Monday, April 29, 2019

30* and Snowing

Quite a change from yesterday's 74 and sunny!

It started snowing here around 1100, and when the grandson came downstairs from his nap, he looked out the window and said "SNOOOOOW!!!".

Glad I put plastic buckets over the new plants yesterday. Hopefully the buckets will provide some protection for the little plants. I suggested to my wife that maybe she should wait until after Mother's Day to plant, like everyone else here does, and she replied "Oh, Winter's OVER! We won't have any more snow".

Famous last words.....

Have a good week, wherever you are.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sunday Morning "Excitment".....

Not sure what else to call it when you see a brigade of firetrucks screaming into your neighborhood...

My wife wondered what all the fire trucks were doing, so since she twisted her knee, I turned on my scanner and walked down the street.

There were five fire trucks, three Suburbans, two ambulances,, and firemen everywhere. The house had ladders up to the second story on three sides of the house, and firemen were scrambling up and down them with hoses, axes, and other fire fighting tools.

The scanner locked on to the Poudre Fire Authority channel, and I found out one of their solar panels failed, caught fire, and set the roof on fire. Our neighbor's kids right across the street were outside playing in their backyard, saw the smoke, told their Mom, who called the homeowners, who looked outside and immediately dialed 911.

Seeing that Fire Station #4 is less than a mile away, I'm sure they were here PRONTO.

From what I heard on the scanner, the fire was contained to just the roof, and burned a hole about 6"x12" through the roof. The firemen reported very minor smoke and water damage to the attic and ceiling, and they used big fans to clear the house.

So no major damage, NO injuries, and kudos to the kids who spotted it, and told their Mom, who called the neighbors.

And three cheers to the Poudre Fire Authority for their rapid response, and excellent job in striking the fire.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Car Audio/Nav Update

Well, after soldering up the new harness, I got ready to install the radio this morning, but had a few checks to make before I went ahead and screwed it into the dashboard.

But let me back up and fill you in on what happened.

A month or so ago I went to a Hagerty Driver's Club event at the Scuderia Rampante in Erie, Colorado. The morning was cold, and the car radio was being really wonky about playing anything from the USB stick, and when I pulled the stick out of the socket, the radio reset, and then shut down ( ! ), causing me to have to pull off the road and try to get it going again. It finally turned on, but just sat there mute, so I sighed and continued on my trip. Sometime later it finished booting up, and started to work normally. Then the day we went to DIA to pick up my wife's friend, I started the car, and NO radio. Nothing.

Checked all the fuses, pulled the unit from the dash and reseated all the connectors and nada. So I coughed up the $$ for a demo unit that was a floor display at a stereo place. And of course, none of the connectors are the same, so down to the basement to make things match up. I also corrected some (*GASP!*) wiring and installation errors that I'd made during the original installation. I was bypassing the OEM 80W/channel amplifier, and I had a couple of speaker wires crossed up, so the new harness has been triple checked.

Last night I got out a power supply, and connected the old radio and the new radio to see if I could power them up. The new radio was very poorly packed, and I had doubts if it survived the trip, so I wanted to check it out. I connected the old radio first, and powered up just fine! Must be a problem with the car, then. The radio had the blinking 'standby' light before, indicating it was getting "12 Volts, Always On" which retains the memory, but was 'dead' when you tried to power it up. The signs pointed to either a bad fuse (there are two for the radio), a bad connection, or a bad wire. The new radio also powered up just fine and checked out, so at least I had two known, "good" radios.

This morning I checked all the fuses again, going so far as to remove them, visually inspect them, and continuity check them with my Ohmmeter. All were fine. So I shot the dice, and continued with the installation. Then I disconnected the battery and waited the prerequisite 15 minutes for the "System Capacitor" to discharge, and took the airbag off the steering wheel. I had to do this to replace the two back-of-wheel switches that control the radio, one of which failed a couple of years ago. It would only tune the radio going down in frequency, instead of tuning both ways, but it worked so I let it slide. When I bought the replacement switch for the left side (tuning control) I also bought one for the right side (volume up/down), so since I had it apart, I replaced both of them.

Then I neatened up the bundle of wires on the back of the new radio, and installed it in the dash. Reconnected the battery, and wonder of wonders, it worked! At this point all I can think of is that disconnecting the battery for a couple of hours reset something in a Power Control Module somewhere, or perhaps just pulling and reinserting the fuses did it. All the fuses were in physically excellent condition, and had silicone grease on the contact blades. The Jeep forums have mentioned disconnecting the battery to cure a variety of ills in the WK series of Grand Cherokees, with great success, so maybe that was it.

So it's a mystery for now, but it works, and I have a radio and navigation system again.

AND a nice, clean, used Kenwood DNX771HD to put on eBay.....

Thursday, April 25, 2019

First World Problems.....

OMG!! My car stereo/navigation unit died! It's so UNFAIR! How will I get to my pilates class without soothing music-to-drive-by? How will I find my around without my GPS!?!


Yeah, my damn Kenwood took a dump and went casters up. And of course, the replacement unit has a different connector, so I yanked everything out of the dash the other day, and took my custom wiring harness down to the basement, cut it apart, and I'm busy getting the harness for the new radio integrated into my existing harness. The reason it's a little more complicated than just swapping out the radio is that I have a little iDatalink Maestro unit between the radio and the vehicle wiring harness. The little box lets me use my steering wheel controls to run the radio so I don't have to reach over and tap the screen icons to do things like change the volume, or tune to a different station.

My wife keeps telling me how well I'm taking these little setbacks, like having to fix the car, the mis-steps and side tracks of getting a 'permanent' antenna up, and a host of other things.

All I have to do is look at her, the house, the neighborhood, and the dog, and realize how blessed we are to live here, and I just smile.

"First World Problems", indeed.....

Monday, April 22, 2019

44* and Drizzling.....

Which is slightly better than yesterday, when it was 44* and raining.

So it's a good day to stay inside (no antenna work), hang out with the dog, and not do much of anything.

Had a wonderful Easter Sunday, with all the clan gathered, the BBQ cranking away cooking some carnitas my stepson marinated for a couple of days, and all The Little Ones running around in this big place doing kid stuff and looking for all the hidden "Easter Eggs" with little goodies hidden inside.

Tired kiddies at the end of The Great Hunt.....

Seeing these three going about their 'kid business' is it's own Celebration of Life, and a reminder that even after all us Old Fogies pass on, there will be others to carry the flame for us, as long as we raise them right.

And I think I'll brew up another cuppa, and head down to the workshop to tinker away what's left of this gloomy, drizzly day.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Raising of the Feedpoint

Kind of appropriate that I'm talking about "Raising" things on Holy Saturday.....

We'll be having The Clan and The Little Ones tomorrow for Easter, so probably no blogging until late Sunday night.

Since a Golden Rule of antennas is to Get Them As High As You Can, I spent some time today adding another section of mast, and sliding the balun assembly up towards the top of the mast, eliminating most of the downlead from the wire to the balun. This raised the feedpoint (where the antenna starts) from about 6', up to about 14'. When the new post gets planted, I'll move these three sections of mast to the new pole, raising the top of the mast to about 20'.

I don't know if eliminating ~3' of downlead does much, but it lets me get almost all of the wire stretched out in a straight line.

And I even ran the counterpoise radials straighter this time.

By the time the "final" version of this gets on-the-air, I should be quite good at it!

This today's plot:

And this is before I raised the feedpoint:

And I ordered some slide together aluminum tubing and a mount from DX Engineering. I'll be building a 'permanent' version of the 20 Meter vertical to mount to the fence, so I can clean up and stow my BuddiStick and tripod back in their bags.

Hope you all have a very happy and Blessed Easter!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Mark-I" 88' Wire Antenna Improvements

Spent the last two days "Prunin' and Tunin'" on this spin of the antenna, and I think it's about as good as it's going to get.

After looking at the data I collected, and seeing what was going on, I decided to go back to the full 88' length. This gives away some of the nice match it had on 15 Meters (21MHz), but improved it on 20 Meters (14MHz). The match on 40 Meters (7MHz) and 75 Meters (3.5MHz) is still far enough from 50 Ohms that I don't think I'll be able to transmit into it with this radio, but I can live with that for now. The final spin of this antenna will have an autocoupler at the feedpoint, providing a nice 50 Ohm match on all frequencies I intend to use. But for now, I'm getting my feet wet (again) with wire antennas of the non-resonant type. The only other time I've done this, has been with an autocoupler at the feedpoint, and since the radio always saw 50 Ohms, and I didn't own a graphical antenna analyzer, I couldn't measure what the wire by itself looked like, so I didn't care about it. I just put up as much wire as high as I could, and connected it to the SGC-230 autocoupler. So this has been an interesting learning experience, and a good source of exercise the last few days.

Final configuration for the "Mark-I" is:

88' wire, #14 gauge

9:1 balun at feedpoint

4 counterpoise/radial wires. Two are 100' long and six feet above the ground, and two are 50' long, about 2'~3' above the ground. The top ones are mounted to the fence pickets by threading them around every 5th picket or so, and the lower ones in the back run along the mid-height fence stringer, and the North ones are stapled to the fence. Going from two, 50' radials to four 50' radials, and then lengthening the top ones to 100' didn't change the shape of the curve very much, but dropped the curve down, resulting in a better match over the entire frequency range.

Here's the graph of the 'final' Mark-I version.

This would be a very good antenna to use with my little Elecraft K2, as the Elecraft KAT-100 "tuner" can easily match up to a 10:1 mismatch. The big Yaesu can only handle 3:1, so I'm stuck on 20 Meters and above.

For now.....

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

88' "Mark-I" Antenna Swept Measurements

Now that the wife's friend has returned to SoCal, I can *really* jump back into this wire antenna project.

As I noted last night, this thing has "ears", especially below 20 Meters (14MHz), which is going to be very useful during the Sunspot minimum that's going on right now. And it's also quieter than the vertical ("Vertical Antennas Pick Up More Noise"), which gives me some S/N ratio improvement, always a Good Thing.

This is a sweep of the antenna's VSWR from 3.5MHz to 28.550MHz at the OEM 88' length.

And this is a sweep with the length reduced to 84'.

They look very similar, but notice that the "peaks and valleys" have all moved to the right. This is consistent with a shorter length wire even though this is not a resonant antenna.

The blue vertical lines correspond to the frequencies of the US Amateur Radio bands, which is where I'm allowed to transmit. The left vertical scale is "VSWR", a ratio of applied ("Forward") power to reflected ("Reverse") power, an indication of how well the load is matched to the source. Please observe that this plot has nothing to do with where this antenna resonates. All this plot does is indicate how this antenna compares to a 50 Ohm matched load. A Dummy Load (sometimes called a "Dummy Antenna") would have a perfect 1:1 match from "DC-to-Daylight", and would appear as a flat line on the graph.

Here's what one of my dummy loads looks like:

See the green line at the bottom? VERY low VSWR, indicating an excellent impedance  match, which is why Dummy Loads are very useful for test purposes.

I'm not a guy who obsesses over getting the mythical 1:1 match. It never happens in the real world anyway, except maybe at ONE frequency, so it's not Real World to do that. I'm concerned with the areas below the 3:1 line, and what those frequencies are. This  transmitter will not function properly with a mismatch greater than a bit over 3:1, and dials the power back to a few watts to protect itself. Anything I can do to make the mismatch lower than 3:1 in the frequency bands I use (the blue vertical bars), is a truly great and wondrous thing.

So I futzed around all day shortening the antenna, adding two more counterpoise wires, making measurements and then doubling the length to 100' on the top two counterpoise wires, and taking the measurements again. Had to lengthen the rope at the far end, as shortening the antenna means a longer support rope, and I want enough rope to have the antenna completely slack on the ground, with another 10'. I was getting ready to tie on some more rope, I let got of the existing rope without having the free end tied off. Faster than I could catch it, the antenna dropped the rest of the way to the ground, pulling the support rope completely out of the pulley, and I watched the loose end of it fall to Earth.

GROAN.....had to drop the mast to rethread a new longer rope through the pulley, wasting a bunch of time due to my oversight about using enough rope the other day when I put this up. Oh, well.....beautiful day outside to do this stuff, and dog and I spent time playing ball and chasing wires and the errant squirrel around the yard.

I'll do a "Round 2" post detailing some changes I made today that improved things a bit. I think I see what's happening with the changes I made, and they're right in line with what I know about antennas.

But it looks like 75 Meters (3.5MHz) and 40 Meters (7MHz) will remain out of reach with this configuration, and this tuner in this radio.

Which is precisely why I need to get the SGC autocoupler mounted at the feedpoint.

Monday, April 15, 2019

88' Antenna, "Mark-I" Version

Desperately itching for an antenna that covers more than one band, and with progress on the "final" version of this antenna moving slowly, I bought a premade 88' end-fed antenna from a couple of weeks ago. This is one of the 'commercial' end-fed antennas that uses a 9:1 Balun (balanced-to-unbalanced) transformer at the feedpoint to tame the impedance characteristics of a typical non-resonant end-fed antenna.

This afternoon I put my rear-in-gear and installed it using one of the end mounts for the "ultimate" version that's in-work.

This is the feed end , mounted to the newest picket I could find. It's pretty solid, and I have the lower end of the 10' of mast resting on the ground, vs bolting the mast "as high as I could" to the picket.

The feed point is roughly 10' above the ground now. When the new 4x4 post gets set, that mast will be mounted much further up the post, which will raise the feedpoint to 15'.

This is a nicely built antenna, using good quality "kinkless" wire, and (mostly) stainless steel hardware. Reasonably priced at $75, and Made In The USA.

The coaxial cable running to the radio in the large black cable running vertically, the antenna starts at the stud on the right side of the box, and the counterpoise wires are the white wires at the bottom.

 I solved the "How do I attach the counterpoise to the fence?" by threading them through the pickets every so often.

This one turns the corner at the fence, and continues along the back fence.

This one runs away from the antenna about 65. I could easily get 100' leads on the fence, as there's another 25' of fence past what looks like a gate.

The middle of the wire was guyed to the stump of the cottonwood tree we cut down when we moved in here. It's about 17' in the air. This is the tree I want to bore a hole into the top of, and insert a 10' mast. This would get the center about 25' high.

Nothing fancy, just a big screw eye threaded into a pilot hole drilled in the trunk. The "loop" holding the wire is made from Dacron antenna support rope. Hard to see in the picture, but there's several inches of clearance between the wire and the tree.

And the far end uses a mast bolted to the 4x4 fence post. The tension line from the end of the wire goes through a pulley on another loop of Dacron rope mounted at the top of the mast.

And the tension rope is tied off to a cleat. Eventually I'd like to put a counterweight mechanism on the rope to allow the antenna to sway, but this got it in the air today.

The coax runs down the mast, and then follows the fence towards the house.

It gets to to where the patio starts, turns, and runs across the gravel area.

Goes under the steps, and off to your right where the entrance box will be.

For now, I'm just using a jumper of RG-8X coax, same as I use on the BuddiStick, to run into the house. I have a multiposition coax switch so I can switch between the two antennas and compare signal strengths.

So how does it work? I haven't swept it yet and plotted the results, but first impressions are good. On 20 Meters (14MHz), sometimes it's better, and sometimes not, compared to the vertical, and depending on where the signal is coming from. But it's noticeably quieter than the vertical, and that by itself is nice.

On 75 Meters (3.8MHz) the difference is astounding. Signals that are S3 to S5 on the vertical jump to S7 to S9, which is something in excess of a 20dB improvement.

Ah, but there's a fly in the ointment, as always. Since the 'tuner' in the FT-1000D can only match up to a 3:1 VSWR, I can't get the radio to load on 75 Meters (3.5MHz) where the match is about 6:1. The radio tries to match it, and gives up.

I haven't tried this antenna on 40 Meters (7MHz) as the radio has a problem on that band.

So, I'll sweep the antenna on Wednesday, see what and where the reactance flips and flops, and probably wind up taking a few feet off the length. My Wire Antenna Guru warned me that 88' can cause some strange effects, and 84' might be better. We expected some issues on 15 Meters (21MHz), but not on 75.

I'm also considering adding the other two pre-cut counterpoise wires I have. When it comes to counterpoise wires and ground radials, more is generally better.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Coaxial Cable Entrance Box

Since the wife is off entertaining her visiting friend, and it's too soggy in the backyard to do much right now, I've been tinkering out in the garage addressing a few items on the "88' Antenna Project" list.

One of which is an "Entrance Box" for the coaxial cable and power/control cable for the SGC-230 autocoupler. Getting cables in and out of a residence can be a tricky thing. Getting them in and out properly, while looking "acceptable", can take a bit more doing. The installation has to be weather proof, and critter proof. I'm going with two 8x8x4 outdoor-rated, plastic electrical boxes. They'll be mounted back-to-back, one inside, one outside, and will give me access to the cables I need, with some "room to grow" in the boxes.

Here's the outside one taking shape.

The box-within-the-box contains a large ferrite core with ten turns of RG-400 teflon coax wound on it, connected to an SO-239 jack. Basically a big honkin' inductance in series with the coax to block any RF currents on the shield of the coax, and keep RF outside the house. There's a 90* adapter on the output jack at the top, and that will be connected via a coax jumper to a long bulkhead feedthrough connector like you see at the bottom of the picture, which will pass through the wall to the inside box.

Since this is a plastic box, I'm using a large stainless steel fender washer as a reinforcement where the bulkhead connector passes through. There's another one that'll be going on the inside of the box after I cut down one side of it. If you look at the bottom edge of the washer, you can see some of it hangs below the edge of the box. That's about how much I have to trim off the other one so it fits in the box. I suppose I could have spaced the isolation choke higher, but I wanted it mounted flat.

The mating box mounted on the inside of the house will have a bulkhead jack on one side of it, and a small cable for power to the SGC coming out. All I have to do to 'safe' the radio is disconnect those two, and we're isolated from the antennas in stormy weather. Both have gasketed lids, and I'll be packing the outside one with Styrofoam for some extra insulation.

These are advertised as "paintable with regular house paint", so we'll paint the outside one to match the siding, and the inside one to match the walls.

So these meet both the Electrical and Wife Criteria, and should work nicely.

And say hello to the newest Radio Stray to take up residence at "Zarkov's Radio Ranch".

It's a little Yaesu FRG-100 General Coverage shortwave receiver in pretty "meh" condition. You should have seen it before the preliminary cleaning I gave it! It was advertised as "Non working because I don't have a power supply for it", so I'm assuming the worst. BUT....seeing as it uses a really oddball DC power connector that even I don't have, I'm temped to believe him. Even if it's mostly toast, I'm only out a little over $40, depending on what's salvageable. If it works, then I'll do a major clean and spit shine on it, as these are quite decent little radios.

Quick update.....I connected the little Yaesu to my power supply with a pair of clip leads, and it works. All the functions work normally, so after a good scrubbing, this little guy will either go on the shelf, or back on eBay, where functional units like this bring ~$200. Not bad for a $40 'investment'.....

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

30* and Snowing

Quite a change from yesterday when it was 75* and sunny!

My "patio table snow gauge" shows about 4" so far. The ladder up against the tree is so I can get up there and bore the hole for the center mast of the 88' wire antenna. NOT on the schedule today!

And it looks like the trash truck has been by, so time to go brush the cans off and wheel them back into the garage.

The high today was about 45* at 0900, and it's been dropping since then. Expected lows are in the low 20's for the next few nights, with daytime highs in the low to mid 40's.

Be a nice night to crank up the fireplace, pop a DVD into the player, and relax.....

Monday, April 8, 2019

Construction Delayed Due To Spring Cleaning

The wife is having a friend of hers visit for a week, so I agreed to 'stop work' on the antenna after the weekend so I could help with the cleaning required before her friend gets here. I haven't completely stopped, but from outward appearances I'm doin' the Homeowner Thing.

Scrubbed all four bathrooms today; toilets, mirrors, and vanity tops all sparkle. Swept and mopped the floors, too!

Then I proceeded to check the wattage of the light bulbs in the kitchen ceiling fixtures so I could see what was in there, and put in some brighter ones per the wife's request.
10 minute job, right?


Instead of getting my ladder out, I used one of those "light bulb grabbers" on a pole to unscrew the bulb. WELL......the bulb didn't unscrew, the fixture did. Just came plumb apart before my very eyes, it did! I was astonished that someone could have put the fixture together so poorly that the torque requirements to remove a stinking light bulb overwhelmed the prevailing torque of the various screwed together parts of the fixture.

Then I remembered where I was, and started laughing. Every.Single.Thing the previous home owners touched is screwed up. Curtain rod hangers too close together resulting in curtains with huge gaps (and light leaks) to the window sides, towel racks held to the walls with spit-and-spackle, toilet paper holders that ripped out of the wall when you tugged on the roll a little too hard (happened to the wife), and other misadventures of a flip gone wrong.

At least all they touched was cosmetic stuff. Very annoying, but *zero* safety hazards that I've found.

And since we have The Little Guy from early Sunday afternoon to late Monday afternoon, much time was spent pulling his Little Red Wagon around the cul-de-sac, playing with Pebbles in the back yard, and seeing him do his best "WHOA!" when he saw something new out in the garage. We then spent quite some time explaining all the things he pointed at and said "Whazz Dat?". He was bit upset that gramma's car was parked in the driveway instead of the garage, but since it made his wagon (and the stroller) much easier to get out, he pretty much let it slide.

Talked to neighbor about using the auger to bore the hole for the new post that'll be both the end mast and autocoupler mount, and he agreed it was one of those "D'OH!" decisions that we both overlooked until faced with the Magic Disintegrating Fence. And while the post is in the garage, I'll drill some pilot hols for the hardware I'll be using to mount the mast and the coupler box.

And I lucked out and found a Yaesu SP-5 speaker.

This is the "matching" speaker for the FT-1000 and 1000D radios, and looks much nicer than the Palstar I bought to use with the K2. The Palstar didn't work very well with the Yaesu. I had to run the AF Gain (volume) at about 90% or greater to get a decent sound level out of it. If I had the headphones at a comfortable level and pulled them out, you could barely hear the speaker. Very disappointing.

The Yaesu speaker has switchable filters, consisting of capacitors and inductors, allowing you to "roll off" high, low, or both, ends of the audio. They're passive filters, and make a noticeable difference. I also took the cabinet apart and used some stick-on acoustic foam on the insides. It makes the enclosure well-damped, and eliminates annoying "buzzes" and other enclosure resonances.

So we're still plugging along on the "Great 84' End Fed Hertzian Antenna Project", but running at lower capacity for the next week or so while the wife's friend is here.

And I still have two more days to help with chores, and probably get some other home owner issues addressed.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Antenna Delay Due To Construction.....

If you remember the fence:

This is the original fence installed when the houses were built in the mid-to-late 1970's, so it's well over 30 years old, and the wood is disintegrating. I though about getting some replacement pickets, then realized the cross stringers are probably in about the same shape, so I started thinking about replacing the entire panel, and ........WARNING! MISSION CREEP!!

So I stopped, had a cuppa, and thought some more about it.

I've decide to forego mounting anything to the fence, except the counterpoise/radials, which are just #10 wire stapled to the fence, and just sink a new 4x4x8 cedar post.

This will be easier and cheaper than replacing the whole panel ($25 post vs $85 panel), and my neighbor has an electric auger, a bunch of quickcrete, a mixing tub, and is quite well versed in planting fence posts in this soil.

I was going to have our in-law General Contractor drop off a panel this coming week as he keeps a lot of them 'in stock', but thought about it, and by the time he would have taken to get it here, us tearing the old one down and disposing of it, and then putting the new one up, we could have the post planted.
So the next trip to HD will bring home a post, and the neighbor and I can get to work on it.

I also found out my drill bit extensions are for smaller drills, so I'll have to get a new one of those so we can bore the hole in the tree to drive in the mast.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Didn't Get SQUAT Done Today.....

But I did mange to burn through some cash. Made my Home Depot run to get a bunch of hardware, and got out of there about $30 lighter. But since I have to go right past Harbor Freight on the way home.....

Wound up buying one of their new "Hercules" line of 20 Volt cordless drills. Also picked up a spare 5.0AHr battery, as I've been using cordless tools long enough to know very well that you can't ever get a job done on one charge, unless it's home owner stuff. Plus the 8 year old batteries on my 20 year old Makita drill are on their last legs, and nobody here has a reasonably priced replacement. The guy at HF told me their "Bauer" power tools are made by Makita, and the new Hercules line is made by DeWalt. Since I bought the two-year replacement warranty, he also suggested that when it was getting to be two years, to bring it back and exchange it for another one. Our General Contractor in-law tells me that's what all the contractors out here do. Buy a generator or pump, or other $$ item, get the replacement plan, then run the snot out of the equipment, then get a new one right before the warranty expires.

These are "normally" $109.95, but this weekend they're movin' 'em out at $89.95. A 2.5AHr replacement battery is only $25, while the biggest 5.0AHr is $40.

And since cutting that mutant-alien-on-steroids antenna rope is waaay harder than it looks, I popped $15 on a hot knife, specifically made for hacking synthetic rope.

The reason I bought it is because cutting the 5/16" poly rope is a bear. I keep my knives as sharp as I know how, and I could barely hack through it. I also learned you do NOT use a serrated blade on the stuff as it really makes a messy, frayed, wild strands everywhere cut.

This stuff laughed at my aviation snips, mocked a brand new Xacto knife, and taunted my sharpest cable cutters. Just noticed it almost looks like and old flintlock pistol.

So anyway....I got one lousy, stinking end mast mounted on the far end fence post, and two puny backer blocks installed. The neighbor had to bail to take his old dog to the vet (dog's OK. Vet thinks she just ate something too rich for her), so he wasn't around to give me a hand.

This is the mast as seen from where the feed point will be.

 See why we need to go over the tree? Here....let me move to the right a bit....

I zoomed in a bit so you could see the mast. The A-to-B distance between the masts is about 100'. Going "up and over" the tree will add a few feet to the distance, but I should have 15'~20' of rope on the end of the wire.

Better view...

There's an eyebolt at the top, with a loop of the 5/16" support rope holding a pulley. The support rope will go through the pulley, and down to a weight sliding in a PVC pipe. The weight will keep tension on the wire, and allow movement in the wind.

Backer blocks between the fence picket and new fence post.

I'm real close to buying a new panel of fence for this section. This 30 year old wood has about zero strength, and splits as soon as it hears your drill running. My neighbor is very frugal (notice the prop holding a background panel?), and while he put three new posts in, he reused the fence panel.

I have visions of doing this over in the future.....

Let The Recalls Begin!

Our next door neighbor, Weld County, has some serious oil and gas production areas, providing many, many good paying jobs. Colorado voters recently rejected Proposition 112 because it would have crippled (probably almost killed) oil and gas production state-wide.

It would have mandated 1/2 miles setbacks, forbidding oil and gas production within 1/2 mile of certain areas and facilities. It was soundly defeated, except in the urban areas like Denvertopia and Boulderandia.

For the children, you know.....

Well, since the last election put a lot of liberals in office, they decided to just write some almost identical legislation, and get Governor Polluted to sign it, which he'll gladly do.

For the children, you know.....

Uh, guys? You're trying to pass legislation that the majority of the people said "NO!" to. What part of "NO!" don't you understand?

So, concerned people have started various recall campaigns against those elected officials who are violating their oath of office.

Good article here on one of them who appears to have shot herself in both feet.....

IT’S ON: Galindo Recall Effort Gets Green Light 


Should be an interesting summer here in Colorado.....

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Random Wire Antenna Project -Getting Stuff Staged-

Well I made some great progress today keeping the antenna project rolling. Went to Home Depot to pick up some stuff I erred on the quantity of, and a few other things I just flat forgot. I'll probably have five trips to HD by the time this is On-The-Air, so that makes up for the "One And Done" success of the little kitchen sink.

Oh, and I stopped at Harbor Freight first to get this bruiser.

Since I don't think my 3/8" Makita 14 Volt cordless drill with 8 year old battery packs is up to the task of boring a 1"+ hole 18" into a tree trunk, I popped for the $55 and got this guy. 1/2" chuck, variable speed, reversible, with big handles to hang on to.

 The "drill bit" above it is a Bosch 1-1/4" wood auger. The auger by itself will get us 6" into the tree, and then I have some drill bit extensions from my Home Theater Installer days that can get us down another 18", so we should be able to get the mast driven into the trunk an acceptable amount.

Unless Murphy shows up, and he undoubtedly will.....

And what's the most important part of a wire antenna?

88' feet of Davis RF 12 gauge "FlexWeave" antenna wire. They call it "The Cadillac of Antenna Wire", but it's more of a Cummins Diesel to me. It really carries the load, and lasts forever. With Gen-You-Ine glazed porcelain end insulators. Real Old Skool Radio stuff.

And in any installation-from-scratch like this, there were some bits to mod and fab.

The four redwood (it was cheap) blocks are the 'back up blocks' for mounting the autocoupler enclosure to the fence. Since the fence slats are 30+ year old wood of uncertain background, there's no way I'm screwing the autocoupler directly to it! I bought some construction screws (think mutant deck screws) that will go through the slats on the enclosure, though the fence slats, and into the redwood blocks. That should spread the load over more area, and reduce the stress on the old wood slats.

The little "U" shaped thingies are conduit straps that I modified to use a bigger diameter (1/4") lag screw, along with a flat and a lock washer. I'd much rather use something a bit more substantial than these flimsy stamped things, BUT, I had two sections of mast secured to a block wall with these back in Long Beach, and it held up fine. Out here, I'm doubling the number of straps from 2 to 4, and instead of 18" of mast on the wall, I'm going to slide the mast down a bit so I have 24" in contact with the post, and use four straps with aggressive hardware. We'll see how it holds up.

Ah, the mast! The two sections below with the eye bolts are the end masts.The one with the pulley is the center mast.

Wire antennas sway in the wind, and we get a lot of wind out here. You need to allow for this movement, or you'll be stretching/breaking antenna wire on a regular basis. The wire passes through the pulley and moves with a rolling motion instead of a sliding or rubbing motion, like if I just ran it through another eye bolt. Bad juju! The wire wears through and you're back to replacing it on a semi-regular basis. I shot some synthetic chassis/bearing grease into it, so let's hope that keeps it rolling.

I can't show you how the end masts handle the sway because they haven't been built yet. It's the kind of thing you do in the field during installation, so although I could fake it on the bench, I'll just take lots of "assembly" pix when we put this up.

And I'll be using this synthetic rope to secure the ends to the end masts. This is 5/16' diameter, and has a rated strength of 1,760 pounds. This is another product I've been using in the field for 25 years. I had some in outdoor use at my apartment for 12 years. It was  bit crusty when we took it down, but wasn't falling apart. After 6 years in Long Beach it was dirty, but looked great.

This stuff is like mutant alien paracord. Really strong, doesn't stretch, lasts a long time, and is reasonably priced. There's "better" stuff available, with double the breaking strength, but it also costs about double.

So I pretty much have everything staged and ready for installation. Until Murphy shows up, which he usually does.

And in going through this, and the pix, and writing it up, he just knocked. The far-end mast with the pulley and weight/spring to allow movement, is mounting to a new 4x4 fence post. No sweat.

The feed-end, where the autocoupler is located, is screwing into a fence slat over a new post. WELL.......the slat is positioned away from the post by the stringer is nailed to, so there's a gap, and I don't have any 1x3 or 1x4 filler board material.....RATS!

Oh, well....that's why I stage my projects before commencing. Looks like another trip to Home Depot.....


Thought it best to have a cuppa this morning, and then inspect the neighbor's fence  construction vs my fence construction. Our new fence was built with premade panels. the 'stringers' that the pickets are attached to are (approx) 1-1/2"x2-1/2" while the old fence uses 1-5/8"x3-3/4". So, the cedar "2x4" I bought will work as a backer for the end mast on the neighbor's fence, and I don't need to buy any more wood.

But I need some longer screws to install them, so yep, off to HD again.....

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

SGC Autocoupler Enclosure Modification

When this SGC-230 autocoupler was in use in Long Beach, it was in a clear plastic tote tub, mounted under the patio roof. Even though it was completely out of the sun, the plastic degraded so badly in the seven years it was outside that it crumbled and shattered when I pulled it down. For the 33' vertical experiment, I put it in a "Roughneck" plastic tub using a plastic breadboard for a back panel, and just plopped it on the ground.

For this iteration of my antenna "experiments", I need to mount the autocoupler to the fence, so I fell back on the way I did it in Long Beach, using two wood slats screwed to the enclosure, and then screw the wood slats to the fence slats using a length of 2x4 on the backside of the fence slats as a backer block.

Here's the stripped enclosure with the wood slats attached.

The slats are 1x3x36 oak from the Bargain Bin at Home Depot. Nice and straight and flat and CHEEP. I don't care that there's some chips and dents in them, but some people do.

 Inside shot of the box. The horizontal rows of holes at the top and bottom edges of the white plate are the screws that hold the slats on. The vertical rows of holes on the left and right are the attachment points for the SGC-230.

 This is the "Input" side of the autocoupler. The cable contains the RG-58A coax bringing in the RF from the radio, the DC power and ground, and a couple of signaling and control lines for remote control. The autocouplers will work quite fine with just the DC and RF applied, but SGC designed them with a few simple features that are nice to have. There's a "Tuned" signal that indicates when the tuner has the best match it can do, and a line that lets you "Lock" the tuner and inhibit it from automatically retuning when the load changes. This comes in handy if you use these in mobile operation where driving past objects can temporarily cause the autocoupler to 'hunt', and constantly try and rematch the antenna. The big stud on the right side is where the radials/counterpoise/ground system attaches, and where I'll reconnect the four radials I already have fabbed.

And this is the "Output" side or "Hot" side of the SGC. The ceramic terminal is the connection to the radiator. The piece of heavy cable you see is NOT coax; you never run coax on the output of these devices. It's a piece of "GTO" cable, meant for neon signs, and is rated at 25kV. Since this will be mounted out of harm's way, I can connect the antenna wire  to this terminal, taking care to provide an adequate amount of stress relief, i.e. slack.

SGC-230 all bolted back in the box, and just about ready to go!

The SGC autocouplers are another item I highly recommend.  I've never had one fail, and I've seen them mounted outside "AS IS", with no additional enclosure, on vehicles and boats, and while they looked pretty sad after 5+ years, they continued to function perfectly. There are other companies out there making very similar products, but I own two of these, and in the twenty-five years since I bought them used, they just keep ticking.

And best of all:

I also laid out and cut the 88' of wire I'll be using. It's #12 "FlexWeave" from Davis RF, and is very easy wire to work with. It uses "Rope Lay", and has 259 strands, making it extremely flexible and limp. This is from their website, and I can confirm you can tie a knot in the stuff, and then untie it months later. Pretty neat wire, and I had about 500' of it. Now I'm down to about 412'.....

So I'm humming along with this project, and have a few bits to gather up before the major stuff starts taking place. I'm going to try and get the end masts and autocoupler enclosure mounted on Thursday, depending on availability of my neighbor. The backer blocks are on his side of the fence, and he wants to help, so I hope he's around.