Saturday, May 26, 2012

I'm grounded now...

I am well grounded now!  I decided after my "scare" and faulty gear that I needed to have a way to switch all my antennas to ground when I'm not using them.  After talking with a few folks, some of which had multi-thousand (yeah, I said THOUSAND) dollar switches - I decided to go with the Alpha Delta switches.  Wish me luck :)

Every green wire is a ground and goes directly to my ground bus.  In fact, every piece of equipment in my shack is grounded to the same ground bus - no loops for me!

73 de KJ4WLH

Alpha Delta Switches
Gear, Switches, and misc stuff...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

9100 is home!

I can do nothing except say thank you to Paul Hansen, W6XA.  Paul is ICOM's man on the east coast for repair...  Fast, fast, fast repair - so fast, I had no idea that the 9100 would be home when I returned from my business trip this week.

You would have thought that a kind XYL would have let her hubby know that a SERIOUSLY large and heavy package had made it to the front door - but NO!

Oh well, I'm planning on getting it out to the shack for the test run tomorrow (Friday) sometime.

Oh, no lighting damage (or customer damage!) - "replaced defective RL501 on CTRL unit" - whatever that means...

Thank you Paul!

Sincerely, KJ4WLH

Great D-Star net last night!

I ran the RARC D-Star net last night from my hotel room in Maryland and it went very well.

I brought my DVAP with me and had a REALLY poor wireless network connection in the room. I am very pleased with how well the DVAP performs, it just continues to make my HT a wonderful transceiver.

I only had 1 person who wished to check in that I wasn't able to hear (RPT2 setting issue). It just worked great.

The D-Star digital packet requirements are very forgiving, I am much more pleased with its operation as I've learned it's pros and cons.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

5 Watt HT - My Net Control Station

So, the saga continues! But this time good things happened!
I hooked up my IC-92AD to my 2m vertical out in the shack last night. Wednesday night is my dstar net and I needed some way to run it...
Yeah, I have a DVAP - but using the DVAP means that everyone who wishes to participate in the net must have a properly configured RPT2 field. If not, then I would not be able to hear them when they transmit. I planned on using my DVAP as a last resort!
What I was REALLY hoping was I could consistently hit the 2m dstar repeater with 5 watts from my HT. I was also somewhat concerned about the temperature of the HT when transmitting at full power for the duration of the net.
It worked out great! I ran the net using only the HT, 5 watts of power, and no DVAP :)  The HT did get pretty warm, but certainly not smoking hot! I now know that I have a good way to run the net using other gear.
73 de KJ4WLH

RATS Meeting - 1st Time Attending :)

When I started down my path of Amateur Radio, I decided that part of the "path" was helping support those organizations which are an active part of the hobby.  I looked around and decided on the easy calls - MRA Repeater Association, Richmond Amateur Radio Club (RARC), Richmond Amateur Telecommunications Society (RATS), SouthEastern Repeater Association (SERA), and ARRL.  The part that made it really easy is that most of the dues were all very inexpensive ($15 or so...) - except ARRL :)

The RATS club meets in the West End of Richmond which puts it about 15 minutes further away from me than the RARC club - so, RARC became the "default" club for me to attend.  It is also the club that I passed my Tech, General, and Extra exams through - well, I guess in reality it was the ARRL VEC relationship with RARC that did the testing.

I have, for all the time I've been in the hobby, wishing to attend a RATS meeting and visit the "other" radio brethren in the Richmond area.  I could go on and on (and on and on) about time commitments and other excuses - but I made them and just never took the time to go.

Last night I made it; it was great!  I was so glad to meet guys I've talked to many times and put a name to the Callsign :)  The other thing I (knew) but only really realized is that I already knew some of the guys at the meeting!  I looks like I'm not the only Richmond Ham to have dual membership in the local clubs :)

What a nice way to support the hobby!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ham Radio Outlet - Woodbridge - Excellent Customer Service! +1

I called HRO this morning and talked with a gentleman named Joe; I couldn't be more pleased.  I explained my situation - received my Mirage BD-35 DOA, etc., etc., etc..  Without any issue, Joe completely resolved my issue to my satisfaction!  Very nice - I very, VERY infrequently receive customer service as good as I received today.

While I might not purchase Mirage/MFJ gear again, I will DEFINITELY purchase from HRO again.  No doubt about it :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mirage BD-35 - I'm very disappointed

Well, I got my Mirage in the mail today.  It didn't work. I don't mean it didn't hit the repeater as I needed - I mean it didn't power on. :(

I have been nervous about purchasing products from MFJ, I'm not nervous anymore. I am just not purchasing ANY products from MFJ.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Changes in the shack

Since the 9100 has to visit the doctor, that leaves my shack without D-Star capability. Hmm, what to do? It would seem that choices are plentiful!!!

After reflection - meaning that I really thought that a new 2820 would be nice, I realized that the price of such a piece of gear was just excessive for this temporary situation. As much as I would like one, it just didn't "feel" like the right time for something like that. What I'd REALLY like would be a new product announcement from Icom which would be a 7000 with d-star capability - I'd purchase that rig in a heartbeat...

Since I have not heard such an announcement (or even rumors!) it's time for "Plan B." I have 92AD that just isn't able to hit the local D-Star repeater(s) with any reliability. It's just not able to use the rubber ducky and make the distance. I do, however, have a Diamond X50 (dual VHF/UHF) antenna that I can use. Since I also want to have a bit more reliability for the Wednesday night Richmond Amatuer Radio Club D-Star net at 20:00 - I thought it might be prudent to pick up a small VHF/UHF amplifier. I placed the order with HRO for a Mirage BD-35 I'm hoping that it will provide just enough UMPHH along with a "real" antenna to make the distance.

Goodbye 9100! Hurry home!

Sob, sob... I shipped the 9100 to the Icom service center this morning. I sure hope it's an easy (and inexpensive!) fix.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I found my 6m loop problems...

Very disapointing... My loop is fine, my Icom 9100 isn't :(

The 9100 has 2 different HF inputs, input #1 is connected to my Palstar AT2K and input #2 is connected directly to my m2 6m ho loop.

I swapped the antenna and was able to tune it just fine. That was bad news..

I got out my Bird wattmeter and got 100+ watts from #1 and NO watts from input #2.

I guess I will pack it up and ship it to Icom on Monday.

On a positive note, I have my 7000 setup in the shack and it's working pretty well. No dstar, but such is life!

6m loop problems...

I'm not quite sure what is going on with my 6m HO loop, for some reason it doesn't seem to want to tune with my 9100 autotuner like "normal"...  I suppose it's just another thing to look at and figure out :(

QRZ Archive - This is all my content that I hosted on QRZ for a while

Here is my Archive

Ok, I've taken enough grief about my YouTube video... Here is a link to version 2 I hope that the "real world" test is accepted by the Amatuer Radio Community :)
Seriously though, I admit it - the 1st video wasn't "real world"...

The 6 meter guys ( had a tailgate party last Saturday morning, I took my youngest son over there and we got to say hello to a bunch of folks. It was a really nice time! My son, who is 12, decided that a little Icom receiver (IC-R100) looked pretty interesting - I wish I'd had one when I was a child! So, a little father/son negiotation and we agreed that it would be best if that little unit came on home with us :) Lots of smiles...
I dug up an old Astron power supply; ran the R100's long wire around his room and up into the attic. Connected all the proper cables, READ the instruction manual and powered it up - IT WORKS GREAT! My son is so excited, he told me that he listened to the receiver to a station in Tokyo until early in the morning... What more could I ask for?
So, that's the good news. The bad news is that I borrowed an SWR meter for the 800/900Mhz range. Why's that bad? Because I own an antenna that has about a 3.5/4.5 to 1 SWR around the 927Mhz freq! The guys in my area use 927.150 as the primary simplex frequency. Very disapointing - I had Will help me make a YouTube video to share: You can see the sweep in all it's ugly glory :(
Oh well, the good truly outweighed the bad over the weekend! I guess if I'm trying to be a glass half full, this gives me another "opportunity" to locate/figure out what to do on 900Mhz regarding antenna issues!
I have been involved in quite a few things recently - 900Mhz, D-Star Gateway configurations, writing articles for my local radio club, antenna (re-designs' of course!), and Morse Code! Lots of activity, mostly good, some challenging - but, in the end, just means the hobby continues to provide a great outlet for me :)

900Mhz - A buddy of mine, Richard (WB4FAX), and I have a short stretch of road that we travel along each morning. So, instead of saying hello on 146.520; we say hello on 927.150! We get some miles out of the gear - we both have Kenwood981's and they do about 10 watts +/-... Once I head off the main road, we usually have 3 - 5 minutes of more talk time and then jump back over to 2m simplex. I do love simplex - there is always a challenge there! Yeah, I live right under 3 really decent repeaters, but who's looking for range and reliability? Isn't this ham radio? :)

I've also been helping the Richmond Amateur Radio Club with the D-Star gateway server configuration. That's been quite a fun project as well - plenty of challenges too, but at this point, I hope the worst is behind us! Our repeater "stack", which includes both the 2m and 70cm modules, now has access to other reflectors/repeaters using TCP/IP (the Internet.) All very exciting!

I continue to write, albeit with little feedback from my reader(s). Still struggling a bit with this one; I'm asked to write articles for the club newsletter, but I often wonder if anyone even finds them remotely interesting. Perhaps they don't and that's why I'm now shunned at the monthly meetings (just kidding...) Seriously though, I don't really ever get any feedback - good or bad, about the articles. It sure would be nice to know how they are received. Or not...

Code, code, and more code! Another buddy of mine, Dave (N4MW), lent me a code practice oscillator(CPO) - just Google "CPO" and I bet you'll see Dave's website in the first page of results - if not the FIRST result! Anyway, I must say, sending code has been very fun! Quite different that the struggle that I've had (and am still having) trying to listen to code. It seems that the code just keeps coming and coming and coming and ... I wish I could slow it down sometimes; but I guess the right answer is just to learn it and be done with it all. So, practice sending in the car and at home, while also practicing listening! One day, I'll be a CW ninja - but today, I feel like a CW clown!
I picked up the PowerMate knob ( from Amazon for $30 on sale and gave it a try... The knob has a couple of different controls: spin left/right, knob down (like a click), knob down (long press), and knob down + spin left/right.
I took a look as the RS-BA1 key mappings and went with the following configuration:

Spin Right - > PageUp (Freq Up)
Spin Left - > PageDown (Freq Down)
Knob Down + Spin Right -> Shift + Right Cursor (Tuning Step Down)
Knob Down + Spin Left-> Shift + Left Cursor(Tuning Step Up)
Knob Down -> F (Filter)

You can adjust the "Sensitivity" of each control to make the knob spin for your own comfort level. The knob has a great feel - certainly not as nice as a true VFO, but works well. The knob is also "heavy" with a silicon base to help with slipping on a smooth surface. Anyway, it works well with the RS-BA1 Remote Control and I'll be keeping it :)
I have grown QUITE comfortable using my RS-BA1 software remotely. I've created a virtual machine (VM) based upon Windows XP that I run on my laptop - the XP VM is built to run the Icom RS-BA1 software, HRD, EZ-Nec, and a couple of other ham based software applications. Works great! I can sit pretty much anywhere I want around the house, plug in my Heil Proset media headset, and have a QSO. Or if I'm interested, I can check out some psk with DM780 and of course, it's all logged with HRD Log... I mean, EVERYTHING, just works! QRZ auto lookups, LOTW uploads, eQSL, hamlog, Oh, but I really have a new "problem" :)
Seems like my AT2K, which is just fantastic, is still "only" a manual tuner :( Fortunately, Palstar has a new auto-tuner - unfortunately, it's expensive... Somehow, I think one of them will make their way to the QTH sooner or later. The reason is this: I can do all the remote stuff I wish, except I am left with the HF band set to a single band with the tuner tuned to a specific frequency. Can't change that remotely...
I did pick up an Icom IC-7000 for mobile work (6 meters). A buddy of mine helped me figure out how to cut a whip using a Larsen 40 coil so that it resonates around 50.125 Pretty cool and works reasonably well; not going to set records for distance - but I am mobile on 6 now :)
Part of the Icom IC-7000 deal included a LDG IT-100 auto tuner. I'm not so much a fan of this tuner; I swapped out my Palstar AT2K and tried to get it to perform with my HF doublet. Not even close to what the Palstar would tune - nowhere near... On 40m and 20m there was some hope for the LDG - but even then, it only got the SWR down to around 1.5 +/- I am just so much MORE impressed with the AT2K - every band, every frequency can get to a perfect match. BUT - the AT2K is still manual :)
I'm glad I tried the LDG - you know, you kinda wonder sometimes whether or not the products you purchase perform as well as you hope - I can truly say that I would recommend a Palstar to anyone, at anytime. The LDG can work great for HF antennas that are "close" to a reasonable resonance anyway (Windom, Buckmaster, etc) - I plan on using the LDG when I take the IC-7000 out on field days, boy scout jamboree on the air, etc. as the IC-7000 does not have an auto-tuner built in. (Which is why I really wanted the LDG included anyway :) )
I suppose it's been a busy week since the last update. I now have all 6 of my antennas in the air AND they are all connected to a transceiver of some sort :) 1.2GHz vertical, 900MHz vertical, 2m/70cm vertical, 70cm loop, 2m loop, 6m loop, and my 40m doublet! I am so happy I made the move to the "shed"
Oh, and YES, I got my I-Com RS-BA1 software working correctly. Which means that I can use my gear pretty much wherever (and almost) whenever I wish. HRD and DM780 are working great as well with the remote software - I've made a couple of PSK31 contacts sitting inside my house (actually at my 'work from home') desk with my comfy headset (Heil Proset) and work laptop. I've got to say, I'm a pretty lazy person at heart and this combo has just increased my level of laziness to a higher level!!!
The shed has come a long way - I have drilled 6 coax holes through the floor and have had no complaints from my XYL. She could care less what happens out there - I've suggested that if I put a portable toilet and a coffee maker I might not have to come back into the house; I'm not sure what it means but she wasn't really upset about that ;)
For now, I'm hoping that my build out process can stop for a while - oh, except that I have about a 1:1.5 SWR on my 70cm loop - I need to get that adjusted, but am thinking that my acquisition and build is over. I'm kinda glad and sad at the same time.
Geez, it's been a long time since I've had an update... So, I've been "kicked out" of the house as my XYL decided that those "ropes" (coax) hanging from the 2nd story window needed to go... I have a shed out back that I ran power to several years ago - it's now got a heater and in the spring will have a window air conditioner :) Here is a link to some pics of where I'm now sitting:
I've also started using the I-Com RS-BA1 software; it sure makes it a lot easier to use the radio from my downstairs office. So, in a strange sort of way, I think I'm actually pretty happy about the way things have turned out! Oh, did I mention that there is a nice piece of unused yard space that's about 8' by 10' just outside the back side of the shed - hmm, that seems like just the right kind of space needed for a big cement slab :) That's got a LONG way to go, but at least there is hope for a future tower...
Rig Update. Out with the old 7600, in with the new 9100. I've got a buddy, N4MW, who is really, REALLY into VHF+ weak signal stuff. I went and visited; big mistake! I've been bitten hard with the weak signal VHF bug - so much that I picked up a used 910H (with the 1.2GHz module). However, the deal was a big mistake (the 1st time I'd ever been ripped off by someone) and I was so disappointed that I gave up looking at the used market. I subsequently convinced myself that a 9100 would cure me of my ills. It did (at least for now!)
IMHO the 7600 is a better HF rig. However, as I've been using the 9100, I have discovered that it does everything that I used my 7600 for - pretty darn well. No color scope and I think the 7600 sounded a little better; but functionally - it was very much the same as the 9100. So, I couldn't, in good conscience, just the 7600 sitting around waiting to be used on occasion - listed it on qrz and it sold 20 hours later :)
The UX-9100 modules are sold out in the US and it'll be August before they show up. I guess that's OK, as I've got some 2m/70cm antennas to work out (meaning "to buy" and figure out how to get the XYL to "approve").
The UT-121 (D-Star module) should be arriving this week. I hope to get it installed before Wed night's D-Star net!
Update on my Diamond X300 - I'm pretty disappointed with it actually :( The 9100 has a SWR meter and I was (finally!) able to check my SWR when transmitting to my local 2m/70cm repeaters. It seems that I had a 3+ to infinity reading when trying to hit my local 2m D-Star repeater (147.255)! Most of the 2m bad was 2.5+... HOWEVER, the 70cm band was 1.2 to 1.3 across the entire band! Weird huh? I hit the 70cm D-Star repeater (443.7125) with all of 2 watts - no problem. I took the opportunity to swap my X300 with an old X50 I had in the garage and guess what! 1.2 SWR on both 2m/70cm now! Same coax, same radio - different antenna and VERY different responses :) Needless to say, the X50 is the antenna hanging in the back yard now!
I think I might have figured out why my Buckmaster is causing me a TON of RFI on 80m & 40m... I changed my station location from one side of my room to the other side of the room and managed to run my coax through my backyard window; that cut my coax run from 200' to about 35'... I didn't need all of the 200' of coax, which was coiled nicely in my attic - coiled huh... I suspect that I had created my own form of choke balun when I was using the 200' run of coax, which now is no longer the case! I've also had to learn much more about the sources of RFI and what you can do to reduce it's impact.
Problem #2, I confess - I don't have my gear grounded :( Yes, I admit it... I'm a loser... I've started trying to learn all about grounding scenarios; it would seem that I'll have to move my gear from my comfy, 2nd floor playroom area to my not so comfy garage. That's about the only way that I can see having a proper ground situation. I wish I knew more about electric theory; I'm just not an EE. Sometimes I wonder why I enjoy these kind of struggles. Anyway, redesign of my power, desk, and RFI grounding environment is now under way. Wish me luck!
Last night I performed my 1st Net Control duty for the Richmond D-Star net. It was both nerve racking and fun; I hoping that this net will become a technical forum for those interested in the D-Star technology and I'll do I best to keep it so.

On the down side, I've been working on hanging my 7 band Buckmaster OCF in the back yard. It would seem that it is now picking up all kinds of interference from everywhere. VERY frustrating... I have also noticed a couple of "strange" side-effects, the primary being that I can no longer receive a good signal from the Richmond D-Star repeater. During the net, my S-Meter was 0 (zero) - nothing! However, I was able to communicate PERFECTLY with the repeater, very strange. No R2D2 garble, perfect copy... I suppose I must have done something with cable routing or antenna placement.
I guess there is no perfect thing...
Well, I did some testing of a new 2m/70cm antenna over the weekend. The improvement is fantastic - from an S5 to S9+20 :) I did a little bit of a story and if you'd like, you're more than welcome to read about it... The Mis-Adventures of a Backyard Antenna Hanger Pictures of the "Knuckle Buster."
OK, I admit it. I like rag-chewing. I like PSK31. I like 80m. I like rag-chewing on 80m. I like rag-chewing on PSK31 on 80m. The part I've realized that I like best, is getting to know folks within the state of VA (and nearby states as well.) Being able to hold a conversation with someone that you've gotten to know a little bit is nice.
Here's my problem though - all the antenna's that I own with don't "really" do 80m very well. They kinda do, but don't... So, I've just picked up the 7-band Buckmaster OCF. I'm hoping that'll take care of my high SWR's over the 80m band. (Somehow I'm just feeling lucky that I've been able to use my 4-band OCF on 80m so far!)
A buddy of mine and I were playing with different digital modes the other evening and we both agreed that we needed to continue on and experiment some more. Further talking led to the idea that we should just ask if anyone else in the local club (Richmond Amateur Radio Club) might be interested. We'll see how that turns out!
I just submitted my application for becoming an ARRL VE. Since I just don't have the radio background, I figure I can offer to help my radio club (RARC) with the test sessions - I DO know how to make coffee and chit-chat! I've also decided to represent/participate with the club during next year's Boy Scout JOTA (Jamboree Over The Air) - I've been a Cubmaster for a while and now that my youngest is moving up to Boy Scouts; my time with Cubs is at an end (yea!). It is really tough trying to figure out where my VERY limited skills can be of help when I'm around folks who have decades of experience.
I passed my Extra exam last night! Finally, I can choose to study and follow those parts of the hobby that I really prefer - instead of learning about digital circuit design perhaps I'll start spending time learning things like code :)
I've been working with HRD and more specifically, the Log program part of HRD. I need to create a good looking QSL card too! is now part of my logging, BUT, I'm stuck using an ugly, default card until I can get off my butt and make sometime that actually looks nice :)
Installed a Buckmaster 4-Band antenna over the weekend :) Antenna comparison between my attic fan dipole and the Buckmaster are located at the bottom of this page. The Buckmaster is set up in a flat top config around 50' high.
No more /AG - the FCC updated my record to General Class
Update - I passed my General exam over the past weekend :) Put updated pics of my HF antenna system.
Hmm, where to begin...
The best I can remember would be back to when I was 7 or 8 years old. Somehow, I had received a "toy AM radio" kit - I have no idea where it came from, perhaps it was a Christmas present, though I can't think of who might have picked that out for me. I remember the kit - simple board, a few "spring" wire connectors, a small white knob, an earpiece, and a cylinder with copper wire wound around it. I thought it was SO cool to be able to listen to AM radio stations (though I didn't really care what was being broadcast) without batteries! I have no idea whatever happened to that kit, but I've always had a love for communications ever since.
Anyway, I digress.
I'd tried (half-heartily) to learn Morse Code more than a dozen years ago and couldn't/wouldn't learn it. I attended one HAM meeting where I was SO out of place and had absolutely no idea what everyone was talking about. It wasn't for me.
It's now 2010 and a buddy of mine mentioned that the FCC had dropped the Morse Code requirement to obtain a Tech (and others) license. I was pretty excited to check out where the hobby was - we're talking a whole new era now - the Internet had not only been born, it was full of useful information and folks who would lend a hand to a noob!
My buddy recommended the WY5I site as a good place to obtain information on starting - so I placed my order, got my books, purchased a basic 2m HT to start listening and I'm off!!! I passed my Tech Exam and received my "ticket" on July 15, 2010 :) I'll be working on getting my General very soon and hope to hit the HF airwaves before too long! Here are a few pictures: My messy desk and couple of transceivers.
Here are some pics of my new antenna system:
I've got 40m, 20m, 15m and 10m all off of one coax :) Here is a link of my SWR's for the frequencies:

Time for a change!

I used to have all my HAM Radio blog info located in the QRZ home page, but I've decided that it's time to move it out.  Not that I have anything but respect for QRZ, I do!  It's just that I use my bio page for blogging and updates much more than just static content.  As time goes on, I'll have to find a way to move all that content over here...

Wish me luck - 73 de KJ4WLH