Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time for a Ride

The Summer Solstice has come and gone.  From now on the days get shorter.  Those of us who call the Northern Hemisphere Home know what is coming in a few short months.  I spend as much time outside as possible. Sometimes lawn mowing will have to take a back seat to cycling.

What made this the perfect day for a ride was a temperature of 73 degrees F  with low humidity.  A drastic change from the recent heat wave.

Bike:  Recumbent
Ride Time:  1:39:26
Distance:  23.77 Miles
Avg Speed:  14.3 MPH
Max Speed:  20.2 MPH

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Kenwood HF/6m Transceiver

Up until this weekend I have made only one Single Sideband contact in my nearly two years as a radio amateur.  If you have read any of my previous ham radio related posts you know I am a CW fan and other than a little digital operation now and then I run a Morse Code exclusive station.

At Field Day this year I had the opportunity to listen to the audio of two different Kenwood rigs.  One of them newer and one older but both being solid state.  What struck me right away was how clear and smooth the sideband audio was from both of these rigs.

I did notice this new Kenwood transceiver when the first pictures surfaced on the web and I do like the straightforward styling.  Other than realizing that a new offering from Kenwood in the amateur market is good for many reasons I did not give it much more thought.  I need a new HF radio like I need a hole in my head!  Now after my field day observations concerning Kenwood audio quality I think this might just be my new dream rig.  I have also become a fan of 6 meters and alas my Icom 718 does not have 6 meter capability.  The new Kenwood does have 6 meters.

I am looking forward to hearing what other hams have to say about this radio once they become available and are put to use on the ham bands.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Field Day 2010

According to the ARRL website over 35,000 US and Canadian radio amateurs gather with their clubs, friends or simply by themselves to operate.  ARRL Field Day is held the last weekend of June each year.  Like the amateur radio hobby there is many aspects to Field Day.  Hams bring their radio gear out to the countryside and operate under varied and adverse conditions.  This gives us a chance to demonstrate for the public and our elected officials the adaptability and usefulness of amateur radio.  Setting up and running our stations in the field is great practice should we be called upon to provide emergency communication in the event of a natural disaster or other calamity that disrupts normal communication channels.  Think hurricane Katrina a few years back.

The operating side of Field Day is like any other contest- make as many contacts with other participating stations as possible in the set time frame.  Food, fun and camaraderie are the other no less important ingredients of this annual event.  This was my first Field Day and I enjoyed observing how other hams operate and even contributed to our club's score with ten CW contacts.  I helped perform computer logging for one of the side band stations which was great fun and quite a learning experience.  Thanks to Mike K8ROX for letting me set in on some side band fun.  It really was like shooting fish in a barrel. 

Here is the 6 meter (50MHz) station operated by Keith N8LIS.  Keith is also a living history re-enactor.  Pictured is his 1750's French and Indian war era tent and shelter.  History and ham radio- two of my favorite things!

The compact yet effective 20 meter (14 MHz) station of our illustrious club president Rick KK8O.

Water droplets on the vinyl window of my tent from the inevitable rain showers that passed through Saturday afternoon.

I set up my 40 meter (7 MHz) CW station in the vestibule of my Cabella's Extreme Weather Tent.  When the rains came I just zipped down the front door and happily kept at it.  To get the full effect of Field Day my son and I brought cots and sleeping bags and camped out the whole weekend.

All five of our operating positions drew power from this generator owned by Roger WM8I who with his son worked 40 meter side band.  This piece of surplus US Air Force AGE (Aerospace Ground Equipment) is actually a mobile lighting platform that has two huge lights that attach to the top of the cart and was used to illuminate aircraft on the flight line for maintenance operations.  The diesel powered generator purred like a kitten all weekend long.  Two RVs and our five stations barely put a load on it.  I did four years in the USAF out of high school and I never thought I would see one of these again let alone use one.

Field Day 2010 was a blast and I am already looking forward to next year's event.  I was the only CW station at our club's site this year.  My goal is to increase my code skill and next year I will set up my full station and maybe even try computer logging.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ash Cave

In the Hocking Hills region of south eastern Ohio is Ash Cave.  This recess cave is one of many in this area.  Huge sandstone formations eroded by wind and water since the glaciers retreat 15,000 years ago.  A passing thunderstorm clearing out under a mid day sun made for a nice shot.  

Just in time my wife showed me how to turn on the wide angle funtion of my camera!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Patio Portable - Father's Day 2010

This Father's Day was a pleasant and relaxing day. I called my Dad to wish him a happy Father's Day around lunch time.  In the afternoon I finished up the backyard projects with the pool.  For the remainder of the day while Wyatt was swimming I brought out the KD8JHJ portable 40 meter QRP rig to test out on the patio.  I drew power from the AC mains so a steady 5 watts output was assured.
QRP is so much fun.  I made two contacts that answered my call on the second go-round.  I'm no longer suprised when a station returns my call while transmitting with the MFJ 9040 transceiver.  Also it seems I don't have to send endless streams of CQs. 

My first contact was Bill KB2RAW in Sidney, NY.  Bill was using a cootie key.  I could not tell it as he was sending very good code. He reported my RST as 589.  Knowing that I was operating QRP (5 watts) Bill finally asked "What model is your rig I want one?"  I told him the model was MFJ 9040.  He said "Well it sounds great and would never have known you was QRP."

The second QSO was Rick K4UFS in Rainbow City, Alabama.  Rick was using a vintage Collins S-line which back in it's day was top of the line tube gear that many a ham lusted after.  And what a testament to Collins quality that after all these years they are still alive on the ham bands making contacts.

A third contact was Bill W9ZN in Chicago, IL.  Although he sent a 589 signal report there must have been signal fading or some problem because we lost contact after a couple of minutes.  Occasionally it happens.

One part of my portable kit I had not tested out yet was using the Bushwhacker Paddle and K-5 keyer to drive the little MFJ rig.  The supplied patch cable between the keyer and transceiver has a 1/4" inch jack but the key socket on the MFJ is 1/8"  I picked up the phono to 1/8" mono cord at Radio Shack and upon hooking up the components I found the paddle-keyer was not working.  As soon as I plugged in the cord the rig keyed up transmitting a steady tone.  A quick continuity check revealed that the center pin on the cord was open.  I took a gamble that the problem was the 1/8" plug so I cut it off knowing I had a new one in my spare parts box ready to be soldered up.  Once I had bare wires exposed I checked continuity again and found that the phono plug at the other end was ok.  I soldered on the new 1/8" plug and function checked the whole setup and it worked great. 

The keyer and paddle is extra gear to take out but I wanted the capability of using the memory keyer to generate my CQ calls if by chance I ever don't get an answer after one of two calls.  The Nye Speed-X straight key will continue to stand by as a backup or will get plugged in if I ever run the MFJ QRP rig for a SKCC event.    

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's that time of the year again.

Always one for an engineering challenge here is a system I devised to attach a security fence to the top of the swimming pool.  The main motivation for this project was to avoid the expense of a perimeter fence around the backyard for a pool only used a few months during the summer.  I brainstormed for a couple days about materials.  I knew I would use plastic latticework for it's flexibility and water resistance.  The missing piece of my puzzle was what to use for the vertical supports to hang the lattice from.

Finally while walking the isles in the plumbing department I found convenient pre-cut two foot pieces of schedule 40 white PVC.  I built a wooden jig attached to the drill press table and used a hole saw to cut a C shaped notch in the bottom end of each support.  The hole saw cut created a saddle that with the help of a stainless steel clamp mates the PVC securely to the pool's upper perimeter pipe.  I drilled two holes at the top of each PVC pipe to attach heavy white cable ties which are used exclusively to attach the lattice work to the vertical supports and top perimeter tubes.  A small door section once hung over the ladder opening and locked in place completes the circle providing the rigidity needed to prevent accidental or unauthorized entry. 

City Trip

Cleveland, OH

My wife is a Sheryl Crow fan so last night we took a trip north to Cleveland to see a show. 

Colbie Caillat
Because we have been long time Sheryl Crow fans we have gotten to see many great opening acts.  Colbie was amazing. Oh and she can play guitar very well.

Sheryl rocking out.
(She has a normal right hand.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My New Ham Radio Tower!

Not Really, but nice to dream. I took this shot in the El Yunque National Rain Forest, Puerto Rico. 2006-07.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

News from A.R.S. KD8JHJ

This Past Sunday I participated in the June SKCC Week End Sprint.  I operated in three different sessions because I had allot going on over the weekend.  The sprint started at 00:00 hours Sunday which is actually Saturday night 7:00PM local time.  I used  the Vibroplex Original with my homebrew bugtamer and made a few contacts before thunderstorms moved into the area.  Sunday morning I got up early and operated for an hour or so while having coffee.  I did not get back on the air until evening for the last few hours of the sprint.  For this last session I used my Straight key and managed to send perfect copy for the last five or six contacts logged. 
I have been using the European style of sending with my straight key and have grown to like this method best.  European style sending requires that the operator's hand and arm touch nothing but the key knob.  With American style the operator's wrist is usually resting on the table and the pivot point is the wrist.  I think these styles may have been influenced by the evolution of key designs in different parts of the world.  The Thomas Edison patent key and the popular U.S. J-38 straight keys are small and flat with a flat knob.  They lend themselves well to arm on the desk sending while the early European keys were large  long lever keys that respond well with the whole arm getting in to the action. 

Here is a list of the stations I worked during the June WES. 

  1. K2RFP  Dick - New York 

  2. N2JNZ  George - New York

  3. N0UMP  Bill - Missouri

  4. WA1AR  Alan - Massachusetts

  5. KA5VZG  Alan - Tennessee

  6. WD4SCZ  Emil - Kentucky

  7. KA0RJY  Reg - Minnesota

  8. K2EGJ  Ed - New York

  9. KO7X  Alan - Wyoming

  10. W3NP  Dave - West Virginia

  11. W9DLN  Dan - Wisconsin

  12. W2DEC  Urb - New Jersey

  13. K0LUW  Russ - Nebraska

  14. KB1OIQ/QRP  Andy - Massachusetts *

  15.  W4CUX  Bill - Georgia

  16. W0MSM  Mark - Missouri

  17. KB2RAW  Bill - New York

  18. NV9X  Jim - Illinois

  19. WB2UWU  Finn - New York

  20. VE3CWU  Bob - Ontario Canada
*Andy was running 3 watts from a QRP transmitter kit he had just finished building himself.

Although I had no aspirations of placing high in the contest I had a great time giving out contacts and even worked some new club members.  Since I joined the Straight Key Century Club a bit over a year ago there are 1,974 new members bringing the total for the club to 6,851 members.  It is nice to see a few of the newer members coming out to participate in the club sprints.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lily Blooms

My wife enjoys flower gardening.  I admit the gardens would be pretty drab if it were up to me.  The work pays off for a short while each season with a little show of color.  These pictures I took in filtered sunlight between the bands of light rain showers that passed through yesterday.  I have been testing a new camera this month.  It's a huge step up from my old Kodak.

Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Recumbent Ride

This morning I loaded up the recumbent and headed to Knox County to ride the Kokosing Gap Trail.  Skies were mostly cloudy although at the beginning of the ride there was a bit of sun.  After four miles I rolled into Gambier.  This shot of a steam locomotive on static display I thought would make a fitting black and white.

Not far from the train on the campus of  Kenyon College I noticed this sculpture.  It's Interesting to say the least.


During the last half of my ride the clouds got heavy and I was treated to a cool and refreshing mist.  When the temperature and humidity are up nothing feels quite as nice as riding in a light rain.  

Ride Time:  2:06 
Distance:  28.75 Mi.
Average Speed:  13.5 MPH

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Side-Swiper

This post has sat for a while as a draft.  Since it has been raining on and off for a while now and the bike trails are mud I have decided to take the opportunity to get this one to the light of day.

Back at the turn of the 20th century during the advent of the first semi-automatic keys another kind of key was also being developed called the Side-Swiper.  This key got it's name from the sideways back and forth motion used to operate the key.  The horizontal movement of the lever is where the likeness to the bug key ends.  The side-swiper is a very simple Single Pole Double Throw Switch.  Like a straight key the dot, dash and spacing of Morse Code must be manually constructed by the operator.

Using a side-swiper or "Cootie-Key" (another nickname this key picked up somewhere in history) is a unique method for generating code.  I always begin my transmission by moving the lever left.  Each subsequent element of code be it a dot or dash is accomplished by swinging the lever back to the right and closing the opposite contact.  In this fashion I am always maintaining a left-right-left-right-left-right rhythm.  The difficulty in using this kind of key arises from the fact that all the Morse characters are different.  Some characters are all dashes while some are all dots and others are combinations of dots and dashes.  I have to build each character carefully allowing a small pause between each letter and a longer space between words all the while keeping up the back and forth motion or swing.  It's very easy to make errors.  I practiced quite a while with this key before putting it on the air.

In appearance the side-swiper looks similar to any single lever paddle (Double Pole Double Throw) that makes dashes one direction and dots the other.  In fact when I first learned of the side-swiper I converted my Vibrokeyer to a Cootie by attaching a jumper wire between the dot and dash contact posts.  The side-swiper in the pictures I made last fall for the October SKCC Craftsman Key Sprint.  The aluminum bar stock I ordered from McMaster Carr.  The angle pieces I cut from aluminum square tubing recycled from old screen printing frames.  The brass hardware I purchased at the local hardware store.  The lever I made from my hacksaw blade (once I was done cutting all the other parts).  The pretty piece of wood for the base and the finger piece I recycled from a shipping crate.  This project took a couple of weeks working for an hour or two in the evenings. Other than the table saw, a bench top drill press and belt sander I used simple handtools.  To go to the trouble to learn Morse Code and use it on the air is an accomplishment on it's own but to make my own key and use it is icing on the cake.       

It is my opinion that because of the advertising and marketing blitz carried out by Horace G. Martin and his Vibroplex Company that the sideswiper never really gained widespread acceptance.  The side-swiper's one great quality is it's simplistic design perfect for the cw homebrewer.

A couple websites I often visit concerning all things telegraphic: 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Insulator Post - - Garage sale find!

My sister spotted these insulators at a garage sale on Friday.  Wyatt and I went back this morning to check them out.  Some nice old Hemingray pieces.  Big lot of Hemi-42s nearly all perfect.  Even a clear Mickey, but it's got a big chip on one ear.  A few designs I did not have in my collection.

In the closeups are some early Hemingray embossings.  You can tell the text was hand carved into the mold.  A great Brookie, too bad a big chip in the skirt.  Still a lot of character even got the coal smoke stains from the steam engines.  And lastly bubbles right by the Hemingray emboss.  That's how I tell that one is old.  Some neat history and a little fun for a dollar a piece.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Single Speed Cogs

Single Speed mountain bikes are quite possibly my favorite kind of bicycle.  The eastern woodland trails in my area have climbs that are mostly shorter ups and downs with lots of twists and turns and plenty of exposed tree roots.  Over time I learned that the granny gear (22 tooth chain wheel on a standard mtb crankset.) is not really necessary.  The 32 tooth "middle ring" up front and and a 19 tooth cog on the back has worked great for me since 2004 when I first converted my bike to single speed.

I have found that the advantages to running a single gear outweigh the negatives for me.  
1.  No fussy derailleurs/ shifters to adjust and clean.
2.  My first off road ride on a mtb was 24 years ago.  To this day I still forget to downshift before I get to the begining of a climb and end up forcing the derailleurs to shift the chain under power.  On the single speed just pedal.  "Keep It Simple Stupid"
3. Tight chain- No chain slap.
4.  Lighter overall bike weight.

The only disadvantage is only one gear.  Sure it's nice to bail to the granny gear and spin your way up a challenging climb,  but you will still suffer.  I like to power up the climb and get it over with and go on the fun part- downhill!   One season I even put derailleurs and shifters back on my bike.  After a couple rides grinding gears and listening to the chain slap I converted it all back to single speed and the bike has been that way ever since.  

Back in 2004 I found the Endless Bike Company located in Asheville, NC.  Endless, a rider owned company sells bicycle frames,  a line of single speed cogs called "Kick Ass Cogs" and a spacer kit used to convert a standard cassette freehub body to single speed.  Endless employs a local machine shop to fabricate their cogs and they do a fine job.  As an experiment I decided to order a 20 tooth cog to replace the 19 tooth that I have been using.  I want to see if I can notice the difference of one tooth while climbing.  When I received the new cog I noticed that it had been processed in a vibratory bowl and the information was mechanically stamped into the metal instead of the fine bead blasted finish and laser etching of my original two cogs.  Not a big deal it's a sprocket not a piece of jewelry.  What I like best about the Endless cogs is that the metal at the splines where the cog engages the free hub body is a full quarter inch thick.  The splines are machined to very tight tolerance and the cog fits to the hub tight with absolutely no slop or play.  I have used stamped flat steel cogs that have deformed the splines on the freehub which are steel also.  Inspecting the splines on my hub after the Endless cog has been in place for years shows no sign of damage.   

Kick Ass Cogs are machined from 7075 T6 Aluminum alloy.

I find metallurgy interesting so here is the skinny on this alloy from one of my favorite reference books:

"Corrosion-Resistant Aircraft-Grade Aluminum Alloy 7075"
"-Exceptionally strong but still light weight, This aircraft alloy is one of the hardest and strongest aluminum alloys while maintaining better corrosion resistance than alloy 2024 due to the addition of zinc.  Originally developed for aircraft frames, It is also used for keys, gears and other high stress parts.  Non magnetic, Temperature range to maintain strength is -320 F to +212 F."
-McMaster-Carr catalog #114  page 3,548

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mother Nature

For a hundred years radio amateurs have been hoisting antennas up into the air.  Sooner or later Mother Nature knocks them back down.  Or at least she reminds us who's boss.

My Gap Titan DX multi-band vertical dipole stood straight and tall until this past December when my area experienced severe blizzard like conditions.  One of many winter storms that passed through this one brought high winds in excess of 50 mph.  That afternoon and evening as I watched out the back door the antenna oscillated wildly with the top section swinging back and forth six feet or more.  The three guy lines appeared to be keeping the Gap from folding over in the strong gusts.

The next morning conditions were calm and as I peeked out the window I was dismayed to see the bend about one third up the length of the antenna.  The Bottom section of the Gap Titan is made up of three layers of aluminum tubing each telescoping into the next.  It is very sturdy.  The bend occured just above the triple walled section.  I attribute the failure to an inadequate guying system.  I used the Gap guying bracket which is a very sturdy assembly made from aluminum angle and stout 1/4" stainless steel eye bolts. 

 I attached the guy bracket to the spot recommended by Gap.  Because of the space limitations of my lot I did not have many options for anchor points for the guy lines.  The north-east and south-east lines I attached to the corners of the garage roof where I could screw into the wood rafters.  The last guy I stretched out directly west into the back yard and attached  to a steel stake.  This guy was much longer than the other two attached to the roof and ended up being the weak link.  I believe this layout did not provide the support required to keep the side to side swinging of the antenna in check during the strong wind.

In the future I hope to have more space to deploy the Titan and the Eagle and when I do I will certainly use a symmetrical 4 line guy system with the lines spaced 90 degrees apart and of equal length.

During Memorial Day weekend after some hedge trimming chores my ground man Wyatt and I lowered and disassembled the Titan for storage.  Another lesson learned is to use conductive grease on all the metal to metal fittings.  Even after being in the air for only about six months the aluminum tubing sections were very hard to pull apart.  Interestingly the Gap Titan continued to work great even with the bend.  In January,  a month after the storm,  I set my record distance radio contact to Orel,  Russia about 5,009 miles away.  

I'm sure this won't be my last run in with the powerful effects of nature.  One of many challenges to getting and staying on the air as a radio amateur.