Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Morning "Get Yer Feet MOVIN!" Music

If this doesn't do it, maybe you're not among the living anymore!



Just got back from the World Famous W6TRW swap meet.

Got 200' of "550 paracord" for $10

Got 10 clipboards (nice ones) for $10

Bought a bunch of double-banana plugs-to-BNC adapters for $1 each

Bought 500 paper/plastic CD sleeves for $2

AND...bought a very clean Kenwwod R-2000 Communications Receiver for $75, an amazing bargin.



These are good little receivers, and the only thing "wrong" with this one is that the top shell of the case has the paint scratched up pretty badly in one place.

Since various vendors sell the correct color Kenwood paint in spray cans, it'll be a simple matter to pull the case, wash it, hit with my orbital sander, and respray it.

Now to get that antenna raised another 10' and continue with my FUNCube/RTL dongle experiments!

It's a beautiful day here in SoCal. Clear, cool, and there's a bit of snow in the local mountains.

Have a good day, everybody!

Friday, November 29, 2013

NOAA Weather Satellites and "RTL" dongles

This morning I decided to try and hear one of the NOAA "APT" satellites using the eggbeater I got going yesterday. I was going to raise it another 10', and anchor it to the eave, but it was raining all night long, and continued to rain until this afternoon, so I spent the time just using the antenna on a single 10' section of mast.

The NOAA "APT" (Automatic Picture Transmission) satellites have been around since the 1960's, and I used to record the audio from a modified scanner, and then process it with some free software, but I never had a dedicated antenna, so it was more for curiosity than anything useful.

This antenna works very well for receiving them, and they're LOUD! Unfortunately, the HDSDR software I use doesn't have bandwidth settings high enough to accommodate the wide signal the APT satellites use, so when I try and process the resulting audio file, I keep getting "Telemetry Not Found", and the program I use (WXtoImg) doesn't process the audio into a picture.

The SDR# software allows much wider received bandwidth, but by the time I finished messing around with HDSDR, all the high elevation passes were finished for today, so I'll have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to try recording the signal using SDR#.

There's a tutorial on the RTL-SDR webpage on how to use SDR# for APT reception, but I'm a bit hesitant about mucking around with my Virtual Audio Cable settings, as I use those for digital modes with my Flex 5000, and it took quite a while to get them set up correctly. I'm pretty sure I wrote everything down about getting it working with the Flex, but I'll have to go through the binder I keep for the Flex, and make sure I have the settings properly documented before I start trying to use VAC with another program!

Between the two programs, I prefer HDSDR, even though the documentation is scant. It just seems more friendly to use, and if they included some wider filter options for things like the APT satellites, it would be just a killer program to go with your $20 RTL dongle. There's a fairly comprehensive "HOWTO", but it's written for an earlier version. Just ignore some of the screenshots, read the verbiage, and you'll be well on your way to using it effectively.

This is from the first time I tried using it on the NOAA satellites:



And this is a pass of NOAA 18 as it went over:



SatPC32, my satellite tracking program is running in the upper left corner showing where the satellite was when I grabbed this screenshot.

Immediately underneath the waterfall display you can see the spectrum of the satellite transmission. It looks like the bandwidth should be sufficient, BUT, due to my excitement at seeing the signals this strong, I was messing with the settings while recording the audio, resulting in a file the WXtoImg couldn't read.

Sigh......maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Eggbeater Satellite Antenna Istallation and "Dongle" Success!

I spent most of today, up to Dinner Time, that is, refurbishing and installing the M2 Antennas EB-144 "Eggbeater" antenna that I had hanging in the garage rafters, along with one of my "spare" SSB Electronic 2 Meter preamplifiers.


This is the antenna, with the radial kit, after I cleaned it up, treated all the connections with an antioxidant:



I swept it over several frequency ranges, and was amazed at how flat this thing is. I almost thought something was wrong until I went significantly outside of the 2 Meter band, and saw a more "normal" sweep result, looking like a very broadband antenna.

An "Eggbeater" type antenna is, very basically, two vertical loops, rotated 90* to each other, and fed 90* out of phase to produce a circular polarization.

Each loop by itself would have an impedance of about 100 Ohms, and fed in parallel, that gives you 50 Ohms, a good match for commonly available coax.

Since satellite signals are fairly weak, a good low-noise preamplifier, mounted close to the antenna, makes a significant improvement. So, I pulled one of my "spare" preamps off the shelf, and mounted it in a Rubbermaid tote box:



The little box to the lower right corner is a Bias Tee, which I use to extract the DC power for the preamp from the incoming coax. There's a matching one down at the receiver where I insert the power. I usually run a separate cable for the power, but I wanted to try this since I have a bunch of those little AVCOM bias tees around. Yep, that's a good old PL-259 used for a power plug on the preamp!

I made up a cable connecting the antenna to the preamp input with a PL-259 on the antenna end, and a Type-N on the preamp end. Since this is going to be outdoors, I put a large piece of adhesive-lined heat-shrink tubing over the connection at the antenna, and shrunk it down:


After all the cabling was finished and checked, I tilted it up vertically, and cable tied the mast (a section of 1" rigid conduit) to a big aluminum saw horse I have:



Some of my other satellite antenna mounts are slightly visible behind this new one.



Does it work?

Well, for the first time I was actually able to copy two people having a chat on the VO-52 linear transponder satellite!

Looking at the middle panel of the display in the screenshot below, you'll see a red line, with a blue 'band' next to it. The red line is the center frequency, and the blue 'band' is the passband for an SSB conversation.

The top panel shows a "speckled" area, and that's the display of the two Hams I was listening to.

If you look carefully, you'll notice that there's a definite shift downward in frequency as time passes, indicated by the bottom of the display (newest information) being to the LEFT (lower frequency) compared to the top of the display.

This is the Doppler Shift, going LOWER in frequency as the satellite was moving away from me.

The sideways "Vee" to the right of the guys I was listening to is most likely somebody "ditting" their VFO to try and find their own downlink. Since the transponders on linear satellites use differnet uplink and downlink frequencies, most conversations are full-duplex, where you can hear your own signal coming back through the satellite, with a slight delay. Generally what people do is to find a clear frequency to listen on, and transmit a series of "dits" while adjusting the transmitter frequency back and forth until they hear their own signal.





The only other satellite passes that were "good" before I started this post were from FO-29, which has a UHF downlink, and this antenna doesn't work (well, actually the preamp filters everything out) on UHF, so I'm waiting until 0456 UTC for AO-73 to pass over, and maybe I can (finally!) capture some telemetry.

Tomorrow I'm going to raise this antenna to it's more permanent height of 20', and anchor it to the side of the house. The extra ten feet of elevation will get it above the ridgeline of our roof, and should make quite a bit of difference.

Hope y'all had a very Happy Thanksgiving!


WELL.....I didn't hear any telemetry, but I copied W9ND talking to several stations on AO-73, The Satellite Formerly Known As "FUNCUBE-1"!


This time all the activity is on the right side of the top display, and you'll notice (well, some of you will....) a curving, slanted line near the top of the display. This was somebody "swishing" their VFO trying to find themselves, and they "swished" right through the conversation I was listening to, and it was neat to see it even though I've heard it many times when operating satellites.

2110 local time here, and I'm going to hit the rain locker, and then hit the hay.

Good night, all......

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you and your families enjoy the day.

We're having my wife's oldest son over, and I'm going to work on getting the Eggbeater antenna up and operational.

I'm going to redo all the bolted and screwed together connections with some Penetrox, and then weatherproof them with some electronics grade RTV.

Then I'll mount the antenna and preamp on the mast I bought today, and enclose the preamp in a Rubbermaid tote box I picked up.

Hopefully by this time tomorrow I'll have a better antenna installed for the "Dongle" project that I've been reporting on.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"RTL" Dongle with HDSDR

Well, having played with both of the dongles, and most of the available free software, I've come to a few conclusions, so far.

The FUNCube dongles have a restricted bandwidth, with around 80 kHz of useful display.

This is both good, and bad.

It limits you to how much spectrum can be observed at any one time, which makes it easier to spot a signal in the relatively narrow transponder passband of a satellite (50 to 100 kHz, depending on the satellite), but it sucks for using it as an ersatz spectrum analyzer to see what's popping up in the section of spectrum that you want to monitor.

It also helps cut down "image" frequencies as far as I can observe. (It's probably what's called "aliasing" in digital sampling and Digital Signal Processing, but I'm a Radio Guy, so I'm calling it an "Image"!).

It's also NOT enough to decode Broadcast FM Stereo by a long shot, or even Broadcast Mono, if that's important to you, but then it was never designed to do that, so I'm sure not crying about it now that I know the limitation.

The "$20 RTL" dongles do about 2 Mhz of bandwidth (mine does about 2.15 MHz), which makes sense, as they were designed to receive Digital Television signals.

This is almost twenty-seven times the bandwidth!

It receives FM Stereo very nicely using SDR#, and not so well using HDSDR. HDSDR was coded for "Communications" use, so the demodulators, even the "FM Wide" can't cope very well with Broadcast FM.

BUT....it dows a bang-up job of observing a 2 MHz slice of spectrum, as seen in this screenshot:



The display is centered on 162.550 MHz, which is the strongest of the NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts here.

To the left are the other NOAA broadcasts at 162.400, .425, .450, .475, .500, .525, and ,550.

Off to both the left and right, you'll see some broad, blue bands in the waterfall (top) display. From a casual glance, considering their bandwidth (over 100 kHz), I suspect these are FM "images" caused by the poor filtering in the front-end of these little receivers. Somewhere around here I have an FM band-reject filter, and if I can find it, I'll stick it in and see if this goes away.

Almost all the way to the left, you'll see some activity, which turns out to be the railroad frequencies. There's  quite a few "RailFan" websites out there, and some people are fascinated listening to trains. I prefer to listen to aircraft, but to each his own.

Above the NOAA channels are various services listed as "Mobile", but since I don't usually explore this part of the spectrum, I'm not sure what's up there. I just picked this frequency to center on as I knew NOAA was there.

Here's a shot of 2 MHz worth of the FM band out here in L.A.:



And here's what 2 MHz wirth of the 2 Meter Amateur radio band look like:



So, to wrap up tonight's "experiments", I'm getting more comfortable using these little guys, and learning more about each of them, and the different software available for them. They both have their pluses and minuses, as does the software.

I suspect, and I've read, that to get the best performance out of them they both need some front-end filters for whatever band you want to use them for, but then you can say that about almost any receiver made.

More to come......

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fun with my "FUNCube" Dongle

Although I haven't had any success at all trying to receive telemetry from the new AO-73 satellite launched last week, I did manage to hear some activity on AO-7.

My setup is far from ideal, as I'm using my Comet GP-3 vertical antenna, with no preamp.

Here's a screenshot of the FUNCube dongle running under SDR#, and you can see the activity in the waterfall, towards the bottom of the display.:



**UPDATE**
After looking at this, and doing the post, I realized that "signal" couldn't possibly be traffic on the AO-7 transponder.

Why?

NO DOPPLER!  I'm used to my radio being controlled by SatPC32, which automagically tunes the radio to compensate for Doppler Shift in the received signal. Since this little receiver is NOT getting any tuning correction, a real signal would have a display showing a line starting at the right side of the waterfall, drifting down to the left side as the Doppler Shift affected it.

Straight Line = NO Doppler, meaning this signal was terrestrial in nature.

Oh, well........



And here's another screenshot showing approximately where the satellite was as displayed by SatPC32, in the upper left:



Since I have an "unused" M2 2 Meter "eggbeater" antenna out in the garage, and a receive-only 2 Meter preamp, I might just drag it out over the Thanksgiving holiday and stick it up on the "portable" tower I ginned up for Field Day.

I really need to set up a more permanent satellite station here at the house, but the snag with that is running the cables from where the tower sits in the driveway to the house. I need two runs of coax for 2 Meter and 70 centimeter antennas, two rotor cables for the Azimuth and Elevation rotors, and two runs of power cables for the preamps mounted on the antennas. I suppose I could run a single cable out of the house for the preamps, and split it once it gets to the tower, but the major hassle with this is figuring out a way to either run all the cables along the ground (maybe in a PVC pipe?), or else gin up a cable tray arrangement to keep them well above head level until they get close to the house, and then drop them down.

Or perhaps I could get a couple of section of the stuff we use at work when we have to lay cables in areas where people have to walk.



And here's a picture of an "Eggbeater" antenna, just in case you've never seen one. The left one is for VHF (130~150MHz), and the right one is for UHF (400~500MHz):




Our "Former" Dogs In Colorado

The soon-to-be daughter-in-law sent the wife some pix of our "former" dogs in their new environment.

The dark brown one with the "eye patch" and red jacket is Coco, and she absolutely HATED to get her feet wet when it rained out here. She'd go pee or poop on the driveway or sidewalk to avoid walking through the wet grass!

The lighter colored ("Fawn") one in the blue jacket is Diamond, who was the biggest (85 lbs!), most lovable "moose" I ever knew. Always wanted to be a lap dog, but geez....EIGHTY FIVE pounds of her?

Groan.....

And the one at the top left is "Obie", who my step-son picked up as a stray, and kept him where he worked as a "watch dog".

Obie only trusted Michael, and my wife, and Michael's GF Jeanine. For some reason he didn't like me, and would very quietly growl when I tried to pet him. The day he snapped at me was the last time I touched him, a few months before they moved.

Good dogs (except for Obie....), and even though we have two more here, I still miss Coco!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

*REALLY* Out of it Today

Took yesterday off work to go see the Doctor about these headaches I've been having. I *know* I've needed new glasses for some time now (the ones I have are 4+ years old...shame on me!), and finally called my eye Doctor for an appointment a couple of weeks ago.

They scheduled me for a December 27th appointment, so I figured I'd just grin and bear it.

WELL....the headaches were getting worse, to the point that my neck was hurting, and my eyes were watering, and my wife was starting to bug me about going to the Doctor, so I went to the walk-in yesterday.

The Doctor asked a bunch of questions about my 'eye history', did some simple tests, asked some questions, looked at my eyes, ears, nose, and throat (remember "ENT" Doctors?), and said I was probably right, but just to be sure, she called the Neurology Department to see if they could see me. The Doctor over in the other building was free, so I trudged over there, got checked for any easy-to-spot neurological problems, and got scolded for not taking care of my eyes better!

Since my eye care provider is affiliated with my primary medical group, both Doctors sent over a referral marked "Urgent", and requested they get me in ASAP for a full eye exam, and get me fitted for some new glasses.

I'm to give them a call this afternoon after the referral is 'in the system', and see if they can get me in before my scheduled appointment.

And I got a prescription for some muscle relaxants as the severe eye strain was causing spasms in my neck muscles, leading to some pretty stout headaches.

And I think I'll go back to bed for a while.....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

NRA "First Sterps - Pistol" AAR

Well, I assisted in another class today, which included two people I used to work with.

The class went well, and the students were all excellent shots, which is unusual, and we graduated another 12 people.

After the class, my two friends and I went out to the range so they could try various pistols before they decided what to buy.

My former manager was talking "Glock!" all day long, until we got out on the range, and she had the opportunity to load and fire one repeatedly.

Turns out she hated it!

She had a hard time loading the double-stack magazine, and although she shot it very well, she said she just "didn't like it".

Her boyfriend was pretty neutral about the Glock, so I let them try my wife's S&W TRR-8 revolver, which they both loved, praising how easy it was to load (duh....it's a revolver!), how nicely it fit their hands, and how well balanced it was, which are the same reasons I bought it for my wife.

They were firing 38 Special out of it to get used to it, and then we switched to some Fiochhi ammo I had, which are pretty hot loads.

The first couple of BOOMS! were greeted by smiles, but after they'd both fired about 20 rounds each, they were getting tired of the recoil (and concussion....), so we switched to my Kimber 1911.

We spent some time going over the controls and the grip and thumb safeties, and then they took turns firing it.

Surprise, they liked the 1911! They could both load the magazines easily and rapidly, had no problem with the recoil, which they heard was very stout, and just loved the glow-in-the-dark sights it comes with.

Final gun of the day was my SIG P226, in 40 S&W. Again, they didn't like loading the double-stack magazines, and while they could fire it single action quite well, they both had a hard time adjusting to the first shot after using the decocking lever having such a long pull, followed by the second shot being single action. This is the same reason I don't particularly care for the P226, even though I think it's a very fine pistol otherwise.

SO....now that they've had their first class, passed their Kaliforniastan Handgun "Safety" Certificate tests, and fired a number of different '''pistols",what are they going to buy? I don't know, and I don't think they know yet, either. We're planning on some more range time together where I bring the two guns of mine they like the most, and they rent a couple of different types to try.

They both understand that to get proficient with a hand gun requires time on the range learning to use it, and that *whatever* they decide to buy has to fit their hands comfortably, "feel good" to them, be easy to load, easy to operate, and enjoyable to shoot.

I'm looking forward to spending some more time at the range with them, and I'll bring my wife along so the two ladies can discuss guns.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Some Pix of the Batlleship Iowa Comm Center

As promised, here are some pictures I took of "Radio Central" on the Battleship Iowa. Some people call it the Comm Center, some call it the Communications Center, and some call it the Message Center. I'm not sure exactly what the correct terminology is, so we just call it Radio Central........

No, it's not anything like the movies (That's usually the CIC, Or Combat Information Center), and it's really pretty stark. Even up to 1990, when the Iowa was put into the mothball fleet at Suisun Bay for the last time, things were pretty simple. Most of the routine message traffic was handled by Radioteletype, but voice traffic could be routed throughout the ship by the various switchboards located in the Comm Center.

Since ALL message traffic went through this room, it was highly secure, and unless you were the Captain, you'd better have a damn good reason to be in there if you weren't on-duty!

This room had the teletype terminals, a couple of newer CRT-based Data Terminals, all the receivers and teletype demodulators ("Terminal Units"), some test equipment, the patch bays and switchboards, and the "Coke Machine", a large rack painted red that handled secure voice routing.

I'm somewhat familiar with most of the equipment, but don't have a clue (yet!) as to how the switch gear and patch bays tied everything together, although I have a general idea of how it should work.

The transmitters are located down on the third deck, and I haven't made it down there. It's a 'restricted area', mostly due to the fact that few people are down there to help you if Something Bad happened, and to go down there requires you to use the Buddy System, take a walkie talkie, carry a flashlight, and have permission from the Security Department. I'll get down there one of these days, as well as to the area where all our coaxial cables terminate as I have a "Need To Know" how we tie our Amateur Radio equipment into the ship's antenna system. And since I found the antenna cables mislabeled, I think I'll have to walk the entire cable path to see if something got reconnected improperly between when the new Amateur Radio cables were run, and when we started using them.

This is what first greets you as you come in through the starboard hatch:


Dead Ahead are the newer CRT-based Data Terminals, along with their storage units and interfaces. To your right are the "Reperferators" used for making a local copy of received RTTY traffic.

Over to the left are some teletype units:


The Igloo cooler on the desk, and the Astron power supply, are for the radio gear I was using for the event.

And here's my Elecraft and operating position:


With three stations on-the-air simultaneously, the headphones were a must!

This is part of the area aft of the main room where the receivers are located. Some of the receivers are Collins Radio, some are Racal, and some are made by other companies. They're all the same type, and are functionally identical, just made by different manufacturers:


There are two RTTY Tuning Units located in the right hand rack, under the first receiver, located at the top of the rack. These are used to tune the receiver correctly so the RTTY demodulator can decode the signal.

Here's a more head-on view of the rack:


This is a view of the room to the left of the rack. The units with the knobs are part of the switching equipment for routing signals around, and the "Coke Machine" is to the left of them:


The doorway that looks like a large "X" is the entrance to the Server Room that runs all the commercial enterprise stuff that helps keep the Iowa going. Sometime back we had a fuse blow that powered up some of the outlets in the room, and boy did we scramble to get the portable air conditioners back online! It was a very hot day, and the room temp hit 97* before we located the blown fuse, and got the cooling units back online. If the servers would have gone down, the ticketing people would have had to turn visitors away, as one of the servers runs the ticketing services.

This is the "Coke Machine". I'm not sure exactly what it does, but from looking at the buttons and placards on the side, I think it routes secure voice comms around the ship. No need to worry about sensitive equipment falling into hostile hands, as ALL the crypto gear was removed from the ship!


This is the other side of the room, to your back of the first receiver racks. These racks hold more receivers, the preselectors for each receiver, and some audio patch bays for manually patching the receiver audio to various places:

I haven't actually read what's written on the "DANGER" tags, but I think it's more of a warning not to tamper with the way things are currently patched (the ship's intercom works, and is in use) rather than any actual danger, like if the voltages involved here were very high.

This is a test equipment rack to the right of the racks you just saw. The far right side of this rack has more RTTY stuff, but I'm afraid to admit that I've forgotten exactly what those boxes do, even though I used to know! It's been soooo long since I did any RTTY operations that I've forgotten a lot of things!



More switching apparatus for RF and audio signals:



And back out into the main Comm Center. This rack holds more teleprinters, more reperferators, and some "BITE", or "Built In Test Equipment" to monitor the operation of the gear. To the left, on the desk, you can see the Kenwood TS-850 used as the #2 station during the event:


 This is where we operate our newly acquired Kenwood TS-850. The antenna used for this position is a "Trussed Monopole" located behind the #3 turrent, and just forward of the Helo Deck on the fantail.
I can't say enough good things about the TS-850. It was a groundbreaking radio when it first appeared, and still holds it's own today, especially if you modify it a bit with some crystal filters and a narrower "Roofing Filter". Just a fabulous radio:


This is the #3 station we ran. It's an ICOM IC-718, a good little entry level HF radio. This station ran on the other section of the Disc-Cage antenna located on the bow of the ship. Directly behind the radio are a couple of more teleprinters, while on the right are two donated units. The big gray lump is a Model 19 in a noise reducing enclosure, and I don't remember the model number of the smaller beige/tan one. I do remember they were in use at Western Electric when I worked there in 1971. I had a Model 19 in high-school, but ti was so loud that my parents would only let me run it until 9PM, then lights out!



 This rack has some other "newer" equipment, some of the earl CRT-based Data terminals, along with their support equipment. I know very little about this gear, but I'm sure I'll learn more about it:



And it has the iconic "Battle Short" switches on it:


An alarm panel in the room:


This is an area under construction outside the port hatch of the Comm Center. It had been for berthing at one time, but I think I was told it's going to be converted into an office for some of the staff:


And speaking of berthing, here's one of the berthing areas:


At least the crew didn't have to hot rack, like the submariners did.



This looking down the passageway to the stern from the Comm Center. One thing you have to get used to on the Iowa is how small the "doorways" are. I'm used to working on a ship, so I know enough to ALWAYS pick my feet up when going over a transom, but I can hardly imagine all of the ship's crew scrambling, two-at-a-time, going different directions, through these when "General Quarters" was sounded:


Here's a shot of the activities going on during the "Veteran's Appreciation" celebration. The band was just getting tuned-up:



Looking aft towards the stern brow:


The USMC Recruiter's Booth.

SEMPER FI!



Some exhibits from the Fort MacArthur guys were there. The middle vehicle was a half-track with Quad 50's on it. One of these saved my Dad's life in the Pacfic during WWII. He and some of his fellow SeaBees were pinned down by a Japanese sniper in a tree, and as the Quad 50 was rolling by they flagged him down, and told him what was going on.

A minute later the top of the tree, and the sniper, were gone:



The band:



The VA was there to assist any veteran's in need of help (I hope....):



I would have taken more pictures of the exhibits, but I was pretty busy doing radio operations, answering questions, and having a good time. One of these times when I go down to help with some other things I'm honored to help with, I'll take the camera again and get some more "behind the scenes" pix!

MINOR UPDATE:

One of the things I forgot to mention were the two gentlemen I got to meet.

One had been a Radio Officer on the Iowa during the Korean War, and was piped aboard, and brought to the Comm Center to see his old stomping ground. He was quite a guy, and explained some of the things the equipment was used for to us youngsters. He also explained how things had changed during the 1980's modernization of the Iowa, was quite happy to see that the two antennas we were using were still in good repair, and were working quite well.

The other gentleman I met while ordering lunch from one of the trucks in the "food court". He was with one of the other Iowa staff who I vaguely knew, and the staff member complimented us on getting the Iowa "On The Air", and talking to other museum ships. Now that we've got the antennas squared away, we're putting out quite a Big Signal, even running only 100 Watts output.

The Veteran he was with had been a Fire Control Officer on the Iowa during WWII, and kept us fascinated during lunch with his stories. I remember when I was little, and even when I was older, that when I tried to talk with my Dad about WWII, he didn't really want to talk about it. I'd get him started on something and he'd be telling about his travels through the South Pacific, and then he'd just clam up. and wouldn't talk about it. Maybe the passage of time has healed certain wounds, or maybe my Dad saw very different things that the gentleman I had the honor of having lunch with, but he told us some great stories about being at sea, and in combat, aboard the Iowa during WWII. How the ship reacted when the great Naval Rifles were fired, how the enemy shells sounded when they passed overhead, how the 40mm and 20mm AA guns put up a wall of steel and lead that enemy aircraft could barely penetrate, and general life aboard ship during wartime.

Every time I meet one of these men, I'm just awestruck by them. They were "just" ordinary men as they all like to say, doing extraordinary things during extraordinary times. Their country called them, and they responded, and did a magnificent job.

They truly are The Greatest Generation, and should be an inspiration to us all.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Veteran's Day and Other Ruminations

And my sincerest apologies for not posting my thanks on time for all you've done for us.

I would have posted something from work, but TPTB have blocked so many websites that they've basically crippled the Internet for 'normal' use.

ANY and ALL "Online Community" sites have been blocked (like blogger) as well as numerous other technical forums I visit when I need to find out information.

And these policies will be in effect when we're out at sea, severely limiting our after-hours activities.

One of the sites they've blocked is eBay, and since so much of our equipment is old, obsolete, and no longer supported by the OEM, we're forced (or were...) to find replacement units and parts on eBay.

I saved over $3500 by buying bits and pieces for the CCTV "remodel" I just finished, and over the last several years since the company came out of Chapter 11, I saved them well over $25,000 buying equipment, connectors, cable, and other items on eBay.

Yes, I know sometimes it's cheaper to buy things from other vendors than to buy them on eBay, and I always check a variety of sources before I buy something.

The eBay block was supposedly lifted last week, but we still can't access the site.

And they're not too concerned about it, despite the requests from at least ten of us, who gave them written proof of the money we've saved.

This is definitely going to have a severe impact on at-sea morale, as there's only so much to do after-hours (OT is severely restricted, so there's a LOT of "after hours" time), and free access to the Internet made the grind of being out on a launch mission more bearable.

Guess I'll have to buy a book on scrimshaw or knot tying to take with me.....

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Great Time On The Iowa Today

And I'm beeeeeat!

We worked several hundred stations, including the Battleship Wisconsin, the carrier Hornet, and the submarine Pampanito.

I spent about an hour on 40 Meters with the Hornet, talking to Scouts who were working on their Radio Merit Badges, and needed some "air time" to fulfill one of the badge requirements.

Took some pix of the event, which I'll post tomorrow, and I figured out why our Disc-Cage antenna hasn't been working to our expectations after the new cables were run, and all the multicouplers were checked.

The two cables were labeled backwards!

The cable marked "4~10MHz" was swapped with the cable marked "10~30MHz", leading us to use the wrong antenna for the frequencies we wanted to operate on.

I wanted to sweep the two sections of the antenna with my RigExpert AA-520 so I could see how well it compared to whatever gear the guys that ran the new cables swept it with. I swept one section of it, and having the results look completely wrong, swept the other section and compared the two graphs.

As soon as I looked at the graphs side-by-side, it smacked me like the proverbial two-by-four up the side of the head that the results were opposite what the labels on the two cables would lead you to believe.

Oh, well.....the only people that actually operate radio gear on this antenna have been informed, and I printed some new labels, with the date on them, that I'll install on the cables the next time I'm aboard the Iowa.

G'night, all......

Friday, November 8, 2013

Busy Day Saturday On The Battleship IOWA!

I'm going to be on the Battleship Iowa all day Saturday to operate the the Amateur radio station we'll set up for the Iowa's "Veterans Appreciation" celebration.

There's going to be a food court, live music, and stuff for the kiddies to do.

If you're active, or retired military, you can get on fro FREE with your ID card or DD-214, so if you're in SoCal, cmon down!

Look for NI6BB on frequencies ending in "61" on the HF bands. We still don't have the VHF/UHF antennas connected, as when they pulled the mast for storage, they torched ( ! ) the cables.

The guys from the Midway radio club will be coming up one of these days to help us reconnect them, and then we'll have a MARS digipeater set up on 2 Meters.

And yes, I'll be taking my camera this time!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Yet Another Post About SDR Using A $20 "RTL" Dongle

There's been a lot of chatter on various blogs and forums about using the $20 "SDR-RTL" dongles for wide-band receivers. For $20, and FREE software, you can hardly go wrong, as long as you keep in mind some of the limitations on these little guys, such as dynamic range, about 50 dB compared to 80~100dB for a "real" receiver, and selectivity. Their sensitivity is more than enough for casual use, and they're really amazing for $20.

These little guys plug in to, and are powered by your PC's USB port, have an antenna connector on the other end, and were originally designed to receive DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial) television signals in countries outside the US. See the article "What Is DVB-T" for more info.

The basic structure of the dongle is a tuner, followed by a detector, usually a Quadrature Sampling Detector, which acts as an Analog-to-Digital converter. The most popular ones use an Elonics E400 tuner (favored because it has the widest tuning range, 52~2200MHz, with a gap between 1100~1250MHz), followed by a Realtek RTL2382U QSD/ADC/USB "Data Pump", which outputs 8-bit I and Q samples to your PC, where the software does it's magic, and out comes audio.

If you live in an area with LOTS of strong AM, FM, and Paging Systems, you might want to look into some filters (more correctly called "Preselectors") to put between the antenna and dongle to prevent the "front end" of the little radio from being overloaded with strong signals.

The dongle I bought from "nooelec" on eBay, and the two software packages I've been experimenting with are Gqrx for Linux, and SDR# for Windows.

From the little bit of experimenting I've been doing, the "best" settings for running these with SDR# seems to be with the RF Gain control set to minimum (-1dB), and the  "RTL AGC" box checked. These settings are reached by using the "Configure" button just to the left od the frequency display.

Here's a screenshot using one of the $20 USB dongles you can buy on ebay, connected to the Discone antenna I use for my scanner, and running under Gqrx on my Linux PC.


The little "radio" is tuned to a local FM radio station, KLOS, on 95.5 MHz.


I've run this same dongle with both packages, and here's a screenshot of the dongle running under SDR# on my Windows 7 machine.



Both programs are displaying the same 2MHz swath of spectrum. The Windows program has more adjustments in terms of what types of filters, sampling rates, and noise reduction is used.

I've also used it with HDSDR, but that program seems to be more suited to "Communications Quality" audio, and although it has a TON of adjustable "stuff" to play with, I couldn't figure out how to get the bandwidth high enough for Broadcast FM.



For the more "hardcore" Linux users there's Linrad, and if you're really a masochist, you can get GNURadio, which I've never been able to figure out, as it's more configurable than EMACS!

I also have a FUNCube Pro dongle, which has since been replaced by the FUNCube Pro+ version. These are much higher quality, with a much wider tuning range, and at a much higher price, currently about $201, depending on the exchange rate with Great Britain.

SO, if you're interested in using one of these for a receiver, you can't hardly go wrong for $20, and some FREE software. They won't replace a good communications receiver, or a scanner, but you can have a lot of fun experimenting with them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Huge Meteor Seen In The Southwest U.S. **UPDATED**

Reports just coming in on my scanner from Police and news crews.

This is probably from the Leonids Shower which occurs around this time of year.

CORRECTION: The people at the Griffith Park Observatory report that it was from the Southern Taurids, which is associated with the Comet Encke.

More at the L.A. Times website.



I'd fire up my FlexRadio Systems SDR and listen on 6 Meters for some pings, but I'm either too tired, or just lazy tonight.......


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Little Humor

From one of my mailing list buddies that I used to work with at Hughes Aircraft.




My God....is that one scary looking woman, or what.....