sleep...

Our club is coming around, we've got a call sign KD9AOQ, we have an official name through the state of Indiana, Off the Grid Radio and Electronics Society, INC., I've applied for ARRL membership, and we've made it through the initial stages of that; and lastly, we've got a bank account and multiple cards for our founding members.  The next steps are to get our non-profit status, and begin recruiting members.  Which speaking of, we have a few of those in the works.  I'm so excited about where our club can go, and what we'll be able to do once we grow a little.

In closing, I have to say that I am surprised at how absorbed I am into this thing called Ham Radio.  I tend to flit around from one thing to another, but Amateur Radio seems to have caught my attention more than things usually do.  I'm hoping some of this excitement continues to rub off on others as well.

Thanks for listening, and 73!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

ok, here we are, Brandon (kd8vdx), David, and I. Just 30 minutes from taking our Amateur radio exams. Brandon and I are going for our General Class license and David for his Technician. After a solid breakfast at Granma's restaurant, and some great conversation, I think we are definitely ready for this.

see you on the other side.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Propagation can be interesting!

This weekend was definitely interesting, when talking about HF radio signal propagation.  Of course, I'm sure some of the ol'timers out there wouldn't think twice about what I experienced, but that's what is neat about Ham Radio, when you are new at it, everything is a neat experience.

I spent much of the weekend answering CQ calls and even sending a few myself.  The most prominent call I answered, was from Russia.  I even took a moment to say "Dobray Deyn" - and he ended the call with "Spaciba." - and then later on Saturday night, I was still on 10m's and calling CQ from I think 28.440 - and I got a few answers, one of which was making my first Canadian contact; and interestingly enough, I made a contact with someone who was only 10 miles away.   None-the-less, it was another exciting weekend on the radio.

I've got a lot to get done this week, as I study for the General Class exam, which is happening on Saturday at 9Am.  I've elected to use Dan Romanchick's No-Nonsense Study Guide, as well as an iPad based exam test study.  I'm hoping that these will prepare me well enough, since I'm not reading the real indepth stuff like Brandon (KD8VDX) is doing.  He purchased the exam study book from the ARRL, and will probably be better prepared than I am.  But hopefully we both pass it.

And then this morning, I submitted a request for a new Vanity Call Sign.  My KC9ZFI is kind of long, and seems to cause some trouble with people trying to copy it.  I submitted to get K1BBB - which I think should end up being a good call.  It's simple, straight forward, and I think should be easily copied.  Hopefully it goes through successfully.  That call has been available for a while, so I expect I'll get it.

I've also ordered some new parts for my radio, and will talk about those in the near future.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Frustration is setting in...

Ham radio is all about exploration and discovery.  But, I think the old hands have stayed away from new technology long enough.  We need to look at how to bring amateur radio into the new century.  There is a huge lack of support in the ham radio industry.  And what support is there, is scarce or antiquated.

I only recently got my license, and even only more recently got on the air.  Just last weekend, I ran a few calls in a contest.  Only a measly 20 contacts, with 17 countries.  That's barely anything in comparison with people who do this competitively.  What I find frustrating, is that in logging my contacts, there are various programs to choose from.  I figured using the ARRL's version or even qrz.com's version, would give me the ability to convert my log to the proper version needed to submit those whole 20 contacts to the contest.  If there is away to do it, it must be hidden and secretive, because I certainly can't find how to do it.  Now I'm looking at a 3rd program, which might allow me to do what I need.  That'll be the 4th time I've had to record my contacts...

I've done IT support my entire career, and even ran a successful part time business supporting my clienteles' PCs.  Many times I run into problems that are new, or that I might have forgotten how to fix.  That's where the internet comes in.  You can find virtually any information you need, on the internet.  A simple Google or Bing search, will quickly bring out a wealth of answers.  UNLESS we are talking about Ham radio.  That's when we run aground, hitting the end of our travels.  I suspect that this is because we have an older generation, who for years was on the cutting edge of technology, but hasn't grown much for the past 25 to 30 years.  Rather than embracing computers and the internet, they have shunned it.  Granted this could be due to their age... but I have met many older folks who spend the time necessary (like us younger people) to learn their computers/OSs/the internet.  It's all about desire I suppose, not age...

I'm not sure what I can do about it, I'm only one man.  But, maybe with the help of our Ham Radio Club Off the Grid Radio and Electronics Society, we'll be able to bring about change, bringing a younger crowd in, who is more willing to use computers and the internet, and we can get more information about there to help support those who need it.

I'll admit that it is quite possible that I have missed something completely, while using these various logging programs, and it could be something very simple.  I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I do have to say that if I'm struggling with this now, I can only imagine how a 70 year old grandfather would be struggling and give up because of the lack of support.  Or maybe not, maybe he would pull out his "Rolodex" flip through the pages until he found the guy he met 4 years ago, who told him about contesting, and call him for help.  Maybe this is all due to my preference to find out information digitally, rather than contacting someone one-on-one to get help.  But if that's the case, it only goes to show how much grater the need is to gather that information and get it "on the web" - or we risk losing the next generation.

Once I figure out how to do this Cabrillo thing, I'll definitely let you know... "on the web"!