Monday, July 6, 2020

R.I.P., Charlie. You Brought Joy To Countless People.....

This is the first time in recent memory that the passing of a musician has bummed me out. His music had that "something" to it that resonated with people across all backgrounds and walks of life.

Uneasy Rider

Still In Saigon

Long Haired Country Boy

In America

God Bless you, Charlie. I've got a feeling there's gonna be a lot of toe tappin' going on  in Heaven.....


Friday, July 3, 2020

Happy Independence Day!

As our friend Shaun says, "Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty".

Embrace them very tightly. Once gone, they're nigh well impossible to restore without great sacrifice and hardship....





Huh...just noticed the HOT DOGS are missing from the above picture.

Not to mention the Chevrolet emblem.....

Yep, we did it once....


And we've always been ready to do it again.....







Might not be a bad idea.....








So go ye forth, and Embrace The Blessings Of Liberty!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Here We Go Again.....

Ground out the dings and divots I missed the first time, and feathered the edges of the paint around them.

Then I sanded the whole thing down again, this time using 150 grit.



The black paint makes a good "guide coat", easily showing the high spots where the paint sanded off, and the low spots, where it didn't. And wonder-of-wonders, it's almost acceptably smooth. This stuff sands off relatively easy with 150 grit, and I probably would have blown right through it with 80 grit.

I'll go over it again tomorrow when I have more light coming in. I have some "High Build Primer", but it doesn't specifically say it's for flexible parts, so I'm loathe to use it. The "recommended" primer should be here Monday, so I just have to sit on my hands for a while. This is starting to look like I can pull it off successfully, so I don't want to blow it using wrong materials.

It's not like this is the ONLY project I have cooking......!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Back In Black!

The bumper cover is painted.










And as expected, the surface prep was less than perfect well done. Since I didn't have any grey primer, I couldn't see how many and how deep the sanding scratches (and you ALWAYS have them) were. Since the finest paper I used was 220 grit, it left quite a few. The 80 grit I started with to knock everything down and get all the bad paint off left some deep ones, and I should have (at least) sanded it down with some 600 to smooth it out.

This is the only picture I could get that shows the surface decently, and you can see I still have more work to do.



It's pretty "rough", and it looks like these coats of black paint will be my "primer".

I just wonder how tough this stuff is to sand. I'll let it dry/cure a few days, and then WET sand it with 600.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Decade of Solar Activity in Six Minutes

One of my radio buddies sent me this link, and it's amazing to watch.

So, I embedded it here. The music is a bit "spacey", but the video is fascinating to watch.

Watch it full screen for maximum effect.....




And speaking of solar activity, 6 Meters is "open" again, and several guys in the area made contacts with Japan just now @2300UTC.


It's damp and rainy today, so no painting.....

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Taped Up and Almost Ready For Paint

Got the front of the car lifted up about 18" today, and mounted solidly on some NON Harbor Freight jack stands.




I'll lower the hood, and cover the front with some old moving blankets I have. Since this a "Rattle Can Job" the spray won't go very far, and I masked back far enough to prevent any overspray from getting on the car. I'll wipe it down with some prep solvent and check my masking once more, then spray it with the adhesion promoter, and then the color coat.

And this is the table SLW has been refinishing:


She saw it at the local ARC Thrift Shop and liked it, even though it has some really bad spots in the finish. She's been sanding away and learning things, and has just about declared it finished (no pun). She'll probably Varathane it tomorrow and then polish it out after the coating has cured.

This is the second one she's refinished, and her technique is getting much better. She's realized doing stuff like this is NOT as easy as a YouTube video makes it out to be, and that you actually have to pay attention to what you're doing so you don't do some damage that's difficult to repair, like sanding clean through the veneer, something I've coached her about, showing her how thin the veneer is in on spot where a small piece had broken away.

So it looks like I should have this painted in the next day or two, and it's been the #1 item on the punch list since I got the car.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Just About All Taped Up....

After letting it sit for a few days to allow the filler to shrink (it didn't), I sanded it once more, wiped it off, and started taping it up to paint.




Still have the bottom section to mask off, and that's gonna be a PITA. Thursday I'll raise the front end about 12" with my jack, and put some stands under it to get the nose up so it's easier to get at, both for the masking, and the painting.

The engine compartment and hood will get covered with some old blankets. I'll dampen the floor and close all the doors to keep the dust down, put my respirator on, and spray it.  This paint and primer "flash off" very fast, and are dry to the touch in about 15 minutes. Then I'll open the doors and turn on the fans to get the fumes out.

As you can see in this google-sourced front end shot, there's a whole lotta body colored stuff under the lower edge of the black bumper, and all that has to be masked off.



Having the nose up in the air a foot will so let me get down there easier to scrub all the white painted parts, something which I didn't do a long time ago when I "cleaned" the paint to get the crud off it. And I have to address some damage to the lower edge of the "air dam" (They call them "splitters" these days...) from people bumping into things with it. There's supposed to be an "Engine Undercover" for airflow reasons, but they generally got removed at the first oil change, as they "collect" the oil that spills when you change the filter, and any other stuff that leaks out of the engine. It pools there, and then drips out on your driveway at it's leisure, making for angry owners with oil-stained driveways.

If it were a British car you'd expect it. Marking it's territory, you know?

Anyway....the missing undercover also had some stout metal strips in the front where it attached to the lower edge of the airdam, reinforcing it to take the abuse of people hitting things. With the undercover removed, the lower edge of the airdam is floppy, and can get snagged on things. Then when you back up, it snags on the thing, and tries to peel itself off the car. So mine is a little tatty down yonder way, and I have some aluminum angle I have to cut and drill to fabricate some replacements.

I have a complete undercover, struts, reinforcing strips, and new hardware, but I'm not sure if I'll put it on, at least right now. I still have to do the timing belt, (and hoses, and belts, and alternator upgrade, and....and....and...) and putting the cover on now just means taking it off again when I do the mechanical work.

Getting the bumper refurbed means I can put the turn signals, fog lamps, and grill back on the car, and bolt the front license plate back on, the main thing that has stopped me from taking little local jaunts. I'm told Colorado is very strict about having a front plate, and I don't want tickets at "my age". The Cops not only write you the ticket, but chastise you a bit with "You Should Know Better!".......

Hopefully I'll have this painted in the next few days (yeah...I'm slooooow), and then I can clean the bottom of the front properly, wipe some paint sealer on it, put the rest back together, and HIT THE ROAD!!

Oh....gotta get the radio antenna and speakers installed, too. Just gotta have tunes on the road.....

Monday, June 22, 2020

Sad News.......R.I.P. Our Beloved Little Coco

SLW just told me that one of The Kids' dogs (well, "our" dog, too), Coco, passed away this morning.

Our son told SLW  he thought she'd been having seizures, and was acting "strange" the last few days.

No information other than that at this time, and our son took her up to one of the clan's houses in the mountains to lay her to rest.

The Little Guy doesn't know yet, and I'm wondering how he'll take it.


R.I.P. little one. You'll be sorely missed.....


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Happy Father's Day

To all my fellow Dads out there.



Today we got up early, loaded the cooler up, and headed out to the Greeley Old Time Farm Show. Unlike last year, I took the correct road, and hit all my marks on time.

WELL.....on time for today, but nobody was there! Since the field it's in is also an RV park, I asked one of the people coming out of an RV if they knew when the farm show was.

It's NEXT month! Oooooops.......

The day wasn't a total loss, as we stopped at Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers for lunch. They were fully open, with some restrictions, and about 2 minutes after I'd ordered my steakburger I remembered I'd promised myself months ago that the next time we went there I'd get the patty melt. Oh, well...it's a good "excuse" to go back there! Great burgers, marvelous fries (shoe string style), great frozen custard, and friendly, efficient, polite staff. Had a wonderful lunch on the patio with SLW and TLG, who was mystified why we couldn't see tractors after I'd talked it up all week. I don't think he understands "Grandpa Made A Mistake" yet, but he took it in stride and gobbled down a bunch of fries and some burger.

Ms. Swan's front bumper is now smooth enough to need primer, and unfortunately I don't have any "Flexible Parts" primer. I'm NOT going to prime it with "regular" high-fill primer as I don't think it will stick well enough, and be flexible enough, to not cause problems. I'd hate to use the wrong primer and watch my top-coat of the special black paint peel off in strips and sheets like I've seen happen. A buddy of mine repainted the front bumper on his 1968 GTO, the first year with a flexible "Endura" bumper, and six moths later it looked like it was suffering from terminal sun-burn. The paint was just peeling off like crazy, and he had a really red face about it as he was quite a good body and paint guy. And I need a few other things from the auto parts store, and Home Depot, and Harbor Freight, and CVS, so tomorrow may be a busy day.

And besides the auto body work, I've been moving stuff out on eBay, and have actually made a visible dent in the stacks of stuff I have in the basement. I still have things in the "I'll Never Use It" and "Why Did I Buy It" category, but I'm also getting rid of a few items in the "This Is Gonna Be Hard To Part With" category. I've got four items to photograph, list, and schedule tonight so the auction starts Sunday at 1600 Kalifornia time.

Oh well, the more stuff I sell, the faster I'll get that "My Last New Radio" fund built up. I'll probably keep my Elecraft K2 radio and Buddipole because they're "SHTF" items, and I'd rather have them and not need them....you know the rest.

Have great Father's Day, Dads and Granddads!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ms. Swan Starts Her "Nose Job".....Finally!

I have to admit that I let this go far too long before I addressed it. The black paint on the front urethane bumper was bad when I got the car in that the black had been slowly chalking off, and you could see the primer in large sections of it. It wasn't down to the plastic yet, but several years of neglect took care of that.

This is a year ago, before I started on it:


The yellow area is where the paint and primer had completely failed, and weathered away. The darker yellow has been exposed to the elements the longest, and has gotten oxidized and rough.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago....

I sanded the entire bumper to remove the worst of the oxidized, weathered yellow tint, and to remove the paint where it was severely weathered. In places where it was solid, but dull, I just scuffed it up good to promote adhesion of the new paint.

This is after the first sanding. The black splotches are where I've applied the special "Flexible Bumper Repair" filler material. It's a two-part system used to fill in pits, dings, and small divots, and can also be used to glue split and torn bumper covers back together. It cures to a very flexible material that sands easily and accepts primer and paint.



One of the tricks to use it for filling small cracks is to grind out the crack (or divot) so you're down to good, solid material, like I did here:



And here:



This gives the compound something clean to bond to, and usually stops the crack from propagating any further. I used a carbide ball-nosed bit in my Dremel, and it went through this stuff like warm butter.

After it cured overnight, I sanded it all down again, cleaned it, and inspected it. Some of the pits and voids hadn't filled in all the way, so they were given another coat of the filler.



The object is to get the cracks and divots filled in so that once sanded, you can't feel them with your finger tips. The "lightning bolt" in dark grey on the left side is the desired result, and the spot to the right of it needed a bit more filler.



This is just about the final result:


As you can see on a closer level, I had a whole lot of little cracks and divots!


I'll let this sit overnight, and then clean it again tomorrow morning. If it passes the "Finger Tip Test", which I doubt, I'll mask it off and prime it. Primer usually reveals more flaws, so I envision at least one more round of sand/fill/sand/prime/sand before it gets the topcoat of satin black "Flexible Bumper Paint", some kind of weird stuff with enough warnings on the can to scare DuPont.....

Friday, June 12, 2020

6 Meter SSB and FT8 Report

Spent the morning and early afternoon jumping between SSB and FT8. I could hear stations on SSB, but they were at my noise level or slightly above, meaning it would have been very difficult to complete a voice contact for me and these old ears. I wound up making one contact to a guy in Kentucky, and one to a guy in Louisiana, and it took about 5 minutes each. Some stations were booming in, but there was a huge pile-up of others calling them, and my ~50 Watts to a dipole 10' off the ground just don't cut it. I looked up the callsigns I was hearing, and yow....these guys were running "Super Stations", with multiple stacked antenna arrays, and "Full Legal Limit" power amplifiers.

This is a "stacked" antenna array. A short lesson in antenna arrays follows:


 It consists of 4 separate antennas, each with 7 elements (the short horizontal  things), mounted specific distances apart, and fed with power dividers and very carefully cut and assembled lengths of coaxial cable. An old "Rule of Thumb" for Yagi antennas is that doubling the number of elements gives you a 3dB increase in antenna gain. 3dB equates to a doubling of the "Effective Radiated Power". Since a 7 element antenna like this has roughly 10dBd of gain on it's own, doubling to two antennas gives you 13dBd gain, and doubling the two antennas to four antennas gets you 3 more dBd, for a total  16dBd of gain compared to a Dipole like I'm using. 16dB is a factor of 40, so if he were running 1000 Watts of power, the antenna would focus it by a factor of 40, making it act like he was running 40,000 Watts to a dipole like mine.

My dipole would probably disappear in a cloud of smoke if I ran 40kW to it! The coax would probably pop like a fuse.....

This array belongs to the fellow up North of me on I-25, the first Ham antenna I saw in Colorado on our first trip out here. An antenna system like this is what a "Super Station" would run. They get extremely large at "Shortwave" frequencies, but on 6 Meters, where the elements are only 5' long on each side, you can build some pretty outrageous antennas.

Anyway.....As I was listening to the SSB frequencies, I would also flip over to the "Digital" frequencies every 30 minutes or so to see what was happening. Where I could barely make out the voice contacts, my monitoring software showed the band was alive with signals.

Here's my "Control Panel" for the WSJTX/FT8 software:


The leftside box shows the activity on the band, and the rightside box is a real-time spectrum/waterfall display.

The vertical stripes in the right box are stations transmitting, and this display shows  at least 10 that I can see. And this is at 10PM local time, on six meters. This is the result of the "Sporadic E" propagation mode, something I won't go into here.

I still feel a bit "remote" using the WSJTX/FT8 software, but geesh...you sure can rack up the contacts with it.

I've made over 70 contacts today, and I haven't looked at the how many "Grid Squares" or states I've contacted.


Update..... 

This is what a "dead" band (no propagation) looks like. The two strong signals (the patches of red) you can see are local guys. Otherwise, ain't nobody coming in.....


Sunday Update.....

The band was completely dead (NO stripes on the right hand box) until about 45 minutes ago.

Now it's wide-open, and blazin' hot.....

 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

6 Meter Antenna Results

Annnnnd IT WORKS!

Worked 12 stations in the SE and Lower Midwest on Single Sideband this morning and early afternoon. Signals weren't rock crushingly strong, but running "S7" to "S9" with a local noise level of around S4~S5, so they're well out of the noise, but with some fading.

Then I switched over to the "Digital" modes, running FT8, and made a bunch more contacts, including the guy up near Wellington with a HUGE 6 Meter station. The digital modes are nice for racking up an impressive body count, but they're very "sterile", and I'm not sure I care for them. It took me a few hours to get the SSB stations I worked, and about 30 minutes to get the same number of contacts with FT8.

It goes like this:

You look in the display pane for the callsigns of received stations, double-click on one, and then just use mouse clicks to send "macros" (canned messages that are dynamically altered for each contact), then send "73" with a mouse click, and move on looking in your list for the next callsign to double-click on and start the process all over.




That's it.

No manually tuning around the dial hunting down signals, no trying to get their callsign, and making sure the other operator has yours correct, no fighting interference from other close-in stations or static crashes, just looking at the list of received stations, and mouse-clicking on one. Some people don't care for fighting to dig out a contact, and they're drawn to these modes, and good for them. Variety is  a Good Thing, even in Ham radio, and the technology behind the software is solid, but it seems "artificial", and a bit boring to me.

It definitely proves you can put a signal into an area. How useful that is can be debated, because a large portion of the signals are at, or below, your threshold of hearing, meaning you couldn't talk to them using voice, but the software manages to dig them out and display the transmitted data. Yes, there are many, many other digital modes where you can have a live, keyboard-to-keyboard chat, like we did with Packet Radio in Ye Olden Dayes, and some of the digital modes are capable of staggeringly good performance in digging signals out of the noise, making them extremely valuable for sending data when conditions are marginal-to-bad.
I guess it just lacks the Human Touch of actually talking to someone. Even if it's just a contest exchange consisting of a few words and phrases, at least I talked to a person.

I must be getting old.....

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

6 Meter Antenna Up and Running

And it only took me about three hours from start to finish.

The center is about 9' above the ground, just about a half wavelength, which is very good for a simple dipole.



And it's not super taught, but nice and straight. This is looking to the South along the wire and support ropes.


It's running in a line 30* West of North, so along a line 330*-to-150*, which is as "Broadside" as I could get it the the USA. It's up high enough to where it *should* be somewhat directional, but with the house and gutters being 1/2 wave away, and my 90' wire antenna located about 15' above it (they cross at about a 40* angle), the pattern is gonna be pretty wonky!

The North anchor point is a 5' section of mast clamped to the fence:



And the South anchor point is a screw eye into a tree. This way gives me lots of line on all three mounting points along the antenna so I can completely drop it to the ground for inspection and maintenance:


 The center point is hoisted through a "floating" pulley and tied down with the excess rope wrapped around a small halyard further down the tree. You can also see the coaxial cable "choke" about as close as I could get it to the feedpoint.




The wire and the support rope are belayed to the end insulators with several cable ties. I've been doing this for years, and never had one slip. Since I drop my little antenna farm yearly for inspection and maintenance, I'll catch the cable ties deteriorating before they break.....usually.



A view from the "backside":



I can't post a graph of the SWR because I can't get my antenna analyzer program to run on this PC, but running it manually shows the VSWR is less 1.3:1 @ 50MHz, dropping to about 1.1:1 @ 51MHz, 1.2:1 @ 52MHz, and peaks out at 1.9:1 @ 54MHz.

Whether it radiates well is anybody's guess at this time. I can hear the beacon down in Aurora, a about 60 miles away. He's running 50 Watts into a "Halo" antenna mounted at 30', so that definitely shows it's working to receive.

It's probably too late at night to get any propagation, but I just finished connecting my SignaLink, so I'll snoop around on some of the digital frequencies for signals. The digital modes are amazing because you can actually make solid contacts with stations at or slightly below the noise floor, which is running around "S5" here.

Monday, June 8, 2020

6 Meter Dipole Antenna Project

After reading  SiG's post on Radio Propagation, and seeing his comments about the big 6 Meter opening he was enjoying, I made some comments about rarely operating 6 Meters, but enjoying the times I did.

In mentioning that I only have one radio that will transmit on 6 Meters, and that radio will be going on eBay soon, he replied that I should make a 6 Meter Dipole, hoist it up, and give my hand a try at the upcoming ARRL June VHF Contest that's scheduled for this coming weekend.

Hmmmmm....do I have enough "stuff" to build a decent antenna?

Wire? Check! Plenty of 12 gauge Davis RF "Flex Weave" on hand.....

Center insulator? Check! I have a Hy-Gain center insulator new-in-box.....

End insulators? Check! Would you like plastic or ceramic?

Support rope? Oh, yeah, got several hundred feet. Would you like new, or slightly used?

So I cracked the books, came up with some dimensions, and proceeded to cut wire, and belay the insulators to the ends of it.

Took me an hour to round up all the bits and pieces, and about another hour to lay out the wire, measure it to length and cut it, install the end insulators, crimp/solder some ring lugs on the free ends, and bolt it all together.

Here it is stretched out on the garage floor. It's about 9' end-to-end.



Oh, and since it's a Dipole ("Balanced") antenna being fed with Coaxial Cable ("Unbalanced"), we'll need a "Choke Balun" (more accurately a "Line Isolator") to keep RF current OFF the outside (The Shield) of the coax.

A simple VHF coaxial choke consists of 4 turns of cable, "solenoid wound", in a ~3" diameter. I wound mine using 48" of RG-8X cable and a cardboard Morton Salt container as a form. I put some cables ties on it to keep it from unwinding. This took another couple of hours to round up the parts, find something to use as a 3" coil form, cut the cable and put connectors on it, wind it, and secure it with cable ties.

Here's my feed line choke. Identical in function to the one I made for my 20 Meter (14MHz) vertical, but scaled down for 6 Meter (50MHz) operation.



And all put together and waiting to be installed. I taped the coax connection to the center insulator, both for some weather proofing, and to prevent the connector from loosening up when the antenna sways in the wind.



I was planning on hoisting it up today and connecting my antenna analyzer to it, BUT....it's windy as all get-out, drizzling on-and-off, and just not a nice day to do it. I'll get it hoisted up and swept on Tuesday.  That gives me tonight to get the radio and power supply set up and ready to connect to the antenna once I've got it in the air.

This is the first 6 Meter dipole I've ever built, and I'm sure I'll be in for a few surprises once it's up in the air and I connect the analyzer to it.

I'll be running my Old Faithful Yaesu FT-847 transceiver "Satellite Radio" as it's the only rig I have with 6 Meters. I'll easily be able to get this dipole mounted "In The Clear" more than a half-wavelength above ground, so it should work about as well as a dipole can work. And with 100 Watts of RF power out of the radio, and maybe 35' of low-loss feedline, I should be able to work most of what I can hear. If there's a good opening I should be able to make a lot of voice contacts, my preferred mode. If voice mode is too noisy/weak for me, I can switch over to one of the digital modes like FT8, and make lots of contacts.

More pix when it's in the air.