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!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Logger32 Country Database Exceptions from ClubLog

In a recent update, Logger32 added a feature to make the QSO's shown in your log more accurate.  You can find this feature by clicking on "Setup" in the Menu bar and this will give you more Menu Options.  Click on the "Updates" item on the new Menu Bar and you will see your choices.  The one I'm showing here is the "Country database exceptions from Clublog."  If you hover the mouse over that item, a pop-up will reveal your options.  Choosing "Look for updates now."  Logger32 will open a new window and download ALL the Clublog Exceptions that are available.  You can see an example of that window on the Left.  Click on any image to see it larger.

It will show you how many exceptions have been downloaded when it has completed (and the progress bar has moved across the top of your screen.)

Once you have downloaded all the exceptions, click on "Updates" and then click on "Validate DXCC country codes from Clublog".  This will open another window that allows you to choose what the process does with entries in your log.  It would be a GREAT idea to backup your logbook, just in case you make changes that you do not want to make.

You can see the Options I picked in the photo on the upper Right.  I was moving cautiously to make sure I didn't screw anything up.  I chose NOT to change the DXCC country for any "Informational" entries in my log.  These are entries that have an equal sign "=" after the callsign.  They do not count for anything but are in my log for informational purposes.  I also chose the "Manual" confirmation of changes.  This caused a pop-up to appear for each potential change and I could manually "Approve" it or not.  I also chose to NOT change any entry that had been approved by ARRL.  And, I told Logger32 I was doing the full logbook and "promised" to recalculate my statistics later.

After the process completed, the box you see on the upper right was completed.  It made 21 corrections to my log.  This has not been a huge change in my log, but it definitely improved my statistics.  For example, when I logged "N5AIU/R" (a Rover station I worked on 6-M), Logger32 gave me credit for working European Russia!  This process removed that error.

Once you have done the entire logbook (and recalculated your statistics) you can set it to Automatically Update your log (Updates | Country database exceptions from Clublog | Enable auto updates.)  The update will then automatically update daily.

This is another great feature of Logger32 - putting the power of Clublog to use to keep your logbook as accurate as possible.  More instructions are in the Help file under "Clublog."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Antenna Question

The photo on the left was in the April 2014 issue of QST on Page 88.  Can anyone tell why this guy is not seeing any directional performance from his antenna?

I did not see it right away and had to go through several different thoughts and a couple of re-looks at the photo.

Click on the photo to see a larger image.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Amateur Equipment Inventory

The ARRL Contest Update for January 15, 2014, included a suggestion from the Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club's Cheese Bits newsletter that we, as hams, need to make an inventory of our equipment.  The article is reprinted below with permission of ARRL.  This is a useful idea not only for our spouse or whoever is charged with the duty of taking care of what we leave behind but can be beneficial for ourselves.  It can remind you what you actually paid for an item or how long you've really owned it when you go to sell it.

We are all getting older, that's a given. And, for the most part, we have a considerable inventory of ham radio related products. But, how many of us actually have this inventory written down? I started doing this many years ago in a Microsoft Word document but I got too detailed on what I was trying to keep track of, and with my limited knowledge of Microsoft Word, I had no way to sort it.

Even if you don't use Microsoft Excel to record this data, it can still be very beneficial just to record the simplest record on paper or even in Microsoft Word. Making this a New Year's resolution to simply "work" on this project over the year is a good start. You don't have to complete it by next Friday, just START on it TODAY!

I've seen some hams pass away where the person who has to go through their "stuff" has no idea that a rotor control box on the operating table necessarily has a rotor connected to it out on the tower, that empty boxes for "filters" indicate those "filters" are actually "inside" a radio, which charger belongs to which radio, and so on.  Even when another ham tries to unravel this mess, that charger issue can be a huge problem.  To solve the charger issue, I have started putting a label on the cable of a charger indicating what equipment it belongs to.  To solve the first issue, a simple list of equipment with notes showing the basic info is a great start.  I also need to do a little work on where I keep my manuals, accessory cables, connectors, fuses, etc.   A note in the description (or a column in Excel) could tell WHERE those items are located.  The "Notes" can also contain information about "issues" with that particular piece of equipment or any separate options or accessories that are installed or are located in a box or a drawer somewhere.  HECK, that's a great idea even for while I'm still HERE.  Sometimes it takes me days to find where I put those parts just a mere 10 years ago! 

Now go start this BASIC and SIMPLE inventory list TODAY! You can work on it as time is available but at least START it TODAY! I did!  See above a Screen Shot of my beginning effort.

One Other Idea:

While I'm at it, you should also begin looking at Life and Death Planning (if you haven't already done so.)  There is no guarantee for ANY of us as to how much time we have left so don't think that just because you are relatively young and healthy that this does not affect you.  Below is a link to a good place to start.  There is some very good information here as well as Checklists you can download and print to get yourself started.  Plus, the website has an easy to remember name!

========== Excerpt of ARRL Contest Update follows  ==========

Taking Inventory

The New Year is always a time of resolutions and resolve...and maybe a bucket list or two. The January issue of the Mt Airy VHF Radio Club's Cheese Bits newsletter contained a gem of a resolution by John W3HMS - taking inventory of your shack equipment. As John explains in this issue's Conversation piece, reprinted with the permission of the Pack Rats, it's not hard and you'll be glad you did. 73, Ward NØAX

Your Easy New Year's Resolution: A Simple Ham Shack Inventory
by John W3HMS

There are many reasons to have an inventory and so very many reasons NOT to do it. One point to consider is that this is not the "good old days" when a friend sells THE radio of an SK but rather a time when a ham station has A LOT of gear in it and it may be very messy!!!!

The Contest Update wishes to thank the Pack Rats for their many contributions to this newsletter and to VHF+ contesting over their long and storied history.
Because my inventory is built in Excel it can and has been refined over time. Buying new gear is can add to it almost 100% from memory at the time when the gear is received. Sales or disposal is equally easy as "Sold VOM to W1XYZ for $25 on 1 Nov 13".

The key is to keep it simple remembering that you will miss some items but they can be added as/when you desire. Price is the purchase price (a fact at the time the item is bought), and NOT a current valuation. The latter is easy to obtain...set aside 15 hours per day for constant Ebay inquiries...yea, right, HI!!

The easy entry and sorting features of Excel and its widespread availability means you can enter items randomly then sequence like items together and sort as you desire later on. You can easily create additional rows and columns plus select the columns to print or email. Here is what I record: Description, Purchase Date, Purchase Price and Notes. One column per category, one row per item.

As you can see, I DO keep it simple. I could put in serial numbers if I want to research more than 200 items but that takes time and it could kill the project. I could try and find the current selling price and encounter the same issues. I try and put the item keyword first so like items sort together, e.g. transceiver, transmitter, SWR meter, antenna matcher, etc. For items like tools, I put in one lot valued at a low may have big ticket power tools and desire to enter key items individually.

For homebrew gear or unknown gear, I use $1.00. You could start your entry process by entering the most expensive gear first as this follows a good business principle of putting effort on the most important gear. Don't forget your antennas and all outside towers, equipment, and gear in the car, boat, Rolls-Royce, etc .

On small parts of unknown value, just citing one lot at $1.00 will help ensure that this category is not missed at the time of your trip to "the big QTH in the sky". If you have big expensive spares, then individual inventory entry seems most desirable. You could set a dollar value for what to enter, but I feel that any piece of equipment I might want to sell is worth entry.

So what do you have when you are finished or close to it? Well, you have an accurate record to discuss with your insurance agent if you feel you may want additional QTH insurance.

It seems to me it is just a good practice to record your radio assets. If you feel the inventory process is tough for you, imagine how tough it would be for your widow and/or friends who have not the same knowledge as you do of the equipment by function and value? 

I think you may well be surprised at the dollar value you have tied up in your equipment. You also have a file that can easily be stored on your PC, safeguarded in a vault, and sent via email.

When needed, the inventory can be used to insert asking prices for estate sales and simplify so much the effort to be provided by friends and your XYL. So, if you are sure you will live forever, please put off starting your equipment inventory, HI!! If you are mortal, may I wish you good luck in starting with the big stuff and working down the value scale.

73, John W3HMS

========== "Reprinted with the permission of the ARRL. © Copyright ARRL." ==========

Sunday, December 22, 2013

If a Tree Falls in the Woods, Will the Tower Still Stand?

Last night the weather forecast was: "While a few, scattered showers cannot be ruled out throughout the evening and overnight...the main activity, in the form of heavier rain, strong gusty winds and perhaps even a few thunderstorms, won't near until 2-6 AM from west to east."  Specific forecast predictions said the wind would hit Huntington between 3 and 4 a.m. and Charleston between 4 and 5 a.m.  WELL - - - Just after 1 a.m. I was awakened by the house creaking and the sound of fast moving wind and rain.  It lasted until about 2 a.m. which was a good deal longer than I had expected.

Yesterday was the first official day of winter and record temperatures
were set in both Huntington and Charleston at 75°.  The National Weather Service Area Forecast Discussion for Charleston at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday did not think the winds were going to be significant:

Base of the Two Trees
However, local TV station WOWK-TV reported gusts as high as 60 mph and indicated the storm was moving across the area at 85 mph.  Only some 5,000 customers were without power however.

Center Section of the Trees
Once daylight returned, I took a look to see if my tower was still standing.  It was, but darned if it didn't look to be leaning just a little.  Further inspection showed a tree had fallen from my neighbor's property onto the Westerly set of guys for my tower. 

As you can see in the attached photos, the tree broke over about 5-1/2 to 6-feet above ground level.  This had actually happened in a previous storm and the tree had been supported at about a 60° angle by adjacent trees.  
Last night's storm finished the job of bringing it down.  As you can see in the third photo below, the top part of the trees were resting on the guys for my tower.  Click on any photo to see it larger.

Both of my go-to "Chain Saw Guys" were out of town so the job fell to me.  I began cutting the two trees (which had grown up together) about 2-feet above the ground to get them low enough so that they could be cut off the guys.  After I made my first wedge cut, I went back up the hill to get the gas can and bar oil for the chainsaw.  At that point my neighbor (who owned the land where the tree was) came to help and he did the rest of the cutting while I did the pulling and such. 
Top of Trees on Guy Wires

Eventually we were able to free the guy wires but they are quite slack.  I assume the tower has been pulled out of line and the guys may have been stretched due to the weight of the trees.  I will assess that situation later and see what needs to be done.  I'm just glad the tower is still standing!

I will need to go sight up the tower from the base and see how far it is out of line and see what can be done with the opposite guy wires to pull it back into line.  Then, I need to see if there was any damage to the Phillystran from the trees.  I saw nothing today but will want to check that just to be sure.

Could have been a WHOLE lot worse!