Wednesday, March 22, 2017

O&G Tower Construction Crew

Moving the Landscaping Stone
Yesterday school was out in Putnam County.  About a week before, my 14 year old grandson, Owen, asked if he and his 12 year old brother, Grant, could spend the night with Evelyn and me on Monday night.  We, of course, said YES.  Then he said, maybe they could dig the hole for my new tower.  DUH!  Free labor?  SURE!

So, the pair showed up Monday after school and we had a lot of fun that evening.  The next day, they were up about 0630 local time, ready to get out there and DIG!  Temperatures were in the high 30's at that time and only made it up to the middle 40's for the day!

I managed to put them off for a bit until I woke up enough by having them eat breakfast and hunt up the tools we would need.  They didn't actually start with the hole project until about 8:50 a.m.  By 11 a.m. they were DONE!  Just over 2 hours and all they had to work with were a couple of shovels and a maul that they used to break some of the rock.  That also included putting together a couple of Rohn 25G tower sections and standing them up to see where the hole needed to be in order to clear the gutter.

On Monday I actually went to Bosley Rentals in Cross Lanes to see about renting a jackhammer because I knew that the land here was mostly rock.  I had no idea those two youngsters would be able to actually dig a 2'x2'x2' hole without the need for a jackhammer or explosives!  I was SURE this would turn out to be a real PITA before the hole could be completed.  As it turned out, there was a fair amount of sandstone and some blue colored rock.  They could sometimes force a shovel under one end of a piece and pry it up.  If not, a couple of swings with the maul would break the rock into smaller pieces.

Grant Really Gets Into His Work
The first step was to remove the landscaping stone and the landscape fabric that were already in place.  In the photo on the upper left, you can see Grant throwing a shovel-full of the stone over one of my wife's nice bushes.  We did not actually have to remove any bushes but we did do a little judicious trimming on one.  Click on any photo to see a larger image.

On the right you can see that Grant really "got into his work" by going headfirst into the hole to loosen up some of the rock near the bottom.  Neither of these boys are afraid of dirt!  Nor are they afraid of hard work.  They actually look forward to doing things with their hands.  They love to work on engines and constantly are checking the oil in my 4-wheeler and coming up with jobs that we can do around here.  In fact, a couple of months ago over Christmas break, they actually re-grouted my shower!
O&G Tower Construction Crew

There was not much space to work so one of them would shovel and the other would carry the dirt away (over the hill) then they would swap jobs.  They took a break or two to go ride my 4-wheeler (they consider that to be BIG fun!) I don't think either of them broke a big sweat.

After they cleaned things up, I took them to lunch at Wendy's (yep, Grandpa is a Big-Spender) and we ate with Tim, K8RRT, and Steve, WW8RT.  After a nourishing 4 for $4 lunch, we drove to Home Depot and loaded ELEVEN 80-pound bags of Quickrete plus three 40 pound bags of gravel into the van.  The ride home with an extra 1,000 pounds in the back of my van was interesting.  If we hit a bump, the rear tires would rub in the wheel wells.  Twice when we had to go up a steeper than normal slope in the road, the trailer hitch drug a bit.  At home, we loaded the Quickrete and gravel onto the 4-wheeler and moved it around to the back porch where it could be covered with a tarp and kept out of the rain ready to be mixed and poured soon.

This even turned into a bit of an archeological "dig" in that they found some metal twist ties, the end that had been cut off a tube of caulking, something that looked to them like Fools Gold, and a crushed Coke can.  No money was found and the "Gold" was not real.

The boys even got a short carpentry lesson in how to cut a 2x4 to fit a 24"x26" hole.  They did not know about the fact that two of the sides of that "box" need to overlap the other two sides to provide a place to nail them together.  Call that a good life lesson learned.  They used a measuring tape, carpenter's square and a handsaw to cut the 2x4 into the sizes we needed to frame the hole.

One thing I will say for sure, and this is NOT just a Proud Grandpa talking, these two boys are WORKERS! And, beside the fact that they do so much work around here, I'm very, very glad and proud to know them!  They are growing into a couple of really exceptional adults.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

New Feature of the 2Tone RTTY Decoder

The 2Tone RTTY Decoder by G3YYD has been upgraded with a new feature.  This new feature is ON by default and in operation and causes 2Tone for look for strings of repeated characters that are at least 6 RTTY characters surrounded by space characters.  2Tone will then enclose those characters in brackets { } so that it will stand out better when you are looking at the received copy.

Version 3.50.294 of Logger32 contains this improvement:
The latest 2Tone RTTY engine has an auto-correlation feature. Support of this feature is added to the Logger32 2Tone windows.

Here is the description from the latest version of 2Tone about this feature:
This version of 2Tone 16.11a introduces a new function. It is an optional function that is enabled by default. It looks for repeated strings of characters surrounded by space characters and are are at least 6 RTTY characters. 2Tone combines the analogue data of the two strings and displays something like this { G3YYD }. The brackets indicating it is a combined version of the 2 strings with a lower probability of error than the single strings on their own. It is all based on statistics so sometimes there will be false matches. Sometimes the {} will not be correct while one of the strings is.

Extract 2Tone.exe to overwrite your current 2Tone.exe.

In setup menu, there are two new items: Repeat Match and Same Reject on.

Repeat match checked (default) will enable the repeated string matching function.

Same Reject on (default unchecked) when checked will surpress the { } output when both input strings are identical. This saves display clutter.

       [NOTE from W8TN: I found the "Same Reject on" feature was CHECKED by default and I had to change it to get the feature to work.]

Internally 2Tone uses auto-correlation of the analogue data to find probable repeats of information. To eliminate potential false positives, the repeated character strings are identical and surrounded with space chacaters plus being at least 6 RTTY characters.

Sent message like " DAVID DAVID " will work but " ED ED " will not - not enough characters . Nor will " DAVID DAVID, " work due to comma at end. " IO92NQ IO92NQ " will work as will " M7T M7T "

This is the way G3YYD describes the new feature in his announcement to the RTTY Contesting Group:
This new version fixes a few minor items but the big one is it will now look for character strings that are repeated and combine the analogue data together to provide an output that has a lower probability of error. To distinguish this synthetic output from what was actually decoded its output is surrounded by curly {} brackets, e.g. { G3YYD }. Occasionally, it will get the matching wrong and give a false output. It is possible to turn this off see the documentation that comes with the upgrade.
In the recent WAE RTTY contest two stations in the UK found that in 4% of their QSOs that this new system saved asking for a repeat. The normal repeat request rate is 8% of QSOs. A 50% reduction is very worthwhile.
It does however require that the sent information is correctly formatted, which it is in most cases. The format required is for the repeated characters to be at least 6 RTTY characters long and surrounded by space characters. Examples of this are, the quotes are for clarity: " G3YYD G3YYD "  or " DAVID DAVID " or " IO92NQ IO92NQ ". However  " ED ED " will not work too short or " DAVID DAVID, " will not work comma after 2nd DAVID. " M7T M7T " will work as the figure shift, letter shift and a space character make it 6 RTTY characters.
It is not just for contest, it also works for everyday QSOs. Just make sure when sending you name, QTH etc to apply the rules as above when setting up the macros.
73 David G3YYD aka M7T in contests

For Logger32 users:
Bob/K4CY has incorporated this feature in Logger32 with an added twist. Logger32 users can opt to convert the   { G3YYD } to G3YYD  . Right click on the 2Tone decode window and check “Underscore corrections/recommendations.”

Below are a couple of screenshots of how this looks.  It was difficult to find any RTTY signals this morning with the CQWWDX CW Contest running so I had to use a pre-recorded sample RTTY file and a YouTube video to get some RTTY signals.

This first one shows the output of 2Tone recognizing a repeated character string (7L4IOU 7L4IOU) and the auto-correlated output is surrounded by curly { 7L4IOU } brackets.  I can see where this might help you notice the callsign better when there is a lot of text displayed on the screen.  Note that in the line above it auto-correlated (176 176) and printed it as { 176 } to show that it had auto-correlated that text string.  [Click on any image to see it larger.]

 But, in trying to get more samples, I found that 2Tone was making many mistakes in identifying a repeated string.  Many times it would print two calls but then put inside the brackets (or underlined in Logger32) a different callsign.  To me, this could lead to more confusion.

In the above example 2Tone prints (GA7RY VA7RQ) as the two strings but auto-correlates that to (VA7RY) which happens to be the correct callsign.  Then it correctly copies (7L4IOU 7L4IOU) and auto-correlates that to (7L4IOU) correctly but also to (UL4IOU) incorrectly.

I guess I will just have to use this feature in the real world for a bit to see how useful it actually is.  If I find it to not be useful, a simple mouse-click can turn it off.

You can download the latest 2Tone program as a ZIP file here:

For those with Logger32, you need to download the latest version of 2Tone (16.11a) as a ZIP file, extract the contents, and copy the “2Tone.exe” and “2Tone.pdf” files into your Logger32 directory.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

2015 Intrepid Spirit Award Recepient - JH1AJT

Zorro - JH1AJT
I just saw a post on N6PSE's Blog titled "The 2015 Intrepid Spirit Award goes to Zorro-JH1AJT." It was posted on April 17, 2016.  You can see the photo of Zorro with his award on the right.  The Blog post states:
"This year’s award goes to a notable Dxer and Dxpeditioner that we have come to respect and admire greatly, Mr. Yasuo “Zorro” Miyazawa-JH1AJT.

This award is to recognize Zorro’s outstanding efforts to activate Eritrea, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Zorro is largely responsible for fulfilling the need for Eritrea, Myanmar and Bangladesh contacts. We recognize Zorro’s unselfish acts to activate these challenging and much needed entities.

We acknowledge Zorro’s pursuit of operating excellence and his quest to activate the rare and often difficult entities. It is for these reasons that we honored him with our Intrepid Spirit Award, presented at the International DX Convention, Visalia, California on April 16th, 2016."

That name rang a big bell in my head.  I remembered having a most intriguing conversation on 10-M SSB while I was driving North on Interstate 77 in Jackson County, WV, with a Japanese ham who had that same name.  I pulled out my Mobile Log and quickly found that QSO.  His QSL was right on top in my Mobile QSL file!  I was correct, I did have a QSO with this same individual way back in 1980!

Below you can see my Mobile Log and the QSL.  The QSO is the last one on this page of my log.  Click on either image below to see a larger image.

I have told dozens and dozens of folks over the years about how much I enjoyed that particular QSO.  According to my log it lasted just 13 minutes but it left a lasting impression on me.  Signals were fantastic and I had absolutely no problem copying or understanding anything Zorro said.

This QSO took place from 4:32 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. local time here in WV.  That would have meant it was between 5:32 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. in Japan.  For the middle of September, that was just about 7 minutes past his sunrise.

If only 10-M would come back to the conditions that were in effect at the time I made this QSO!  Still, I will always have this wonderful memory of a really fantastic QSO made nearly 36 years ago.  Thanks, Zorro!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Snap On Split Bead Ferrite Chokes for Noise Reduction

This morning I spent over an hour trying to work a station on 17-M with no luck.  Toward the end of that effort his signal dropped down into the noise and I decided to give up the chase.  As I was shutting down everything I noticed an issue.

I have a small program that runs on my shack computer which communicates with the SPE Expert 2K-FA amplifier over a USB cable.  I can turn the amp ON/OFF, put it into standby, and monitor its front panel display right from the computer.  Today I shut off the amplifier using that program and then when I closed the program itself, I noticed a change in the noise level in my receiver.  It was a small change but, nevertheless, it was there.  I turned the program back on and the noise came back.

Below you can see a screenshot from the Audacity program which is showing the noise from my receiver when switching the program on and off.  The line of numbers at the top beginning with "0.0", "1.0", "2.0" etc. is seconds.  Beginning just after 1.0 seconds until 4.5 seconds and again at 7.0 until 9.5 seconds, you can see the increased noise level when this computer program was running.  The lower noise displays are when the program is not running.

It is not a huge amount of noise, but, it is still there.  Adding just that much noise can at least make it more difficult to copy a weak station even if it does not cover up the station.  Add this little bit of noise to the noise generated by other pieces of equipment in the shack and it all increases the likelihood that you will have difficulty in hearing the weak ones or it could be enough that you don't hear them at all.

It is apparent that when this program is running, it is sending data back and forth to the amplifier along a USB cable that runs behind my radio.  That data stream is being picked up by the receiver as noise.  The noise is still there with the amplifier off.  It is only when the program is closed that the noise goes away.

Recently I purchased some Snap On Split Bead Ferrites from Palomar Engineers ( just for this purpose (image at left.)  I purchased a 25-pack of Mix 31 (1-250 MHz) 1/4-inch diameter snap on split beads for $50 and a 10-pack of Mix 31 (1-250 MHz) 1/2-inch diameter snap on split beads for another $50.  Shipping was $10.
I took one of the 1/4-inch Split Beads and snapped it on the USB cable at the computer end.  (The 1/4-inch ones fit well on Ethernet cables, USB cables, etc. for a 1-turn choke.  The 1/2-inch size will fit RG-8 cables or you can put 3 turns of Ethernet cable through the 1/2-inch ones for more choking if needed.)

Then, using the same settings on the receiver (same bandwidth, same band, same mode, same antenna, etc.) I listened for the noise when turning that program on and off.  The noise could no longer be heard.  Just to make sure I had actually found the problem, I removed the Split Bead Ferrite Choke from the USB cable and - the noise was back!

This problem turned out to have an easy fix which cost me $2.20 and about 1-minute of my time.  I plan to continue adding Ferrite Chokes to the computer cables in the shack, the Cable Modem, and to the feedlines to reduce and/or eliminate any common-mode issues I might have.  All these things add up to keep the noise away from the receiver so it can do its job and pick out that weak DX.  Every little bit helps!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Common-Mode Choke

Today was a MAJOR snow storm.  12" of snow in 10 hours and it is still coming down!  So, with nothing better to do, I decided to get caught up on some old projects that have been hanging around. You can click on any photo to see a larger image.

Looking Out my Front Door

The first project I decided to tackle was to build a couple of Common-mode Chokes for Jimmy, W8JA.  The one I built was 3-1/2 turns through two stacks of four Mix-43 toroids.  These are available from Fair-Rite as Part No. 5943003801.  This choke's impedance should exceed 1-K Ohms from 1.8 to 18 MHz. and dropping to 550 ohms at 30 MHz.  The full description can be found in an April 2006 document called "Common-Mode Chokes" by Chuck Counselman, W1HIS.  You can find it on the Internet.  

It's a pretty simple job to build this choke.  It is just a 36-inch piece of RG8/U type coax passing 4 times through the upper group of four toroids and three times through the bottom four.  My first job was to build a 36-inch piece of coax with PL-259's on each end.  I used Belden 8267 cable.  Below is a photo of one of the connectors after it was soldered to the cable. 

PL-259 Soldered to Cable

Below is a photo of the completed choke.  You can wind the choke through the toroids with the PL-259's already connected.  So, instead of building a 36-inch piece of cable from scratch, you could just purchase one and wind it through the toroids.  I used a couple of Ty-Raps to secure the windings so they did not "un-wind."  An Amphenol PL-258 double-female connector with Teflon insulation is connected to one end to simplify the installation of this choke either at the antenna or at the rig.

Completed Common-Mode Choke
Building the cable from scratch took some time.  I need to improve my method of doing this if I plan to build many more!

Still, I got one project off my "To Do" list today while "snowed-in"!  On to the next!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tempory Installation of the 8-L 6-M InnovAntenna LFA-2

New Yard Ornament
Once the antenna was tuned and moved to my QTH, it was time to stick it up and see if I could hear any signals from the Moon!  I'm sure my neighbor's think I've gone completely off the rails (my wife is SURE of it) but I think this looks really cool in the front yard.

 With the help of my wife, Evelyn, and later Tim, K8RRT, I managed to place a 10-foot section of Rohn 25 at a place in the yard where the antenna could see my moonset and be able to turn without hitting the house or the trees.  I put the gin pole at the top of that tower section and once we connected the antenna to the gin pole rope, it was not hard to pull it up to about a height of 15-feet. 
CQ the Moon!

I attached a 168-foot piece of LDF4-50A (1/2-inch Heliax) to the antenna, ran it around the house, across the driveway in front of the garage and in through a window in the spare bedroom and then into the shack.  It was connected directly to the Output of the Alpha 8406 amp with a Double-Male "N" connector.

For a few nights now I've been getting up really early to listen off the moon as it sets in my western horizon.  So far I have not copied any signals but the best two nights of the month are coming up and I have high hopes that I will be able to hear something.  On the right is a photo of the antenna aimed at the setting moon.  Click on any photo to make it larger.

UPDATE:   Lance, W7GJ, had traveled to the Federated States of Micronesia to operate a 1-man 6-M EME DX'pedition as V6M. He managed to operate for 3 days before his amp went up in flames! Bummer!  The best EME conditions were just starting when his amp died so he could have worked many more stations if the amp stayed working.  It failed because of voltage spikes on the poor AC mains at his QTH.  He managed to work 37 stations and said he could have doubled that number if the amp had not failed.

     I listened for him and other stations for the first 3 days of his operation with no luck hearing anyone.  Then, as my moon was setting on August 29th, I decided to at least call him.  His procedure is to email each day and post the completed QSO's plus a list of stations he has heard.  I knew I would not be able to work him (unless things improved with better conditions) but I was hopeful that he would report hearing me.  I only transmitted for 42 minutes (actual key-down was 48 seconds out of each 2 minute period.)

     Below is the important portion of his email report for that day:

Anyway, on August 29 during the NA moonset, I worked W1JJ, W7JW, W3UUM, W7UT, and KR7O. I also copied K4PI, K7CW, K7RWT, N3CXV, N3XX, N5DG, N8JX, VE1JF, W3XO, W6XU, and W8TN.

     WOOOO, HOOOO!!!!  My little single antenna 6-M station was actually heard in Micronesia!

     A couple of days later I ran a sked with a station in Michigan and he copied me as well.  However, I just am not able to hear the other stations.  Obviously I have something not right in my receive setup (either the radio or the computer) which needs to be worked out before I can make EME QSO's.  Still, the fact that these relatively small stations have heard me is proof that it may be possible in the future.

     I have now taken down the antenna from the front yard.  It would have come down at the same time anyway but the Homeowner's Association did make a visit here on Sunday because one of my nice neighbor's filed a complaint.  After that visit, Evelyn told me to just keep it up as long as I want in the front yard!  Love that gal!

Building the Coax Cables for the 6-M Station

W5SWL Connectors
Trying to keep the total feedline loss to a minimum, I decided to use LMR-600 to connect the radio to the amp, LDF4-50A (1/2-inch) Heliax and AVA7-50 (1-5/8-inch) Heliax to connect the amplifier to the top of the tower and FSJ4-50B (1/2-inch) SuperFlex as the rotor loop to connect to the antenna.  The LMR-600 has a loss of 0.5 dB per 100 feet, the LDF4-50A is 0.463 dB per 100 feet, the AVA7-50 is 0.137 dB per 100 feet and the FSJ4-50B is 0.724 dB per 100 feet.  My calculations indicate that I should have a TOTAL feedline loss of 0.821 dB between the transceiver and the connection to the balun at the antenna.   This includes an approximate 0.0025 dB of insertion loss for each connector at 50.1 MHz.

The first cable I built was using the LMR-600.  It is the cable to go between the UHF antenna connector of the K-3 transceiver and the "N" INPUT connector of the amplifier.  I purchased the connectors (one UHF male and one "N" male) from W5SWL on eBay.  You can see a photo of the two connectors on the right.  They were really inexpensive ($6.95 each) and look to be VERY well made.  The Times Microwave TC-600-UMC UHF male connector for LMR-600 costs $64.95 at The Antenna Farm so these W5SWL connectors saved me a LOT of money!

Center Pin Soldered on UHF Connector
The first step was to convert the dimensions given by W5SWL for the connector installation from decimal inches to fractional inches (as I did not have a decimal ruler - Hi!)  Once that was done, I proceeded to cut the end of the LMR-600 cable to the proper length.  This cable is much stiffer than RG-213 with a solid center conductor (copper-clad aluminum) nearly 3/16" in diameter.  Cutting it was a little more difficult than usual but not bad.  Combing back the braid was routine but when I tried to tin the center conductor, I ran into a problem.  I apparently applied too much heat (although I thought I was being careful) and the center conductor melted right through the foam dielectric.  On my second attempt, I only soldered one side of the center conductor at a time and let it cool in between heat applications.  I then tinned the inside of the center pin to make it even easier to attach the two together.  This method seemed to work well as I just heated the center pin with the soldering iron (holding it with needle nose pliers) and pushed it onto the center conductor.  A little more heat and a touch of solder was applied to the pin and it was securely attached.  Screwing the connector body together was a snap.  It worked just like a normal clamp-on "N" connector.  Then I added some heat shrink and a label to finish the installation.

Finished UHF Male Connector
I proceeded to install the "N" male connector on the other end of the cable.  As I always seem to have trouble installing "N" connectors, this one did not disappoint!  It took two tries to get the dimensions correct to allow the center pin to extend the proper distance inside the connector.  But, I got it done.  Click on any of the photos to see a larger image.

The next cable to be constructed was the FSJ4-50B (1/2-inch) SuperFlex jumper from the amplifier to the LDF4-50A (1/2-inch) Heliax that runs from the shack to where it can connect to the 1-5/8-inch Heliax.  I purchased a pair of Andrew F4PNMV2-HC N Male connectors on eBay that were NIB (New in Box) for $27.10 delivered. 

Prepped End of SuperFlex
Here Mr. Murphy reared his ugly head!  Years ago while assembling a 4-bay array of 432 yagis for EME (Moonbounce), I purchased the Andrew prep tool for the LDF4-50A 1/2-inch Heliax.   Unfortunately, that tool will NOT work on SuperFlex which has different dimensions.  BUMMER!  It took me about 3 hours to put on the first connector and I was really stressed doing it.  I tried to find someone who had the right tool to no avail so I had to claw my way through the second connector installation without the proper tools.  Since I had learned some things in my first few failed attempts, this time it only took about 1-1/2 hours (along with Evelyn's help) to install the second connector.  On the left below you can see the cable prepped and ready for the connector to be installed.  On the right is the finished connector with heat shrink installed.  It makes for a nice finished connector.
Installed "N" Male on SuperFlex

Later, in setting up my antenna on a temporary basis, I needed to install a couple of "N" male connectors on a length of LDF4-50A and - HEY, I had the proper tool.  It only took about 2-1/2 hours to install BOTH connectors and I'm proud to say they are done right!  Running 1,500-watts through that cable has been flawless.

UPDATE - When I went to install the beautiful LMR-600 cable I made above, I became truly depressed!  As I tried to screw the male "N" connector onto the amplifier, it seized up and would not turn.  I could force it to turn with a wrench but it was effectively no longer a working connector!  I am really sure I did nothing to screw up the installation of the connector, it is just that the money I saved with the W5SWL connectors turned out to be a false savings.  Now I'll have to purchase a REAL Times Microwave "N" male connector and cut the bad one off then install the one I should have put on to begin with.  Live and learn!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tuning the 8-L 6-M InnovAntennas LFA-2 Yagi

Antenna at 39-feet on K8RRT's Tower
Over a period of a few days, I have been "tuning" the new 6-M antenna.  It has taken that time because the antenna is being tuned at Tim, K8RRT's QTH and to be frank, I have not been feeling all that good.  But, I think yesterday (8/25/2015) we have the antenna working about as well as it can.

SWR @ 39-feet on K8RRT's Tower
On the left you can see the antenna in it's test location.  I put the gin pole up on Tim's Rohn 45G tower and used it to pull the antenna up to about 39-feet for testing.  You can see the truss support I added by clamping a 5-foot piece of aluminum angle to the square boom.  This makes it much easier to level the antenna at ground level instead of on top of the tower.  If you noticed the reflector is bent - that is by design!  You can click on any image to see it larger.

Once the readings were taken at that height, the antenna was lowered to ground level using the gin pole rope and adjustments were made.  The antenna was then pulled back up and more measurements were made.  The feedline connecting to the antenna was a 50-foot length of 1/4-inch Heliax.  The analyzer (courtesy of Rick, W8ZT) was a Rig Expert AA-54 Antenna Analyzer.  The readings were saved to the analyzer and uploaded to my computer for analysis.

Bringing it Home
On the right you can see the SWR plot.  The graph's are centered on 50.200 MHz and goes plus or minus 1 MHz from that point.  The SWR at 50.200 MHz is 1.13:1 which looks pretty good to me!  The best SWR seen was 1.06:1 across the range of 50.460 - 50.500 MHz.  On the left is a graph showing the complex impedances across the same range

Finally, on the right, is an image of how the antenna was transported back to my QTH.  My co-pilot was invaluable in keeping me advised of potential hazards on the right side of the vehicle.  We brought the driven element half of the antenna home at 7:30 p.m. so traffic was very light.  Now I need to retrieve the second half of the antenna.

UPDATE - Second half of the antenna was returned with no problems (8/26/2015.)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Building the InnovAntennas 8-L 6-M LFA-2 Yagi

The Van is Packed
 On Wednesday, August 12th, the weather was no longer oppressively hot and it seemed like a good day to build a 6-M antenna.  On Tuesday night, my grandsons, Owen and Grant, spent the night and helped me load the van.  I had decided to build the antenna at Tim, K8RRT's QTH because he has a nice 50-foot tower with nothing on it that we can put the antenna on for testing.  In the photo of the back of the Van at the left, you can see the InnovAntennas shipping container (the round tube) which contained the 8-L 6-M LFA-2 yagi.  This antenna has a 38-1/2 foot long square boom.  It has a loop-fed driven element with direct 50-ohm feed and no matching losses.  It utilizes a bent reflector to enhance SWR bandwidth and F/B.  Everything about this antenna is designed to minimize noise pickup so it should provide the best possible antenna that I can erect for weak-signal work on 6-M.   Click on any photo to see a larger image.

On the first day we arrived at Tim's QTH about 8:40 a.m. and began by unpacking the antenna and inventorying the parts.  Since this antenna was designed and built in Great Britain, the instructions took a little work to understand.  Things like metric measurements, "P" clips, "RivNut inserts", "Jubilee" clips, and so on took some searching on Google to understand.  Tim took care of sanding the inside of all the element center sections and the outside of the element tips that will slide into the center sections.  He used a handy power drill attachment made by Rick, W8ZT, that makes this job a snap.  This is done to reduce any corrosion on the elements and assure the best possible conduction and lowest resistance at those junctions.  When we assembled the elements tips, Tim coated them with Noalox to further enhance the conductivity and to keep moisture out of the junction which can lead to antenna corrosion in the future.  We also used anti-seize on all the Stainless Steel hardware to prevent it from galling and from forming corrosion.

On the right you can see we assembled the boom sections and loosely installed the center element sections to the boom.  Then we began to see a problem.  The instructions I had been emailed did not match the parts we had.  A phone call to the U.S. distributor resulted in my leaving a voicemail that was not returned.  I called again later and did talk to someone but they were not able to be too helpful and suggested I send an email.  I did late in the day email Justin, G0KSC, who is the designer of the antenna but it was late in the evening in England.  My email contained 9 major questions that I could not answer from the documentation I received.  I got Justin's response at 3:23 a.m. the next day.

After a couple of email exchanges, Justin emailed me the NEW dimension chart for my antenna.  It seems that the manual I was originally sent was for the older version of this antenna.  The antenna I actually have is a HD version.  The boom sections are larger, all the element sections are larger, and some of the parts that were used on the earlier model are not used on my antenna.  I am glad to have a ruggedized antenna but wish the manual originally sent was correct and more complete.

Squaring the Elements
Once I had the new dimension chart, I felt much more comfortable beginning to assemble the antenna.  On Thursday, the CREW began work about 10:30 a.m. (to give Tim a chance to get some sleep!)  Things went much more quickly now that we were more familiar with the antenna, the parts, and had the new (correct) dimension chart.  As you can see in the photo at the left, after we adjusted the center element sections so they were exactly centered on the boom, and we adjusted the element tips to the correct dimensions, we used a metal square to ensure that the elements were exactly perpendicular on the boom.  Having the grandsons available to run the Allen wrenches, socket wrenches, assist with measurements and fetch and carry was a Godsend!

End of Day 2
We finished Day 2 of the Antenna Build with all the elements square to the boom and perfectly horizontal (super easy to do on a square boom!)  We had one minor problem when "One More Turn Tim" managed to sheer off the head of one of the "Jubilee" clips (hose clamps!)  A few minutes with a hacksaw got the broken clamp off but we did not have a replacement so that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Also, we are still stymied over the Reflector dimensions.  The reflector element tips I received are 960 mm long.  There is a bend exactly 100 mm from the open end which needs to be inserted into the center element section.  That leaves 860 mm remaining.  The old dimension sheet called for there to be 760 mm for the reflector tip and the NEW dimensions call for 758 mm.  I have 102 mm EXTRA.  That's about 4 inches.  On EACH side of the reflector.  That can't be right.  So, I sent a photo of a measurement tape next to the element tip that showed it to be 960 mm.  Justin referred my question to their factory manager but that was at the end of the day in England so I probably won't hear from him until tomorrow morning.  Most likely I will need to cut 102 mm off the end of the tips.  Not a problem as long as I know what the real dimensions need to be.

On the right you can see how the antenna looks right now.  One element tip needs to be installed because of the broken "Jubilee" clip (which I replaced at the hardware store tonight) and the reflector tips need to be installed once we hear from the factory manager.  Then we can install the boom-to-mast bracket and construct the guy assembly.  Finally, the ferrite 1:1 balun needs to be connected to the driven element and the antenna will be ready to test.

Except for the bungled instructions and incorrect dimension chart, I am feeling quite pleased about this antenna.  It is Heavy Duty for sure and with the square boom the elements look really nice all leveled up.  The "fit and finish" of the antenna is First Class and all the element tips are cut to exactly 100 mm longer than the new dimensions.  Thus, the over-lap of each element tip is about 4 inches.  The boom sections were very clearly marked as well as the points for attaching the guy cables.  And, making measurements against a square boom is a real pleasure over trying to use a round boom!

I can't wait to put some RF to it and see what the SWR looks like.  Of course, the real test will be when it is up in the air and hearing those super-weak signals.  Bring on the DX!

UPDATE - - -

Tower Climber - Grant
Friday saw all three of us back at Tim's QTH to put the final tweaks on the antenna.  Overnight I heard from the factory manager at InnovAntennas and he told me to cut 100 mm off the Reflector Element Tips.  That was easily accomplished with a small tubing cutter.  There must have been an error made at the factory when my antenna was built.

I had acquired a new "Jubilee" clip (hose clamp) for the one we broke yesterday and the remaining element tip was installed along the the Reflector element tips.  The ferrite 1:1 balun was connected to the feedpoint.  This revealed an Oops!  I needed to un-install the center insulators in order to put the connecting screws through the Driven Element.  Over-sight on my part yesterday.  Then all the element tip measurements were re-checked (for a third time) and minor corrections of no more than 1 mm were made to about half of them.  Before anyone asks, yes, I am being anal about these measurements.  1 mm should make no difference whatsoever.  But, I'll sleep better knowing that the antenna is just a close as I can possibly make it to the required dimensions.

As I mentioned earlier, this antenna utilizes a "bent reflector" to enhance SWR bandwidth and F/B.  It took a little effort to make sure that the "bend" in the reflector element tip was in the same plane as the rest of the elements.  A little tweaking of the driven element loop was also required to make sure it was level as well.  Once all these final tweaks were done, we installed the boom to mast bracket a little bit forward of the center of gravity of the antenna because I will be adding feedline to the "lighter" end later that will hopefully balance the antenna.  A quick check was made of the antenna with Rick, W8ZT's Rig Expert AA-54 analyzer although the antenna was just 3-feet off the ground.  SWR was 1.26:1 so it seems like it might be not too far off once the antenna is raised.

Antenna Ready for SWR Testing
I then called on the services of my 11-year old grandson, Grant, who is rapidly becoming my next generation tower climber.  You can see him on the tower at the upper left.  This is the first time he has used my Petzl Navaho Sit Fast climbing harness.  Grant was really pleased with how safe he felt on the tower using this harness and the Petzl Grillon Hook Adjustable Lanyard.  He said he could just sit up there all day with that equipment!  However, I think Evelyn grew a few more grey hairs during this as she kept telling him to come down!

Finally we carried the antenna around Tim's house and hoisted it up on his Rohn 45G tower.  It is only about 7 feet above ground now but we will connect some feedline to it and pull it up to about 40-feet to run a full test.  This might show that the SWR needs to be adjusted but that should be rather simple to do - just lower the antenna, tweak the driven element and hoist it back up.  That can be done multiple times all from the ground.  You can see the current resting place of the antenna on the last photo.  Click on any photo to see a larger image.

With today's work I have nearly completed one more step in the New 6-M Antenna Project.  There is still a lot to be done but I just keep plugging along one step at a time.  "Haste makes waste" and since I expect this antenna to serve me for many years to come, I'm trying to do it all right.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Building an FM Broadcast Radio

Today was an overcast, rainy and foggy day.  Rather unusual for August. So, it was a great day to stay inside and build a radio (or TWO!)  Our two grandsons, Owen (13) and Grant (11) have been helping us with landscaping this week.  On Monday we picked up a 6x8 foot trailer full of two scoops of black mulch.  The boys shoveled that to a yard cart they had attached to my 4-wheeler and they drove it from the street to the top of the yard and spread it out.  Tuesday, we did the same thing all over again!  On Wednesday we used the trailer to get 720 pounds of rocks to edge the landscaping and the 4-wheeler/yard cart was used again.  The boys really did a LOT of heavy work on those days so they deserved a day off.

About 3 years ago I purchased a crystal radio kit at the Dayton Hamvention and the boys built it.  They then installed a longwire antenna at their house and listened to it a good deal.  Not being very sensitive, it only picked up a few stations but they had fun with the building.  At the 2013 Dayton Hamvention, I picked up a more advanced AM radio kit and in January 2014, Owen and Grant built that one as you can see in the photo above on the right.  They did all the work, including the soldering, and had a really good time. This radio was much better than the crystal radio and pulled in more stations.

As I was getting ready to go to this year's Hamvention, the boys asked if I was going to buy them another radio kit!  WOW!  That was a very pleasant surprise but, I didn't find anything at Dayton that would be good for them.  So, I turned to Amazon and found an Elenco FM Radio Kit for $15.19 with FREE shipping.  Of course I bought TWO of them so each boy would have his own.  NOTE:  The manufacturer's suggested age is 17 and up!  However, I just KNEW that would NOT apply to these guys - and I was right.

On the Left above you can see Grant soldering his kit today.  On the Right is Owen soldering on his.  I only have one soldering station so we worked out a "share" plan where one boy would install parts while the other was soldering.  Then they switched.  It worked great!  You can click on any photo to see a larger image.

On the left below is an image of how the small parts were packaged in the kit.  That photo also shows one page of the instructions.  Very reminiscent of Heathkit with plenty of detail and images for them to see what the instructions were talking about.

The kit has a screened circuit board with schematic symbols marking the placement of each part.  The radio has two IC's and one is pre-soldered to the circuit board.  The other is socketed.  We learned that capacitance is measured in farads and resistance in ohms, that resistors have a color code to identify them, we learned the schematic symbols for all the parts, and so many other great things during the build.  The kit is built in two sections and after the first section there is a TESTING phase where you can see how you are progressing.  Both radios passed all tests at this point. 

We took a snack break, and a lunch break as these guys burn a huge amount of calories even building a radio!  Then we had to go walk the dog for their Uncle and that took an hour or so.  Finally, we reached the last step and ran into a snag.  Grant attached the telescoping antenna to his radio with no problems but it turned out that Owen's kit only had the holes drilled in his antenna and they were not tapped for the screws. These were VERY tiny screws and I knew no one would have a tap and die set for them so on the way back from the dog walk we stopped at the Hobby Shop and got a couple of 2mm bolts and nuts.  Back at home we had to drill out the holes a tiny bit so the bolts would fit but soon Owen's antenna was installed.  All in all, we actually only spent about 4 hours building the radios.

SUCCESS!  Both radios worked right off the bat!  Smiles all around!  High fives with Grandpa!

The radios have an auto scan feature and Grant read the instructions and figured out how to tune the radios for the first time.  OUTSTANDING!  Both radios were able to bring in many stations with enough audio that Evelyn and I had to ask them to turn them down a touch.  As we were taking them to meet their mom, one of them was running the radio in the back of the van.  What fun!

I guess I need to lay in a supply of 9-volt batteries as I can see these radios are going to get a lot of use!  I know that both Owen and Grant had a great time building these radios and I know they built a lot of great memories for the rest of their lives.  And, Grandpa had at least as much fun as they did!  Best 4 hours and $30 I've spent in a long, LONG time!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Preparing for the SteppIR Antenna Repair

NOTE:  I wrote first part of this post nearly TWO YEARS ago but did not publish it for some reason.  It's hard to believe that it's been that long that I have been "preparing" to take down and repair the SteppIR!

 ===== Previously unpublished info follows =====

Today (7 August 2013) was the day I began preparing to take down the SteppIR and repair/modify it.  I took a hike over the hill at 11:30 a.m.  The temperature was 79° and the humidity was 63% so it was not the most pleasant day for this work.  Still, we had not experienced any rain for a few days so things were dry.

Weed-eating to Clear the Work Area
After installing 18-feet of new trimmer line and filling the gas tank, I took my Stihl weed-eater and my electric leaf blower over the hill.  I also took a bottle of water, gloves, eye protection, etc.

The first thing I did was to trim around the tower and blow off the leaves and junk that had accumulated there.  I carefully pulled up the excess cables so I did not cut anything I did not want to cut.  Then it was just swinging the weed-eater back and forth.  Every so often the line would wrap around a bush and break and I had to shut off the weed-eater and fix the line.

End of Day No. 1
By the time I ran out of gas, I had run out of trimmer line on one hole and had about 1 foot left on the other.  I was more than glad to quit and climb back up the hill.

The picture at the upper left shows the work in progress.  You can see a stump that is tall enough to serve as a seat.  Basically the weeds were between 2 and 2-1/2 feet tall.  In the photo on the right, you can see how the tower area is now cleared.  The small bushes need to be taken out with some clippers and I may put the grandsons onto that project.

While I was there I noticed that a grapevine has grown up the upper guy line on to the North.  That guy will be dropped when the SteppIR comes down so that grapevine can be cleared then.  Next I need to measure the space I have cleared to see if it is enough to contain the SteppIR.  If not, I may have to take out some more bushes with a chainsaw to the NW of the tower.

Other items that need attention include pulling up the control line and RG-6 cable that run to the Beverage Hub so that they do not get damaged while the antenna work is being performed.  Also, the elevated radials for the 160-M Inverted-L need to be rolled up.  Installation of the top guy line to the NW needs to be completed.  The wires at the base of the tower need to be cleaned up so they do not get in the way.  Once that is done I can pull the 1/2-inch Heliax up to the top of the tower for measurement then cut it and install a connector on that end.  This will be the 6-M feedline and you can see it coiled up in the photo on the right.

Total time spent on the project today was just under 3 hours including the installation of trimmer line and cleanup of the tools and boots. Still, I'm pretty tired and need to rest before going over the hill again.

===== End of previously unpublished info =====

On a later date the grandsons DID go over the hill along with Evelyn and they removed the small bushes and finished the initial cleanup.  I think they also sprayed extensively with Roundup to prevent the undergrowth from returning.

Fast Forward to July 1, 2015, and the grandsons are back on the brush clearing project!  This time they are two years older and can run the weed eaters themselves.  They REALLY jumped into this job big-time and cleared the area around the tower in record time!

Owen Clearing the NE Guy Anchor
Grant Lopping Small Trees
On the left you can see a photo of Owen clearing things out toward the Northeast guy wire.  I did not clear the paths to the guy wires in 2013 and they had become quite overgrown.  On the right is a photo of Grant lopping off some trees that had been growing for quite some time.  We took a cooler with plenty of water and Gatorade because it was warm and humid that day.

I did not keep close track of the time but it seems like we only spent about two to two and a half hours and in that time the boys had completely cleared the area around the tower and cut a path to the Northeast and the South guy wires.  I had to go back up to the garage and bring back the chainsaw to complete the clearing of a path to the South guy wire.

We eventually ran one weedeater out of gas and the other one ran out of string and that was the point where we decided to call it quits for the day.  Back on the patio it was time to down another bottle of Gatorade and try to cool off before hitting the showers.  On the left you can see how Owen looked with weed litter all over him!  (Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

Owen Covered in Weed Litter
CLICK HERE to see a 48-second video of Owen weed eating around the Northeast guy anchor.  I shot this on my cell phone and it was difficult to see the screen but the video captured what the boys were both doing.

Bringing Home the BIG Heliax
A couple of weeks later the grandsons helped me retrieve a 190-foot length of Commscope-Andrew AVA7-50 (1-5/8" Heliax) from Ravenswood thanks to the generosity of Mike, N8WC.  We first picked up the 4-wheeler trailer from the grandsons house (they did all the hooking up!)  A little more than an hour later we were in Ravenswood and trying to run my minivan (miniature van as Grant calls it) up through Mike's field to the barn.  We made it but did pick up a load of grass in my front bumper!  Loading the nearly 200 pound roll of hardline was not difficult considering the great help I had!  The hardline is now sitting on my patio about to be pulled up the tower to serve as feedline for my new 6-M antenna.  In the first part of this Post you have read that I planned to use 1/2-inch Heliax as the feedline but thanks to N8WC, this 1-5/8-inch Heliax will drastically reduce the feedline loss.  Thanks, Mike!

 As the years progress for me, having these two grandsons to help with projects like this is FANTASTIC!  Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bad Day for my Van

WOOWZER!  What a fun day --- NOT!  The grandsons, Owen & Grant, were sitting with me in the van in Eleanor, WV, waiting on the purchaser of Aunt Edith's house to meet us there.  A fellow who was just out of high school was cutting the yard.  Suddenly there was a loud BANG and the sound of glass shattering.  It seems he ran over the bright yellow "Cap" that is over the gas line in the front yard.  (The grass was really high and I'm sure he didn't see it.)  However, the end result was that the mower flung that really heavy metal cap about 15-feet to where it struck my rear window just under the rear spoiler.  Shattered the crap out of the rear window of the van.  Scared the crap out of the 3 of us who were SITTING in the van at the time as well!  (Click on any photo to see it larger.)

I felt really bad for the lawn mowing kid as after he ascertained that no one was hurt, he began to tell us how his day had gone.  The first mower would not start and when he finally got it going, the blade caught on the internal shroud and messed it up totally.  He called the property owner who eventually brought another old mower (the one that trashed my van) and while waiting for him to show up, the battery died on this kid's car!  Then, he blows out the rear window of a van.  It sure was not a good day for him.

Anyway, the van is in the shop and should be repaired tomorrow.  The cost will be less than my $1,000 deductible but the property owner said he would pay for it.  Heck, even the lawn mowing kid offered to pay for it.  So, it's going to all work out without any major problems and we all have a great story to tell.  . . . Hey, did you hear about the time my van window was blown out by something thrown by a lawnmower?  Yeah, there's lots of mileage in that one for sure!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Logger32 - Last Upload to LoTW ToolTip

Logger32 Version 3.50.107 has added a very cool feature to this logging program.  Here is the Release Note describing the feature:

Version 3.50.107
ToolTip added to the DX Spot Window and BandMaps to show date of last LoTW upload by the DX Station
The image at the right shows what the ToolTip looks like.  Once you set up all the "conditions" listed below, then hovering your mouse over the Green "LoTW" square at the left of a spot in the DX Spot Window or any BandMap will result in a "ToolTip" popping up which will show the date of the last LoTW upload of that particular station and how many days it has been since that upload.

In order for this feature to work, you MUST download LoTW data from a site that contains the date data.  Here is one that has been suggested:

To download from that site you need to do this:
From the DX Spots Window, right-click and choose Setup | Load the LoTW users file
Then, in the window that pops up, click Config | Change Internet filepath or URL
Now, enter the above URL for WD5EAE's site and press Enter. 
Then, while you have this window showing, choose Config | Filter inactive users, and
pick any option other than the last one.
Now click the "Download" button and when the file is complete, press "Save data."

You now have the LoTW data complete with the date info and you must set the following items to complete this setup:

In the Bandmap windows make sure there is a check-mark on each of these:

     Config | Show tips | Show tips
     Config | Show LoTW user

In the DX Spots Window make sure there is a check-mark on each of these:

     Setup | Tooltips | Show tips
     Setup | Appearance | Show LoTW user

That should complete the setup and you will now be able to see a ToolTip for any LoTW user which shows how recently they have uploaded to LoTW.  Quite a neat feature!

Remember, in order for this data to remain useful to you, every week or so you should download the LoTW data again.  Plus, that will add any "New" LoTW users to your file. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

AlphaClock for Your Desktop

Have you ever wanted a clock display someplace else on your desktop instead of only the bottom right part of the status bar?  Well, here is one that you can put anywhere on the screen, set the color to your liking, and even have it display UTC time.  AlphaClock is "Freeware" and is a very small program.  Just download the self-extracting EXE file from HERE, run it to extract the files to the folder of your choice, then RUN it by double-clicking on "aclock.exe" in the extracted files.

Once you have AlphaClock running on your desktop, you can right-click on the clock display and choose your color scheme, UTC time, and have it start when Windows starts.  Left-click and hold on the clock and you can drag it anywhere on the screen.  As you can see in the above image, I have AlphaClock set to the "Amber" color scheme and have positioned it right above the callsign entry field in N1MM.  The small "u" at the left means AlphaClock is displaying UTC Time.  (Click on the image to view it larger.)  It makes it super convenient to see the time since I'm focused on the callsign entry window most of the time I am contesting.  With it displaying UTC, there is no need for me to "convert" my computer clock time.  If you choose, it will also display 12-hour time.  And, just hover the mouse over it and the Day / Date is displayed.  Plus, it always sits on "Top" of all other windows so it's always visible.  AlphaClock will run on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 or Windows XP and I have it working just fine on Windows 7/64.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to BackUp MMTTY and MVARI Macros in Logger32

Have you spent a lot of time creating Macros in Logger32 for use with MMTTY or the MVARI digital modes?  If so, what happens if your computer dies?  Do you lose all that work?  Hopefully not!  If you have Backed Up your User Files to some off-site location like a CD, a Thumb Drive, another computer hard drive, or even by sending the files in an email to your Gmail, Yahoo, HotMail or other WEB based email account - NOT to an email account which is downloaded to your computer email program like Thunderbird or Outlook Express.  The email you send needs to be stored out in the "Cloud" so that if your computer dies, you can get a new computer and still access that email.

In Logger32, on the line directly below the Menu Bar, there is a string of icons for various features of Logger32.  The 2nd Icon from the left is for Zipping your User files.  See the image on the right.  Click on any image to see it larger.

Click on this "Zip user files" Icon and a new window opens called "Backup user files."  See the image on the left below.

Now just click on the "Start" button to save all the User Files to a Zip archive.   In the example here, the file will be saved to the following directory:


You can click on the "Browse" button to save it in a different location if you wish.

The files that are backed up include your Logger32.ini, MMTTY.ini, UserPara.ini, and several other files that contain your "User" information.  As far as your Macros are concerned, there are two files that contain them and they are called:



The MMTTY Macros are stored in the second file above and the MMVARI ones in the first one.  You can open either of those files in a text editor like Notepad to view them or change them if you desire.  You can also find these files in your basic Logger32 directory if you want to save them separately from the Zip archive.

If you click on the First Icon on the left in Logger32, it will backup all your databases and your logbook.  That Zip archive may contain 20 to 30 separate files depending on how you actually use your Logger32.  It contains the .ISD, .ISF, and .ISM files that are your logbook as well as your IOTA database files, Country database files, etc.  Save this Zip file in a safe "off-site" location as well.

You can also export your full log as an ADIF file as a further backup.  Keep that file in a safe place also.

Having all these files backed up in a SAFE location will save you HOURS of work and frustration WHEN (not IF) your computer dies!  They can be used to restore your Logger32 to the new computer without the need for you to re-invent the wheel!

It is so quick to do that you have no excuse for not doing this on a regular basis.

1.  Zip the files
2.  Send yourself an email with those two Zip files as attachments.

Easy, peasy!   Don't forget to also send yourself the LoTW P12 file to save yourself having to set up a new LoTW account. You WILL thank me one day if you do this!