Saturday, November 17, 2018

Radio Ops From DN70

The Silicon Graybeard had quite a good post about solar activity and some new theories of predicting future solar activity. While his post concerned a new "Maunder Minimum", and it's effects on the weather, I found it interesting in a different way. We're both interested in the subject because of our mutual interest in Amateur Radio. Hams rely on the Propagation of radio signals to talk to each other. The radio waves from the transmitter travel to the Ionosphere, where they reflect back to Earth, usually 800~1500 miles from where they started. Think of the Ionosphere as being a big Radio Mirror In The Sky, and you'll be pretty close. There are actually several layers of the Ionosphere ( the D, E, and F layers) that reflect radio signals, but we'll just lump them all together for simplicity.

But what "polishes" the reflector? What makes these layers capable of reflecting electromagnetic energy of certain wavelengths? Without going into the Physics of what happens, the answer is charged particles, which is the "Ion" part of "Ionosphere".

And where do these charged particles come from? Well, some come from Deep Space, but the great majority come from our own Sun, and the amount is highly variable depending on where we are in the roughly 11-year Solar Cycle (graphic below from Wikipedia).



The largest spike on the chart represents "Cycle 19", a real whopper, which gave us basically 24-hour propagation below 30MHz to almost anywhere in the world. I wasn't involved with radio at the age I was when Cycle 19 happened, but the Old Timers who taught me the code and Theory for my Novice test had tales that today would sound far-fetched. "Arm Chair Copy" between Chicago and Tokyo with 5 Watts to a dipole on 30 MHz was common, and the few guys who were active on 50MHz told us it was almost as good.

In short, when the Sun is in a "Quiet Period", it doesn't produce the flood of charged particles that it does when it's active. No, or few, charged particles to polish up the old Ionosphere, and radio Propagation takes a big fade.

In the time I've been a Ham, I've seen several cycles come and go, and closely followed the predictions about what the upcoming cycle would be. And I've learned to take most "predictions" with a grain of salt. There are so many models and methods used to generate the predictions that all they demonstrate is that nobody really understands the process....yet. The new method in SiG's post is based on taking the "waveform" produced by the recorded observations, and applying Digital Signal Processing techniques to the data. Since the "waveform" of Solar data is definitely periodic in nature, this treating of historic periodic recorded data as a waveform, and using DSP techniques on it, is definitely new to me. Processing a waveform with DSP like this can reveal many things not evident 'by inspection'. DSP is used to literally "Pull signals out of the noise", and you can recover data buried in the noise by many dB, and get useful information from it.

Perhaps it will lead to a better understanding of the Solar Cycle, with better predictions than we have now.


Fast forward to 2018, and a Little Guy Ham station in Northern Colorado.....

One thing I immediately noticed when I first put up an antenna here was how low the background noise level was compared to Long Beach. In Long Beach, my signal strength meter would read about half-scale, a "7" to a "9", with noise. Power line noise, "wall wart" noise, noise from WiFi routers, cheep TV sets, and a multitude of other noise generators. Here in Northern Colorado, with buried power lines and a distinct lack of large industrial facilities, the meter reads about "1", or maybe "2" on noisy days. This means that I'm a LOT more aware of weak signals that were formerly hidden in the noise.

And with reduced solar activity, we have weaker signals to work with. Not much you can do short of putting up a bigger antenna to capture more signal, or make what ever antenna you have more efficient.

Since I like verticals (yeah, I know..they radiate equally poor in all directions), that means optimizing my installation. The 33' vertical I had up for a while really did work "poorly" because I only had 4 ground radials laying on the ground. To be even minimally "optimized", I would have needed something like 64 of them, and that ain't gonna happen!

It was a noisy antenna, and didn't radiate as well as my BuddiPole. When I set this iteration of the BuddiPole up last weekend, it was 90% of what I wanted; The feed point was about 6' above ground, and both radials were also 6' above ground. This isolates the radials from ground-effects, like soil conductivity and dielectric constant, and gets them close to being in the theoretical Free Space environment. The only things I would improve on is getting it up a bit higher, and adding a couple of more radials, even though everything I've read indicates two is fine.

And it's a much quieter antenna compared to the ground-mounted vertical. This leads me to believe that the 33' vertical would work very well if I had it and the radials 8' in the air, very similar to how I had it installed in Long Beach.

Now I just have to figure out what to use, and get it planted.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Veteran's Day (Observed)

First, to all of you who are Vets, Retired, or currently serving, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service, and all the sacrifices you've made.

Thank you ALL!

I was able to contact NI6BB yesterday, and again today, using my "temporary" vertical. Yesterday the contact was later in the afternoon, and propagation wasn't very good, but we did make the contact. Today's contact was earlier in the day, and propagation was much better.

I'm blessed with a MUCH lower background noise level here compared to Long Beach. All the utility wires are buried here, and since there aren't any exposed 4300 Volt (the two wires all by themselves at the very top of your power pole) lines and insulators being bathed with salt air and causing coronal discharges, there's very little "static", or powerline buzz, cracking and popping. Where my signal meter hovered around S-5 to S-6 in Long Beach, about half-scale on the meter, here it's S-1 or S-2, only lighting up the first or second bar on the meter. I still hear "birdies" and other spurious noises caused by the zillions of little "wall wart" switching power supplies, home networking routers, Plasma TV's, and other consumer devices, but it's not a solid "Wall Of Noise" like it was back in SoCal.

In fact, the background is so quiet here that I notice my radio could use an alignment. Things that were covered up in background noise before are now noticeable, and I'm making plans to do a complete re-alignment of my little K2 transceiver. I built it back around 2001~2002, so I've had it quite a while, and it's been dragged hither, tither, and yon since the initial and follow-up alignments were done. I don't let it get banged or bashed around, and keep it securely packed, but still, components drift and change values slightly with age, and I have much better test equipment now than when I first built it.

I think it'll be a nice Winter Workbench Wonder to tinker with on those nights it's too cold to hang out in the garage.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Veteran's Day Radio Ops

So, in anticipation of my buddies at NI6BB onboard the Iowa manning the station all day, I went ahead and set up my BuddiPole in the vertical configuration, and got everything else connected and powered up.

The green stuff wrapped around the feedpoint is stretch wrap, a good way to get some rather temporary but effective weather protection.

The antenna consists of a 15-1/2' vertical radiator, and two 25' radials. The length the radials was determined by a length of 16 ga speaker wire I had laying around. I split it down the center of the two conductors, crimped a lug on each piece, and presto! I had two radials. Technically, they should be a bit shorter (about 1/3 longer than the radiator, per an old rule-of-thumb), but it's not super critical.

The feedpoint is about 6' above ground, and the two radials are also about 6' above ground, so this qualifies as an "Elevated feedpoint with elevated radials", and greatly reduces the "Ground Losses" of radials laying on, or buried in, the ground. To be effective with radials on the ground, you really need quite a large number of them (64 is a good starting point!), which is the main reason why my 33' vertical didn't work so hot with only 4 radials when I had it up.




And while I was out playing with the BuddiPole,  my wife and grandson were out doing some stuff. He gets quite a kick out of playing with the dog, and you can hear him laughing the whole time.





Grandchildren are truly wonderful. Hard to believe he was 10 weeks early, and his Daddy could hold him in his hands.

Here he is 18 months later, running around like you'd expect him to.

 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

It's Official!

Just received notice from the Friendly Candy Company that my vanity callsign has been assigned.

All I did was change the numerical designator from "6" for Kommiefornia to "0" for Colorado.

Hmmm...with the recent "Blue Wave" of insanity that swept my new home state yesterday, maybe I should start spelling it as "Kolorado"?

Nah....just doesn't have the right ring to it.

Anyway, I printed out a reference copy, and now I can send that to the DMV in Denver to get my Amateur Radio plates for the Jeep.

Flat On My Back

For the last 36 hours.

Plugged sinuses, coughing fits every 15 minutes when I lay down, etc, etc, you know the drill.

If I'm not feeling better tomorrow, I'll head over the Urgent Care Clinic my medical provider runs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Election Day

And I won't waste too much ink, too many pixels, or an excessive number of electrons writing about it.

We mailed in our ballots last week, and I don't have a clue about any "Blue Waves", "Red Waves", backlash, or anything else.

We have a critical (to us) Governor's race, and a "Must Not Pass" proposition on the ballot.

The (R) candidate for Governor has been the state treasurer, has a solid record, and has campaigned throughout the state.

The (D) candidate is a rich guy with some questionable business dealings, and has basically only campaigned along the Front Range (Fort Collins to Pueblo), completely ignoring half the state's population.

And we have a proposition that would require a 2500' setback (buffer zone) for oil and gas operations. I haven't read the entire bill, but the gist of it is that it would kill oil and gas production in Colorado.

SO....time to make some popcorn, fire up the tube, and sit back and watch.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Gate

WELL....let's start at the beginning. When we bought the house, the entire fence run on the South side of the house was disintegrating, and needed replacement FAST.


Since the tree guys needed access  to the backyard, we scheduled the fence guy to come out on the same day so he could remove the single gate and posts, opening up the entire short run of fence between the South run and the house.

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the short run with the original single gate. Still kicking myself over that one.

Here's a pic of the tree service truck that was hauling the chipper. The one panel to the immediate left of the truck is an original one. The section running to the left an out of the frame belongs to our neighbor Sara, and she had it replaced while our fence was being rebuilt. You can see how weathered the wood is, and it was cracking and splitting on the pickets and the posts.



SO....during the week or so after we moved in, all the old fence posts had been replaced, new panels installed, and a custom double-wide (14' total; two 7' gates) gate was built and installed.

This is it before the gates were installed. In a reply to Beans in my previous post, I said he used two 4x4 posts at the gates. I goofed; He used a single 4x4 post. I've had my level on the two 4x4 posts you see in the photo below. They're still dead plumb on all four sides, so they've held up.



And when the gate panels were finished and hung, it looked quite nice. Nice and square, and the gates opened easily.



And looking at the back shows it has "good gaps", a car term meaning everything is in alignment, evenly spaced, and square.



One thing you'll notice, is that there's a significant gap at the bottom of the gates. The area seen above had a gravel bed with a cast-in-place concrete border, which runs around the entire yard at the fence line. Sort of like having flower beds along the fence line, but a LOT lower maintenance. Well...the fence guy said "It's a landscaping thing", and the fly-by-night Bozo landscape guy said "Oh, no, it's a GRADING issue, and I don't do that". The gates lead out to a common "drainage area" for our yard and the yard next door. Bozo Landscaping, LLC called it a "swale", and all of the houses I saw growing up in Illinois had them.

Wikipedia has a nice picture of one:



Bringing in two BIG trucks for the tree removal really beat that area up, busting up the nice concrete border and some large pieces of slate that were there, as well as depressing the ground permanently, as seen below.



Fast forward from last November from when the gates were built to the first howling snowstorm we had. Sorry, no pix available as the news crew couldn't get to the site, but it wasn't much snow. It was the 45MPH sustained winds with gusts to 50 that clobbered it.

The latch failed, causing the left side gate as seen above to tear the drop rod out of the ground, and swing full open. Then the wind would shift, and it would slam shut. Why did the latch fail? The buffeting caused by the wind shook the lag bolts loose, and they soon pulled completely out.

I used some 1/2" wide, 48" long cable ties to secure the gates shut, no small feat in a 40MPH wind.

OK...I'll admit it. Right here, at this point, I should have called the original builder and screamed "HELP", and I didn't. My error. BIG mistake. I remember having something else on my mind we were dealing with at the time, but I admit I should have at least called him. I screwed the latch back in, and left it cable-tied shut until we needed it opened again in Spring, at which the young handyman guy straightened it out some, and installed some longer lag bolts.

Then we got clobbered with some Big Spring Winds, sustained 45+MPH with gusts of 65+, and it blew open again. Out came the cable ties until I could figure out what to do.

Yep....should've called the builder again, but I didn't. About this time, the Windbag Bozo Landscape Company offered to fix it, and my wife said to go ahead. He put in a much better latch, and two additional drop rods to anchor the bottom edge better when the gates were closed.

And it worked quite well until I noticed the gate was getting harder and harder to open. I loosened the lag bolts on the hinges while pulling the gate square with a ratchet strap, and the gate leveled out OK, at which point I ran the lags back in. As soon as I released the ratchet, the gate sagged, leading me to believe the holes the lags originally made are now oversize from the battering these 7' gates received from the wind. It was better, but over the summer it's sagged really bad, as seen in the pix below.

 We no longer have "Good Gaps" on this side.




While the other side is fine.



And this is where the two gates meet.



OOOPS! Kinda hard to put my "Katie Bar The Door" (KBTD) kit on here.


From the outside.



So the first order of business is to get the gate leveled again by pulling it straight (I'm going to jack the lower end this time, too, for some stability) as I loosen the lags holding the hinges to the post, then drill through holes for the new hardware, then install same. Then I can put the KBTD kit on it, and hang the "Closed Until Spring" sign on it.

Hardware measurements are completed for this phase, as well as for installing the KBTD kit, and hardware will be purchased tomorrow.

BTW...this is a temporary patch that I made to the gate latch. It's also an example of why you don't use lag screws for something like this. If you look closely, you can see the original mounting holes for the fixed part of the latch just down and to the left of the bolt heads. These are the holes the fixed part was in the last time the latch blew. I moved the fixed part "up and over" a bit, and added flat and split washers to it. It hasn't loosened since I did that last Spring, so it looks like the lock washer helped. Properly installed through hardware should fix the "Moving Hinge; Sagging Gate" issue, and the KBTD kit should mitigate the wind buffeting issue.

And we still have to resolve the landscaping/grading issue.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Oh, Lordy It's WINDY!

And I just hope the gate holds together.

The NWS just issued a Severe Thunderstorm Alert for this area, warning of possible winds in excess of 60MPH. We're just on the far Northern edge of the warning, but the folks in Loveland and Greely look like they might get hit with it.

"The Gate" has been a continuous PITA ever since we had it installed. The builder and I have different definitions of what "Heavy Duty" means, and he didn't take it to heart when I told him I wanted it built "commercial strength, like a corral gate", and he got hinges and a latch that weren't up to the task.

One big boo-boo he did was to mount the hardware using the included lag bolts. The buffeting by the wind loosens the lag bolts, allowing more slop in the gates, meaning the wind batters them even harder, loosening the hardware further and faster, right up until the latch blows apart, and the gates start swinging and banging, requiring some emergency repairs.

You have to use through bolts, preferably galvanized, with flat washers under the bolt head and the nut, along with a lock washer under the nut. That's going to get done in the Spring when I replace the gate hardware.

So for now, thanks to Extexanwannabe, I now have a viable solution.

It's called a "Stake Holder", and is basically a big bracket that you put on either side of a door, and when it's "Katie, Bar The Door!" time you slide a 2x4 through it, and the door is rendered in-op.

Or so it goes in the movies.....





I bought four of them today, and now that I've made a sketch of what I want to do, I can measure the thickness of wood on the fence I'll have to drill through, and know how long of through bolts I'll have to buy.

I have to cleverly position these things to take advantage of the structure that holds the pickets, as the pickets have about as much strength as cardboard, and I don't want to start adding "structure" to the gates. I eyeballed it today for a good 20 minutes and then made a sketch, so tomorrow I'll take a bracket and tape out there, measure how thick the wood is I have to go through, add a fudge factor to that, and I'll go buy the bolts, nuts, flats and split locks, and a couple of good 2x4's, in cedar, if they have them.

Then I'll measure, drill, bolt, and slide in the 2x4's and put a "Closed Until Spring" sign on it.

Just hope the gate holds together tonight.....