Saturday, November 28, 2009

EMCOMMS -Wireless-

Still working on this. For the next section I'll go into some details on the differences between Licensed and Unlicensed services. They both have their places, but require some understanding of the differences.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

To one and all! My you be close to your family on this day!
I'm blessed this year, in spite of getting laid-off last week. I have a wonderful girlfriend/fiance/shootin' buddy, a home to live in, and we're all in good health.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

HF Vertical Installation

Thought I'd post a few pix of the installed Shakespeare AT-1011 and SGC coupler.
Works like gangbusters!

*FINALLY* Back On-The-Air!

Well, even though I had somewhat "OK" performance using the built-in antenna "tuner" on my Kenwood TS-950SDX, the antenna system still wasn't working properly. I dug out the 'spare' SG-230 coupler, and pulled the suspect unit out of the enclosure. I had noticed two 'not-quite-right' things when I first installed it. The PL-259 connector on the input cable didn't look properly installed, and the threaded portion of the output terminal was loose. Since there's a specific warning in the SG-230 manial to use *two* wrenches when tightening the connection, this raised a red flag with me, but (DUH) I went ahead and installed it anyway, hoping for the best, even though I *know* better. Since I had nothing to lose, I pulled the cover off the suspect coupler to give it a look-see. The connection inside the coupler to the output terminal is a threaded brass rod, going through a ceramic standoff, and there's a lug on the end of a wire going to the output of the matching network circuit board.
The nut was 'finger loose' on the inside of the box!
I retightened the nuts on both ends of the brass rod, making sure the wire was nice and tight, and checked the rest of the connections inside the box.
The RF input coax had loose connections, and the power/control leads were also loose in their terminals!
I tightened everything nice and snug, and put the cover back on. I also replaced the PL-259 on the input coax, as I found (as I suspected) that the connector the previous owner had installed had the wrong adapter for the smaller RG-58 coax used for the input lead, and it was very poorly soldered.
Back up the ladder, install the coupler, connect all the cables, and head to The Shack.
It loads up on all bands from 160 Meters (1.8~2.0 MHz) through 10 Meters (28.0~29.7 MHz) with a 1.2:1 VSWR or better. I'm surprised that it loads so well on 160 Meters, as a 24' antenna is waaaay too short for decent performance, but it works, and I'll take it even though I've never operated on that band.
And the receive performance is very nice. I'm blessed with a fairly quiet location here, with local noise levels of about S3 on 40 Meters, less on the higher bands, more on the lower ones.
All I have to do is take a bunch of pix, put the covers back on the two plastic enclosures I'm using to weatherproof the coupler and isolation balun, and neatly dress the cables.

Monday, November 23, 2009

WHOO-HOO! Back On-The-Air!

Spent the day running the coax and tuner power/control cable from the patio area into The Shack. I spent some extra time trying to make it look "pretty" so the fiancee would approve. I could probably get away with sloppy cable runs and dangling wires, but then besides making her shake her pretty little head, it wouldn't say much about my workmanship, would it? So far, the only "problem" is that when I turn on the Astron SS-30M power supply I've been using to power my FlexRadio 5000A, my noise level jumps from about nothing to S-7~S-9! This is a terrible thing to hear, and while it *could* be a problem with the SG-230 antenna coupler, it sounds like typical switching power supply noise. I never really noticed this at my apartment, as I had pretty bad AC powerline noise, and if the Astron really is generating hash, I might not have noticed it.
Oh, well....out to the garage to dig out my Astron VS-50M, a linear supply, which does not generate switching noise. I'll update this later......
Yep, it was the switching supply! Installed the linear supply, and all is quiet.
Now to figure out why the doggone SG-230 won't match the antenna! I bought this used on eBay and never checked it. I noticed that the RF Input connector on the coax seemed "loose", so perhaps that could be causing it. I've got a 'spare' SG-230, so I'll probably just swap it out Tuesday morning, and see how it goes.
The internal tuner in the rig is able to find a match with 1.5:1 VSWR on almost all the bands, so I can live with it for now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Back On-The-Air Monday!

Well, the BIG 24' HF vertical is up on the patio roof, the coupler (tuner) is connected to it and the isolation (choke) balun, and all the counterpoise radials I'm going to use for now are installed. Stringing 4, 34' #10 wires from the ground buss I made out to the furthest points of the yard was more work than I thought it would be. Two of them run almost 'textbook perfect' from the ground buss out to the far coner of the roofs on our garage, and the neighbor's. The other two run back towards the house, then up a bit, and are stapled to the eaves for the remainder of their length.The fiancee's youngest son is a weightlifter, and he muscled the complete antenna and base support up to the edge of the patio roof while I guided it, and then with a mighty shove, slid it far enough that it would stay there. The two of us then got it centered, and I fished the 25kV #14 GTO wire down through the roof, trimmed it to length, and put a lug on it to connect to the hot terminal of the coupler. Monday morning I'll start running the coax (Davis RF 'BuryFlex') and the coupler control cable to The Shack. After a bit of testing, I should be ready-to-go!
It's taken me about twice the amount of time I thought it would, not to mention the $300+ cost of the building materials I needed. At least I got a brand-new 8' fiberglass Werner ladder out of the deal!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Thing Leads To Another.....

Well, I finished up doing the refurb on my big HF (shortwave) vertical antenna, and decided to do a little work on the patio roof, where I'm going to install it.
What a mess!
Our "patio" is one of those prefab kits that has all the lumber and brackets, and after you pour a concrete pad,you assemble all the bits, and presto! Instant patio! Well, the guys who installed it (it was already done when the GF bought the house) didn't do a very good job of screwing it together, and it was pretty shaky. It's a simple structure, consisting on some 4x4's bolted to the slab, and some 2x8's forming a "box" around the top, with another 2x8 running down the middle. To support the "roof", there's 2x2 stringers running across, and then the corrugated plastic "roof" is screwed into the 2x2 stringers, and the 2x8's that make the perimeter of the top.
The first problem was that the 2x2's were only nailed to the perimeter, and NOT to the 4x8 running down the middle! This let the whole shebang of strings and plastic 'float', move around, and in general not be very sturdy. And they were warped. And some were rotted out. I replaced the dry rotted ones, and "doubled up" the five in the middle with some clear pine 1x2's, and deck screws, giving me an effective "2x4" in the center of the structure. But what about the middle being of 'floating' construction? Well, a quick trip (or three) to Home Depot netted me some nice galvanized "Strong-Tie" angle brackets and matching screws, and I've spent the last two days screwing the whole top of the structure together. There's 16 stringers, and I added four brackets to each, for a total of 64 brackets. Each bracket had to be manually placed to get it "square" with the stringer, and then I C-clamped it to the 2x8 until I could get a couple of screws driven in. They're square on the stringer, but some are kind of 'strange' looking where they're screwed into the 2x8. I figured it was more important to have them square with the stringer, and not twist it up any more than it is, so I don't stress the 2x2's. Each bracket has eight screws, so in the last two days I've driven 512 #8x2" screws into the brackets. I've broken two bits, dropped numerous screws, moved the (new) ladder countless times, opened, positioned, and tightened my C-clamp way too many times, tripped over my extension cord a bunch, and recharged each of the batteries for my Makita drill at least three times. I couldn't use the Makita to drive the deck screws into the 1x2's I added to the existing 2x2's, as it just doesn't have enough torque to do it, even running on slow speed. Good thing I have my trusty old Milwaukee 1/2" chuck Super Hole Shooter, as it didn't even break a sweat.
The patio roof is now at least as strong as the rest of the house, and should support the 30~40 lbs of my assembled vertical "No Sweat".
I've got my SG-230 antenna coupler mounted in a plastic box to keep it out of the elements, and I'll be mounting that under the patio roof, and connecting the output terminal to the vertical with some #14 "GTO" wire, commonly used for neon signs. The voltage on the output of the coupler can easily exceed 10kV on frequencies where the antenna presents a high impedance, and I've made an aluminum tie plate to connect all the counterpoise wires to the "ground" terminal on the coupler, avoiding the mess I had when the vertical was on the roof of my former apartment building. I still have to run the coax and control cable for the coupler, terminate the ends, and figure out some way to get the assembled vertical up on the patio roof, and shove it to the center. I wanted to get this finished for the weekend, as the ARRL is having the 2009 "Phone Sweepstakes" this weekend, but it looks like I'll probably not have things done in time.

Oh, and the GF and I have decided to get married. The special day will be February 14th, 2010. Her "BFF" is a pastor at a local church, and will be doing the ceremony for us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veteran's Day

Thank you all for serving, and may your fallen comrades rest in peace.


When you get to be "my age", you'll get inundated with mailings to join the AARP. They actually start mailing sooner, when you hit 50, I think, sorta like priming the pump.
They offer good discounts on all kinds of stuff, like AAA where you just show your card, and the vendor knocks off 5 or 10%, so I joined 5 or 6 years ago. Then I started getting TWO mailings from them; one at my PO Box where I have 99% of my mail sent, and one to my apartment address. I'd get 'renewal notices' at my apartment address, and invitations to join at my PO Box address. That was exactly the opposite of how my membership was setup; I joined using my PO Box address, and tried to get them to stop the duplicate mailings to my apartment address. I never could get their incompetent "customer service" to understand that I had two addresses, so I canceled my membership.
Then I started reading about them in other publications, and the issues they supported, and decided I was glad to have dropped my membership.
WND has a good article on just how Left Leaning the AARP really is, and gives some insight as to why they're supporting the "Health Care Reform" bill. Makes interesting reading!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Antenna Maintenance.....

...Is best done when your antennas are down, like mine are right now. My primary HF antenna is a Shakespeare Model 120 Military Antenna. It's a multi-section antenna, with a really stout "Flange Stand-Off Base" that's damn near indestructible. It consists of a Model 120-31, an eight section, 32' stationary antenna, with a Model 120-28 Flange Stand-Off Base. The individual sections are a fiberglass tube with a radiating element inside, and they screw together by means of metal endcaps. Although they're Genuine U.S. Military grade, mine was up in the elements for almost NINE years, and was showing some signs of deterioration when I took it down a few weeks ago. The gelcoat on the elements isn't very thick, and the sun and smog took their toll. It was *almost* beginning to delaminate, and I'm sure the military would have just scrapped it out, and put up a new one. Not wanting to toss something that's still electrically good, I scrubbed the element sections with denatured alcohol to clean off the crud, and then painted them with some Rust-Oleum outdoor paint. I gave them a fairly heavy coat, as I wanted the paint to penetrate into the 'glass, let them dry 48 hours, scuffed them with some ScotchBrite, and gave them another coat. They look pretty good, and as soon as I reinforce our patio roof a bit, I'll put the antenna back up, mount the antenna coupler and a choke balun, and run the cables.
The nice thing about this setup is that you don't have to run all the sections, but can tailor the total length to what frequencies you want to cover. All eight sections gives you 32 feet of antenna, a quarter-wavelength on 40 Meters (7.00-7.300MHz), exactly what you want for long distance ("DX") communications. Five-eights of a wavelength is actually better, but starts getting pretty "floppy" for a vertical antenna made like this one. The bad thing about running all eight sections is that you now have a FULL wavelength on 10 Meters (28.00-30.00MHz), which results in a less-than-optimum radiation pattern, with most of your signal going skyward, rather than out at a "low angle", which gives maximum ground-wave distance, and "Good DX" when your signal bounces off the ionosphere. My solution is to leave off the two bottom sections, which gives me 24', almost the magic "Five Eighths Wavelength" on 10 Meters, while still being completely usable on 40 Meters, although a bit short for best radiation and "Take Off Angle". There *are* times when you want a high take-off angle for regional communications, and I'll get into that (it's called "NVIS") as part of my "Wireless EMCOMMS" series.
What about all those frequency bands in between 40 Meters and 10 Meters? Well, I use an SGC Model 230 "Smartuner" at the base of the antenna, with 4 counterpoise radials cut for each band. This allows me to operate on any frequency I'm licensed for between 7MHz and 30MHz, and I've actually used it at 54MHz, although the tuner isn't rated for that frequency.
SGC has a wealth of information on their website about setting up low-profile or clandestine antennas for those times you really need to be in touch, but don't want your "neighbors" to know you have world-wide shortwave communications available.
I know I could have purchased any one of the various commercially available "All Band" verticals on the market, but the nice thing about using an antenna coupler/matching network (sometimes called an 'antenna tuner', but it doesn't really "tune" the antenna) at the base of a long radiating element is that you don't have the losses associated with the "traps" that are used to separate the various segments of the antenna by frequency, along with worrying if they were made correctly, weatherproofed correctly, and other things.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Remington 1100 TAC4 Mini-Report

Well, now that I've settled in here a bit, I took a day off to do some gunnie stuff. I was curious to see how my new Remington 1100 TAC4 would pattern with the ammo I commonly keep on-hand. I've always admired the 1100, and I finally bought one. The fit and finish are nice, but it's a bit different to load than my 870, requiring you to push in on the carrier release before the carrier itself will swing up, and allow you to push the shells into the magazine. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but for the first time out with it, I was pretty fumbled fingered. This particular gun came with a Hi-Viz front sight, which snaps on just aft of the front bead sight, and has a colored transparent rod in it to give you a "Fiber Optic" effect. It comes with a bunch of different colored rods to suit your mood, I guess. It caught enough of the light in the dimly lit range to be more visible than the bead sight, but out in the shop area, under the store lights, it *really* lit up. It's 100% plastic, so I have my doubts about its durability, but it was a nice touch that Remington included it.
As far as the ammo I used goes, I have some Remington "Green and Yellow Box" ammo part #"12B00", some Federal "Power-Shok" part # "F12700", some Wolf "Power Buckshot" no part # on box, and some Winchester Supreme "High Velocity" part # "SB1200". I also tried some of the "Estate" brand birdshot that we train with at the range, as I'd heard it wouldn't cycle the gun properly. Out of the five Estate shells I fired, two of them stove-piped, and the other three cycled and ejected properly. Except for the birdshot, all ammo was off-the-shelf "00 Buck" loads purchased from Midway or Sportsman's Guide. Nothing special, just plain old "Double Aught Buck". The only surprise was the Winchester High Velocity loads. Man, did they ever KICK! Huge roar, big spout of flame out of the barrel, and the one other guy on the range came down and asked me what in the H3LL I was shooting. The first round of it really caught me off guard, and the barrel wound up at about a 45* angle!
Potent stuff, to say the least.
All targets were placed about "Halfway Down" the range, which is about 25 feet. Probably a bit far for a Home Defense distance, but I wanted them to spread a bit. Since the 1100 TAC4 has changeable choke tubes, I went with what the guys at the range recommended, which is the "Improved Cylinder" tube. I tried to keep my aimpoint at the center of the orange area, and I think I was pretty consistent. The tightest pattern (for THIS gun, on THIS day, with THIS lot number ammo!) was the Federal, which also gave the tightest pattern in my 870 Express. Not sure if that surprises me or not, as if I go back tomorrow, I might get different results. Whatever the case, I feel safe in saying that all the rounds I fired would be acceptable for home defense *as far as accuracy and spread goes*! I don't have a Box 'O Truth to test penetration with, but I *do* agree with him that's it's fun to shoot stuff.
As far as the new target hangers that my friend the Wandering Minstrel has commented about, I didn't have any problem with them. I duct-taped the top edge of the target to some cardboard, and put some duct-tape on the little binder clips (The Original "Bachelor's Chip Clip"!) that grab the target. I think the extra thickness of the cardboard allowed the clip to grab a little more securely, and I'm sure the duct-tape didn't hurt either. I understand why they changed the target hangers, as replacing one used to cost about $50, and now it costs one coat hanger and two small binder clips, but I agree with Minstrel, it just looks El Cheapo, and doesn't anchor the target very well without some kind of backing.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It Can't Happen Here

The SyFy channel was running a "V" marathon tonight, so in between unpacking stuff and moving boxes around, I caught a bunch of it. I really liked the two mini-series when the came out in the early 80's, so I checked out some of the history of the series. The writer of the series claims it was inspired by a 1935 book by Sinclair Lewis, of all people, called "It Can't Happen Here".
If you'd like to read a FREE e-book version of the original Lewis work, you can find it here.
I haven't read it yet, but it looks pretty interesting.
Makes me hope we'll see some of these appearing soon.
Sorry for the sloppy 'air brush' job, but I can't figure out how to make GIMP give me that runny spray-can look.