Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tower Work at KD8JHJ

Half Wave End Fed Array 40, 30, 20 meters.

Early this morning the weather conditions were ideal for tower maintenance.  Cool, high clouds and no breeze.  The first order of business was to remove an old tv antenna and 18' fiberglass vertical both of which were attached to a 10' steel mast pipe bolted to one of the tower legs with steel U-bolts.  I mounted these antennas about 15 years ago and they have seen better days.  We have had cable on and off over the years but I always left the analog over the air receiving system in place.  We used it right up until the switch over to digital tv.  We now subscribe to satellite service.

Before the removal of the old antennas I had to lower my 30 and 40 meter end fed wires and lay them safely to the side.  That's me up the tower climbing with my brand new full body harness with double hook fall arrest lanyard.  With this equipment I felt secure and safe and really enjoyed my time aloft.  The "Y" lanyard is the only way to climb.  One of the self locking hooks is always engaged to the tower at all times.

My excellent ground man Wyatt took these photos.  Not to shabby for a nine year old.

The U-bolts were completely rusted but the nuts all managed to break loose except for one in which the bolt just sheared off due to excessive force.  My only moment of trepidation was when I had all the bolts off and was supporting the mast pipe with one hand and my right foot.  Once the elements of the tv antenna were free from the top of the tower I slowly let the whole assembly tilt and as it went over I gave it a little push and it returned perfectly to earth falling right where I hoped clearing the house by five feet.

Upon lowering the 30 meter end fed I noticed that there was only a few strands of wire still connected at the ring terminal.  I snipped the wire and soldered on a fresh terminal and finished it off with several applications of heat shrink tubing to make the wire to terminal connection stiff.

The last item on my to-do list was install a new Radio Wavz End Fed Half Wave for 20 meters.  It now occupies the same spot at about 28' that the 30 meter wire used to be tied off.  Because I removed the old tv antenna I now could attach the 40 meter wire support line to the very top of the tower.  and the 30 meter wire attaches where the 40 was.  From the hardware store I picked up a 10" eye bolt and secured the 40 meter support line to it and then simply slid the eye bolt into the steel tube at the top of the tower. 

I now have three half wave antennas resonant in the lower end of each of my favorite ham bands.  All wires checked out satisfactory using my antenna analyzer especially 40 meters which showed a perfect 1:1 swr for about 100 KHz. 

Here's the birds eye view!

Friday, July 30, 2010

QSL Card

After seeing the e-qsl on my last post a reader asked about my qsl card.  Above is my most recent version qsl card.  The row of boxes at the bottom of the card are for filling in various information about the contact the card will confirm once sent to the other station "worked".  Callsign, date, UTC (24 hour time), frequency, RST (signal report) and Mode (SSB, CW, digital etc.).  The last box marked QSL will be checked "tnx" for thank you if you are replying to a card already received or "pse" for please if you are requesting confirmation.  
There are commercial printers who specialize in printing qsl's.  There are many options from generic plain templates to printers who make a qsl in full color from a submitted photograph.  When I first became a licensed radio amateur I didn't give qsl cards much thought, that is until I received my first one in the mail. I thought about it for a while and knew I had to somehow incorporate the Morse Code key into my card design since CW (radio-telegraphy) is my favorite operating mode.

I made a 200% scale pencil drawing of one of my keys, a Nye Speed-X straight key.  To the best of my knowledge Nye keys are still being produced in the Northwest, Priest River Idaho, to be exact. visit the Nye website here

Once I had a basic idea for my card sketched out I turned it over to a graphic artist to layout the text and bring it all together.  A special thanks must be given to Bob the artist.  Without his computer savvy design skills I would not have been able to create my own card.  We scanned the pencil drawing and imported it into the layout and sized it accordingly.  I took the file to Staples on a cd and had them laser print the cards on a vintage looking parchment card stock very much like the background of this blog.

I have enjoyed pencil drawing since I was a child however I don't do much drawing these days with so much other things going on.  I like to whip something out every once in a while just to prove to myself I still can.  I have maybe 8 or 10 hours in this drawing.  It is very tedious work with lots of measuring and obsessive fussing.  The gray image above the key is an actual post card size qsl laying on top of the original drawing.  

Qsl's are an old tradition and collecting them has become a fun part of the hobby for me.  I have not counted my collection in a while but I'm sure it's closing in on five hundred.  The most original and meaningful cards I have displayed on the wall above my operating desk.  This too has been done by some hams for the last hundred years.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Benchmark at KD8JHJ

I did not realize it at the time but my recent PSK-31 contact with SV1BDO/3 in Egio, Greece is now my record longest distance two-way communication via amateur radio.  The distance between our antennas: 5,213 miles. Amazing!

The image above is an e-qsl (electronic qsl).  Traditionally amateur and commercial stations have issued QSL cards to verify contacts and reception reports.  Up until recent times QSL cards have always been printed on card stock like a postcard.  Exchanging paper QSL cards is still practiced among amateurs and some short wave broadcasters although the e-qsl digital confirmations are gaining acceptance due to many factors.  The always rising cost of postage and the long wait on international snail mail are probably the greatest.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Clear Fork Loop

Yesterday while most people were complaining about the heat and staying inside where the air was conditioned and cool I took off on the recumbent on one of my favorite road rides.  The Clear Fork Loop is a 30 mile ride leaving from and ending in my driveway which takes me through three surrounding counties.

This is one of my favorite road loops because the first ten miles are flat as I head east.  Turning south the route becomes hilly.  One of the hills in this area is steep enough to require the granny gear up front and I climb with relative ease at about 4 mph.  Most of the climbs I crank out in the middle ring which I think is a 42 tooth chainring.
Long downhills where I can sustain close to 30 mph are abundant around the Clear Fork Reservoir.

After climbing up the southern ridge of the valley I pass the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course.  If you know anything about sports car racing or superbikes you may be familiar with this famous track.  My only experience with this race course is auto racing games on the Sony Playstation but I must say this one is every bit as fun and challenging as California's Laguna Seca.

I could hear some activity so I rolled up to the guard shack and asked nicely if I could leave my bike by the gate and walk up on top of the high bank to take a few pictures. 


After ten miles of hills the last third of the ride is gentle rolling country back to the flats and on to home.  The loop is a great training ride because the hills are right in the middle with ample time to get warmed up and then a few miles on the way back to cool down and get back into a steady cadence after the hilly beat down.

Bike:  Recumbent
Ride Time:  2:13:38
Distance:  30.43 miles
Average Speed:  13.6 mph
Max Speed:  36.8 mph

Friday, July 23, 2010

As a fan of the Earth Sciences I am always on the lookout for interesting atmospheric phenomena.  On July 18th a thunderstorm passed from the west to the east just before sundown and left in it's wake this great double rainbow.  Photographing rainbows has become a challenging side project for me.  This is the most vivid color I have captured so far.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Recumbent Ride

On this fine Saturday morning I could have sat myself on the couch and watch some guys race bicycles in France.  No way!  I'm going to ride and besides I have a new helmet mirror to test out.  Last year I lost my helmet mirror and never got around to replacing it until last week.  On a recumbent it is almost impossible to look over your shoulder to get a view of the traffic behind.  Some recumbent handle bar setups allow bar mounted rear view mirrors and they work fine however I prefer the helmet mounted kind.  It seems better to have the mirror closer to your eye and instantly I have a view behind me using nothing more than a twitch of my eyeball muscle.

I stopped by my local bike shop one day to peruse their selection of cycling accessories.  Out of the three or four different brands hanging on the display I noticed this mirror.  What caught my eye was the fact that each of these particular mirrors was a different color or had a design or image molded into the back side.  Studying the packaging I learned that the mirrors are produced from recycled plastic by a local guy named Chuck Harris.  Chuck has been continuously manufacturing these one at a time since 1970.  I didn't even know they had bicycle helmets back in 1970.  The paper work states:
 "For a more personal touch, send in your own art work, logo, lapel pin, etc. as long as it fits in the outline of the mirror that your ordering."  and he can mold your image into the plastic opposite the glass.  If you look closely at mine you can see half a bar code and something about "no refill and please recycle".  The plastic was evidently the side of a green soda bottle.
The mirror itself is real plate glass and the stem is stainless steel.  The steel is very stiff yet springy and is bent into a clamp that firmly grips the bottom rim of the helmet.  True to the instructions the mirror grips the helmet so tight you can pick up the helmet by the mirror.
After a couple rides I can honestly say this is the finest helmet mirror I have ever used.  I have had several over the years which have been all plastic and either easily detach from the helmet inadvertently or slowly droop from vibration and required readjustment while on the fly.  
I did a little web search to see if I could learn anything about this Chuck Harris character and found an interesting article.  Click Here to download the short two page pdf.  Contact information is at the bottom of the article.


After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and Cheerios I hit the rural byways of north central Ohio.  My chosen 30 mile loop takes me through mostly agricultural areas and past a couple small villages.  The terrain is generally flat here with a few small hills thrown in to break up the monotony of the glacial plains in the region I call home.

Ahhhh Shade!

Here is a shot of the speedo.  Cruising along at a leisurely 21.4 mph about an hour and a half into the ride.  On the recumbent I have been riding the rail trails this season simply because I lacked a mirror and I really don't feel safe on the roads without one.  My new Chuck Harris Ultra Light Rear View Mirror is working great.  I can see the whole road and both shoulders well off to each side behind me.

30 Mile Loop
Distance  30.48 mi
Ride Time  2:07
Average Speed  14.3 mph
Max Speed  28.3 mph

Monday, July 12, 2010

News From Amateur Radio Station KD8JHJ

As I noted in yesterday's post this past weekend was the July running of the Week End Sprint held by the Straight Key Century Club  I was looking forward to this event because lately It seems my code copying skills have reached the highest level since I became a CW operator nearly two years ago.  I'm sure the craziness of Field Day a couple of weeks ago had something to do with it.  I have also been making a conscious effort to practice head copy.  This means translating the dots and dashes of Morse Code in your mind without writing the characters down on paper.  I still have a long way to go but I have started to notice the ability developing.  I have my code practice software set at 30 wpm and while doing office work during the day I routinely hear three or more hours of random text or simulated QSOs (radio contacts) playing in the background.  This speed is too fast to keep up with pencil and paper so I am more or less forced to decipher the code on the fly.  The best way I can think to describe this process is like those red LED sign boxes that show the text flowing from the right to the left before disappearing.  I hear the code characters and assemble them on my mental chalkboard.  Sometimes half way through a word I am pretty sure of what the whole word is and the last few characters provide the confirmation.  I still use paper when engaged in actual radio contacts while running around 17 to 20 wpm but now I can look away to adjust a setting on the rig or open my logbook and continue to follow the message without totally falling off the wagon.  Becoming proficient with Morse Code has been quite an adventure and now I am starting to reap the rewards of my efforts.  The old adage "You get out what you put into it" really rings true with the Code.

Going into this sprint with enthusiasm and a positive mindset I posted my highest QSO count of any sprint since I started contesting last year.

Total QSOs:  35

States/ Provinces/ Countries worked:  MA, NC, FL, MO, MD, IL, NJ, WI, NY, AL, NV, VA, KY, PA, OH, MI, AZ, GA and Ontario Canada.

There may be some scores not yet posted but as of tonight my ranking stands at 15th out of 57 operators in the greater than 5w to 100watt category.  So needless to say I am feeling pretty happy with myself.

In other news...

Something that doesn't happen too often at KD8JHJ: I have added a new DX country to my list.  On Friday evening I was relaxing and watching some PSK-31 on the 30 meter band.  I noticed a strange looking call sign (SV1BDO/3) calling CQ.  Nobody answered so I threw my call out and to my surprise established contact with Sotiris, SV1BDO/3 located near Athens, Greece about 5,300 miles away.  I actually had to crack open the world atlas to see exactly where Greece was.  Not rare dx by any means but a new one in my log so all in all a great weekend in amateur radio at KD8JHJ.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Recumbent Ride

This weekend I spent most of my time participating in the July SKCC Week End Sprint on amateur radio.  However as much as I love sending Morse Code signals bouncing off the ionosphere I did take a break from the radio and got out for a little ride on the recumbent.  The weather conditions have been a welcome change from the sweltering heat wave we have experienced the past couple weeks.  Today it did get warm but only the upper 80's and lower humidity so really nice conditions for a bike ride.

I rode on the B & O Trail for about an hour and a half.  Not the full trail but enough for a decent workout.  My fitness is coming along good this season and I am happy with my performance.  I have noticed that the average speed on the recumbent is slowly increasing from the start of the season.

Ride Time  1:27:42
Distance  23.64 Miles
Average Speed  16.1 MPH
Max Speed  21.9 MPH

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mountain Bike Ride

On this Fourth of July I finally made it to Ohio's Mohican State Park Mountain Bike Trail to test out my new 20 tooth Kick Ass Cog that I recently installed on my Yeti single speed.  I got up as early as I could for a weekend and after 45 minute drive I arrived at the trailhead and got started at 9:40 am.  It got hot quick even in the woods.  Luckily the night before I had filled my 70 ounce Camel Back bladder with ice cubes so that in the morning I could just add water and go. 
The Camel Back is a small insulated backpack that holds a large capacity plastic water bag and fits tightly on your back.  A small section of vinyl hose runs from the bottom of the bladder up and over your shoulder so you can easily have a sip of cool water while engaged in the adventure sport of your choice.  The Camel Back that I have used the past few years is called the Mule.  It has an insulated pocket for the bladder and several other pockets in which I carry a tire pump, patch kit and a small multi-tool.  There is also room for some snacks and a light jacket for the cooler seasons.  The Camel Back has been around now for about fifteen years and it has revolutionized the way endurance athletes stay hydrated.  Not suprisingly Camel Back's biggest customer is the U.S. Military.  Sure beats the old metal canteen!  Dehydration is the enemy no matter what your mission.  

I accomplished my goal for this ride which was to cover the entire 25 mile loop.  My ride time was 4 hours and 5 minutes, including stops for photography and food.  I felt great and I could notice a difference in the one tooth larger cog in the back.  Climbing was much more bearable and I even found myself able to stay seated longer on less aggresive climbs.  As far as spinning on the flats I could not really tell a difference so thumbs up on the new 20 tooth cog.
Virtually all of the 25 mile single track is in the woods.  Here is the best view I could find of the Clear Fork Gorge from the trail. This is about the 16 mile mark from the parking area where I left my car.  The trail follows the topography more or less spending equal time on the south and north rim of the gorge.  If you ride the whole trail you will have decended to the valley floor and climbed back out twice.  I don't have a fancy GPS device to calculate the total elevation that I climbed for the ride.  I would love to have one now that they are about the size of a cell phone and come bicycle specific with a handle bar mount.
A plaque I found down in the gorge reads:





To add a little extra to my 4th of July Post I stopped at the park's fire tower.  The use of manned fire towers came to an end in 1978 when the last tower in the parks system was decomissioned.  It is amazing that some of the towers are still open to the public.  One cannot gain access to the box at the top but you can climb all the way to the trap door.  This tower is 80 feet tall.  I took the picture below from the last landing before the box, probably about 70 feet.  The view is looking east towards southern PA and West Virginia. 

Thanks to some forward thinking conservationists and politicians from the past I got to spend part of my holiday in this beautiful natural area.  All of America's parks are special and we must be vigilent in providing their continued protection so that future generations can enjoy and learn about the natural world.  

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Insulator Post -- Fizzy Beehive

H.G. CO Petticoat Beehive

Millions of these telegraph insulators were made by Hemingray and other glass companies.  The term petticoat refers to a smaller inner skirt molded into the glass inside the main skirt.  The petticoat is plainly visible in the photographs below the threads.  

The "H.G. CO" embossing is an earlier type used until around 1910 when it was changed to "HEMINGRAY"  I really like this beehive with all it's character.  That's about a 1/4" bubble in the inner skirt and a 1/2" long one up above the wire groove.  The entire 3- 1/4" diameter by 4- 1/2" tall insulator is shot through with very small bubbles giving the glass a neat look.

fizzy beehive rear view

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Insulator Post

These two Hemingray-12 "Double Groove Ponies" are telephone exchange insulators.  The top groove carried the line and the bottom groove supported the drop line to a house or building.  I estimate these two came from the early 1900's.  Notice the glob of amber glass near the upper groove on the right one.  Like a cat's eye marble.