Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vertical Antenna Project

Seeing as February 22nd is the Iowa's 75th "birthday", the guys at NI6BB are planning a year-long special operating event to commemorate her first commissioning.

Here's the press release:

In support of the Pacific Battleship Center (PBC) 501(c)3 who operates and maintains the
Battleship Iowa, the Battleship Iowa Amateur Radio Association (BIARA) will be celebrating the Iowa's 75th anniversary with a special year long NI6BB operating
event and fund raiser.

The event will run from 22 February, 2018 through 21 February, 2019.

Operations will be commensurate with the availability of BIARA operators and may be on SSB, CW and or the digital modes. Look for us on the DX cluster as we are spotted. You may also e-mail and request a schedule which we will try to accommodate.

Please follow the instructions on www.biara.org and use the PayPal link ONLY to make your tax deductible donation to the PBC. The donor perks of a collectible tri-fold QSL, a BIARA patch and or an Iowa 75th Anniversary custom struck challenge coin are limited editions and their offering may be withdrawn at any time. Please allow 6-8 weeks for
your perk before you send us an e-mail to follow up.

For those who do NOT desire to support the PBC, our REGULAR QSL only will still be available by following the instructions on our NI6BB QRZ.com page.

SO...since I'd like to contact them on the opening day, I put the 33' vertical back on the front burner, and I'll be headed out to Home Depot to get a couple of  Rubbermaid "Roughneck" storage totes to use as weather covers for the SGC autocoupler and my line isolation choke/SGC junction box. These aren't the nice fiberglass enclosures I wanted, but I had a couple of the out in the weather for over two years at the Long Beach house, and they held up far better than I expected. They stayed flexible, and even after all the sun a smog, were still flexible after two years. They should be fine here until I get the enclosure I'd really like.

Since it's supposed to be in the high 50's tomorrow, and it only takes a couple of hours to assemble and set up the antenna, I should be able to be on-the-air tomorrow with the 33' vertical and my K2.

Stay tuned as we go "Radioactive" again.......

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Why California Is Becoming A Third World Country

I found a link to this article over at Wirecutter's place, and just had to share it.

Everything he says is true, and it's getting worse every day.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Well Done, SpaceX!

Pure Science Fiction from my childhood.

Except for the car..........

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

And Another Week Of "Settling In" and Organizing Things Passes....

I spent a good part of yesterday going through my big Craftsman rolling tool cabinet. I had a bottle of "Gun Butter" synthetic lube for my 1911 in the top section of the tool box, and naturally it fell over, AND the cap came off, AND something heavy got jostled onto the bottle.

Yup....the entire contents came out and flooded the top of the tool box with Gun Butter. BUT, it gave me a good reason to empty the top box out, clean out all the glop, and reorganize the top box, replacing or locating whatever had gone missing after The Great Supra Adventure. I had tools in the bag for the impact wrench, and tools in two of the medium sized Tupperware tote boxes.

I rounded up a total of twelve sockets, five ratchet handles, three in 3/8" drive and two in 1/4" drive, several extensions, a couple of screwdrivers, six combination wrenches, and a collection of the dead parts I pulled off the car.

And everything is back in the tool box. I'll tackle the Harbor Freight rolling cabs in a few days, as I'm still deciding if I should split my tools, and keep metric sizes separate from inch sizes. The HF cab has plenty of space, most of it filled with weird tools and one-offs, one whole BIG drawer full of 22LR and 357 Mag, and could easily swallow my metric stuff.

And I "measured" the two coils of Andrew Heliax LDF4-50 cable, and I have approximately 135' of it, easily enough for most of the run for the HF antenna. This length of coax will have about .4dB of loss at 30MHz, compared to around 1dB of loss with Davis RF "Bury Flex", or DX Engineering's "DXE-400MAX" cable.

Will I notice the difference between the hardline and the regular coax? Probably not, but I bought these two lengths of cable 20 years ago, paid next to nothing for them, and they came with 4 brand new Andrew Type-N connectors. I might as well use them for something like this.

The VHF feedline is going to be 7/8" hardline, and will have about .5dB loss for the entire run, an M2 2M9-SSB 9-element antenna, AND I'm going to get another SSB Electronic 2 Meter, low-noise preamp and mount it up there. With 9 elements up at 36', an SSB preamp, and the TE Systems 1412G 175Watt amp, I should have a nice signal with good receive on 2 Meter SSB, something I've always wanted.

And I think I've figured a way to get the wireless Internet down to the "Radio LAN" that I always run as a wired network. I did some research, and came up with a dual-band Access Point that I can plug into my network switch with GigE. These are rated at 1300MBs on the 5 GHz band, so it should easily handle the 250MBs we're configured with. Once it's on the "Radio LAN", I configure it with it's web interface, connect to the 5GHz side of the Xfinity router, and away we go! I'll post my experiences with this device. It should work, and since I ran a "Community WISP" biz for a few years, I should have thought of this earlier. Oh, well....

Still nothing heard from allegedly "Reliable Carriers" about an estimated pick-up date for the Supra. I was going to call them Monday, BUT we had some workmen here, had some medical documents to submit in person only, and the dog almost ate my homework. I'll give them a call Wednesday and see if it's even on their "Logging Sheet" document, or what ever it is they call it that indicates if it's been assigned to a certain load and/or truck.

The garage clean-up in readiness for Ms Swan's arrival is proceeding nicely. Once she gets here, and I can get the spoiler/sunshade bolted on the rear hatch, I can put another 48" rack there, and have more storage than I need right now. And plans for the garage and basement workbenches continue.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Kitchen Remodel Bumped to 2019. New Windows Next On Major Projects List

One of my wife's main gripes with the house is the kitchen. It's perfectly functional, and now that we ironed out a few bugs with all the new Top-Of-The-(Home Depot)-Line appliances, she's quite happy with them. The stove and dishwasher play different little melodies to tell you what mode they're in, along with other information if you learn the little audio codes. They both also have a display panel where you can override anything that might be going awry, a useful thing to have. The "flaw" with the dishwasher was caused by a poor installation (hot water valve barely cracked open), and the "flaw" with the stove/oven was an RTFM kind of thing. The ice maker/cold water dispenser in the fridge doesn't work due to there being no easy way to run a water line to it. That's one of the things to be addressed in the kitchen remodel, along with additional cabinet space, her main gripe with this kitchen. Since I finally learned all the ins and outs of the "Euro Style" hinges on all the cabinets, and replaced a bunch of mismatched hardware, I've got those all adjusted and closing, gaps nicely aligning, and looking good, so "non functional doors/drawers" is now a closed item on the squawk list. So, the kitchen is probably 95%+ in functionality, and maybe 65%~70% in style, and bumped down the list by her second most priority, which was new windows.

So, in a paradigm shift which surprised me, the wife called "Renewal by Andersen" to get a quote on new windows. These are high-end window replacements, and from the sample sections the guy brought, they're extremely well made and sealed. Most of the windows in the house are aluminum-framed "glider" windows, which means the slide side-to-side. The 3 windows in the Sun Room and the two side windows in the den are "casement" windows, which means they're crank-out windows, opening up by pivoting on the short side of the windows, and the entire window swings out. We had some of these in my Dad's house back in Illinois, and I love them. When you open the windows, they scoop up a nice breeze and direct it into the house.

BUT....when it's cold out (like below 20*), you can stand near one of the aluminum framed windows and almost feel it sucking the heat out of the house. And when it's warm out, the windows on the South side of the house absorb heat and the metal window frames radiate the heat into the room. The aluminum frames make a pretty good bidirectional heat sink!

The new windows are extruded from a proprietary compound made from wood bits and some kind of resin. Just looking at the cross section of the extrusion the new window frames are made from, it's apparent a lot of thought went into it, especially when compared to a cross section of a typical "vinyl" window that he brought with him. When the wife had the windows in the Long Beach house replaced, she went with an "economy class" vinyl window replacement, and all the windows came to about $5k, installed. My first wife and her husband had their windows replaced at the same time, and while they only had a couple of more windows than we did, and a sliding glass door, their bill came to about $18k, and man, could I ever see a difference in quality!

So, she popped for the Full Monty on the windows, and replacing all of them, with custom built windows, has a list price of about $37k........!

BUT...Andersen offers a 25% discount if you order in January, which knocks it down to a bit under $28k. With other rebates, Senior Citizen discounts, and some credits from our Home Energy Audit, we'll be down and done, with all new high-quality windows, for right about $21k. Since she just paid off her car, the cash for that will be diverted to the window replacement, and we'll get the loan paid off in less than two years.

Not quite the new kitchen she was thinking about (NEXT year!), but it's a worthwhile improvement to the house, and should cut down the heating bill in the winter.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Yard Looks Great, Hamfest Was Fun, and Some Snow On The Way

The yard guys finished up "Phase 1" of the yard program, and the yard looks really nice. The yard has been graded so the new double gates open easily, the gravel beds are cleaned out, the junipers are cleaned out, the iris bed by the garage has been cleaned out and weeded, all the window wells are cleaned out, and the whole place looks a bunch better. Well worth the $675 it cost to have done.

And I hit the Northern Colorado Amateur Radio Club swap meet / "Hamfest" for a couple of hours this morning. My next door neighbor was there, and Jed, one of my commenters who stops by from time to time. It was fun to go to an Old Skool hamfest, like the ones I went to in high-school and afterwards. I came "THIS CLOSE" to bringing home a Hallicrafters SX-115 receiver. Definitely something I didn't expect to see there, and it was in Very Good / Excellent condition, easily flippable on eBay for well over twice his asking price, and a receiver I've lusted after. But I held back on some logical reasons (it's not that good of a receiver) even though the other side of my brain was screaming "BUY IT!!".....

And I saw tons of hard-core RF parts for home brewing some seriously high power HF stuff. Tubes (glass AND ceramic!), sockets, air chimneys, anode caps, inductors made from silver-plated 1/4" copper tube, and variable capacitors you really could slice bread with. HV rectifiers, big door-knob capacitors, big filter capacitors, and all the power supply stuff you could want except the iron. I'm sure where you can get a good quality high voltage (Plate Supply) transformer these days. Ever since Peter Dahl stopped, there's been a dearth of suppliers. Granted, I haven't seriously looked for a 2500V 2A transformer, but that one supplier has closed their doors.

No, I'm not thinking of building a linear power amplifier, but it was fun to see all that stuff from when I was a young Ham.

Temperature is dropping, wind has shifted to the North, and we're expecting 4"~8" of snow tonight and tomorrow. This will be the "biggest" storm we've had since we moved here, and the wife is excited/concerned/happy/weird that we're getting "Eight Inches Of Snow!!", the most she's ever seen. I should have bought one of the snow blowers I saw last week, but the wife found a local guy who'll do it for $15. We'll see how well he works out, but I have a feeling I'll be getting a snow blower soon after this storm.

Friday, January 19, 2018

YAY! The Landscape Guys Showed Up!

The landscape guy and his son showed up today about noon, right when he said they'd be here.

He stopped by last week to confirm we still wanted him to do the work, and of course we did.

There's a "river rock" area about 18"~36" wide all around the back yard at the fence line. It even has concrete "curbs"! And it collect leaves and sticks like you wouldn't believe. In the four hours they were here, they cleaned out most of the gravel beds, got ALL of the yard trash that collected around and in the Juniper bushes cleaned up, graded the yard at the new double-wide gate so the gates swing free and easy, and it looks nice. And he took two trailer loads to the dump.

Tomorrow they're going to finish the gravel beds, clean out the window well for the basement egress window, and finish raking up another mountain of trash from the backyard, and get started on the front. They're also getting rid of all the runners and stuff from the various "plants" here that were allowed to run amok.

Next week they'll finish up the Arc Light operation on all the undesired plants, and we'll figure out what we want them to do with the yard other than the typical mow/feed/herbicide/edge and clean up they'll be doing for us. We'll probably have the Juniper bushes around the cottonwood trunk/totem removed, as they're old, ratty, unmaintained, and a couple of them took some big hits when a log (or two) got a bit "loose" on the way down when the tree was disassembled.

For now, we just needed an Industrial Strength clean up operation, and these guys are doing a bang-up job at a very reasonable price.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Life and Work On the House Continue.....

Typical mundane stuff now, like my wife deciding she needs a shelf here, or a picture there, along with more things she keeps stuffing in the Job Jar. Put up a(nother) shelf today in the downstairs/den bathroom, then wrestled with the furniture to put these plastic "glider" things under the feet. Makes it a snap for one person to move the sofa or loveseat. The new coffee table and side tables we got are on casters, so tomorrow when I go to hang a(nother) curtain rod in the den, I can just move the furniture out of the way, and snuggle my ladder right up against the wall to make accurate measurements, and then drill the holes in those places, tap in the plastic anchors, then mount the curtain rod after I feed it through the curtain.

The garage is staying remarkably clean and clutter free, provided my wife doesn't buy something big, which she does, and it comes packed in cardboard with styrofoam, plastic film, and sometimes other fiddly bits like plastic shipping plugs or spacers. All these things give the Fort Collins recycling facility a tummy ache, so you must separate them out from your recycling stream, and discard them with regular kitchen waste. I talked with a nice volunteer guy at the recycling center who told me that aluminum cans and corrugated cardboard are making enough money to carry the other things they're starting to accept. This puzzles me, as there's YUGE money to be made in recycling, or at least that's the impression I got back in Sunny SoCal. Of course, it might have been "The Economies of Scale" kicking in there, as the volume of trash generated by the 18 million people in the L.A. Basin has to be significantly greater than what the metro Fort Collins area generates. Oh, well.....I'm sure not going to say SoCal did it "better" because the huge difference in the volume of trash makes certain items become recyclable by virtue of the cost becoming acceptable. It's a Engineering trade-off, and I'm quite familiar with those......

Still haven't heard anything from the carrier I booked to transport the Supra here. If I don't hear anything by Thursday night I'll give them a call and talk to a live person....I hope!

And I'm down to specifying components for the radio tower and antenna project. The antennas and mast add up to right about 15sqsft of wind area, and the tower is rated at 25sqft at 100MPH wind speed. The tower is rated to 110, but the antennas are only rated to 100, so I'm a bit over half the rating of the tower, which is a comfortable safety margin for me. I'm debating whether to make the foundation a bit bigger. The tower people are recommending a 4'x4'x5' hole with no rebar, and I'm thinking a 5'x5'x6' hole with a rebar "cage" half way between the tower mounting legs and the outer surface of the concrete. My "General Contractor" in-law tells me it night be $75 more to dig and form the bigger hole, and it holds almost twice as much concrete, ~5.6 cubic yard vs 2.9 cubic yards, so figure double for the concrete. If the tower people laugh at me and say it'll twist off the recommended foundation long before the foundation fails, then I'll go with the smaller size.

The main HF antenna will be a JK Antennas "Navassa 5" antenna, fed with 1/2" hard line, and the 2M antenna will be an M2 2M9-SSB antenna, fed with 7/8" hardline. All connectors will be Type "N", and properly weatherproofed.

The tower will be a Universal Towers Model # 35-30, three sections, 30' tall, self supporting, painted a darkish, flat grey-green, possibly with a pattern of some sort.

The antennas will likewise be cleaned, given a coat of a good etching primer, and then painted a flat greyish blue color very similar to what a US Navy aircraft is painted. Since the very top of the mast will be 36', and most of the trees in this neighborhood are well over that height, painting the tower and antennas before I hoist them up will minimize the visual impact of it. I know some radio people get all excited about a brand new SHINY tower and antenna installation, I'm not one of them. I really don't want to get known as "Oh, that guy with The Tower....". I'll also have to fabricate some anti-climb panels, and those will be suitably painted as well.

I have a good Yaesu G-800 rotor that's like new, but I think it may be a bit "light" for these antennas and this wind environment. Whether I go with a bigger Yaesu rotor, one of the MFJ "Hy-Gain" rotors, or go completely rogue and get something like an Alfa-SPID or ProSisTel remains to be decided. The tower company says their factory-installed rotor shelf "Fits all popular rotors", but I'll check with them to make sure.

And it was three degrees last night, and the night before we got about 2" of dry, fluffy snow which has now turned granular. BUT.....Thursday and Friday will be in the 50's and 60's! Quite a change, but we're getting used to it. If it's 25* or less, we don't go out unless we have an appointment. Pretty easy to do when you're retired!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Supra Transport Contract Signed

And after reviewing all the previous quotes, the winner is......Reliable Carriers!

$1400, door-to-door, with realtime GPS tracking of the tractor/trailer. Should take 5 to 7 days, but allowances might have to be made for weather conditions.

Pix of Ms Swan's arrival in Free America will be circulated as soon as available.

The wife is still practicing using a garage, but is catching on to it PDQ. Have to find some bright colored tennis balls to hang on the bright orange surveyor's twine I have and then hang them for her "Docking Targets".

And I'm in the process of connecting and initializing the base station / control unit for the Davis weather station which is now sitting outside on the 5' tripod. Not sure what I'll do for data logging until I find the little Linux PC I put together a couple of years ago to run WeatherView on. I'll have to see if I can sweet talk my wife into letting me put a small table on the North wall of the sun room where the cable sneaks in under the weather stripping on the door. The little PC is about the size of a copy of "Unintended Consequences", but not quite as thick. A small keyboard, mouse, and ~17" monitor could sit there and record the data, crunch it, and give you a nice display of realtime weather. Combine it with a simple turnstyle antenna, an inexpensive USB "dongle" receiver, and with some readily available free software for Linux, and you also have a complete system to capture the data from the 137MHz APT Weather Satellites as they pass over several times per day. Be kinda neat to have all that immediate weather data available 24/7.

Electronics workshop and Ham radio station design studies continue. Infrastructure work is being concentrated on the indoor portions of the project as that's when my carpenter buddy is available and not rushed. He'll be stopping by in the next day or so to go over a "Scope of Work" type of discussion, and we'll proceed with the Electronics and Garage workbenches while we discuss what I'd like for the operating position. Electric Radio magazine has nice cover shots every month, so I've dug out a stack of those to show him, and I've just started searching the Web for pix of other nice operating positions. Some of the dimensions are fixed by my choice of equipment for the two "Vintage" operating positions on each side of the main operating position. I'll "blue tape" this out on the floor and wall just as I did for the workbench, and we'll go from there. I'm not looking for a "Museum Grade" desk, so no fancy veneers or drawer pulls. Drawer selection is something we'll go over, and our dimensions might be altered a bit by what's out there in premade drawer/cabinet modules, just as it will be on the workbench side. And the fact that we'll be buying at least 6 units might give us a little extra pull with that vendor.

At this point the (estimated) budget for the two workbenches and drawer units is $2500, and I suppose the custom desk will set me back about the same. There's a lot of locally made, very good quality furniture and cabinetry here, and some of those vendors will occasionally take a "short run" of 6 to 9 pieces. Or so I'm told.....

It's been unseasonably warm here, and the snow is gone, the back yard is drying out, and the landscape guy is coming by. If my wife had written that last sentence it would have read "and the landscape guy is FINALLY coming by". She's still getting used to the fact that we have Real Weather here, and sometimes you can't always do what you'd like, especially if it involves working outdoors. Oh well.....he was one of the few that returned our calls, AND came out to survey the damage and make us a quote, and the quote was very reasonable, about half what we expected. He told us at that time he couldn't get back to do the work for several weeks as he was finishing some big jobs, but that he would get back to us, and he has. A few weeks ago I helped my wife and her friend who moved here about 9 months ago to clean up the back yard. We got 14 bags of leaves, twigs, sticks, etc, and we just made a dent in it. And that was just the backyard.......

And then we all these "plants" growing places they shouldn't, along with several rose bushes that need to get moved, and that's gonna take some digging, and we just 'aint up to it. The guy who's going to do it knew what they all were, and knew what was worth "saving", and what was destined for an Arc Light operation. And we need the yard graded and sculpted, and whatever else needs to be done, at the new double-wide gate. We knew from the beginning we'd have to contract it out, but it took some doing to even get anybody to show up. I'm getting a fast education in "Seasonal Work" for various industries, and landscaping / yard work is definitely in that category. Late fall and right before Christmas are busy times for those guys, as lots of them have secondary gigs that kick in at that time of year. I get it, but my wife sees the cluttered, mismanaged yard, and wants it fixed, and wants it fixed NOW. It's like when she didn't "get" our in-laws remark that "Oh, hunting season just started" when she was talking to him about getting somebody here to do something for her.

Gotta admit, though....having these kinds of "problems" is orders of magnitude better than the "problems" we potentially faced at our former place in Kalifornia.