Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year's End Synopsis.....And other "Stuff"!

I wanted to get this up on the blog prior to the start of the New Year. 2013 has had some ups and downs for all of us here at the Bent Dipole Ranch. Among them the loss of our little Bunny Dog.....our little female mini dachshund died this fall leaving a BIG hole in our hearts. She was 15 and had given us two great litters of puppies with her mate, Buddy, whom we lost two years earlier, also at the age of 15.

I had steeled myself as I figured Bunny had cancer. She had some very large growths on her belly that the vet said were cancer and would eventually spread to her bones, amounting to a very painful last couple of months. Pat and I decided to have the vet put her down on a trip to the UGA veterinarian school in Athens.

On the way home we both agreed that we didn't need to find another dog since we had Oki Kuma, our 150 pound Alaskan Malamute and our two cats, Cocoa & Carab. So, two days later found us at the animal shelter picking up our new 4 month old "mutt"! Lucy, a Lab mix, is giving Oki a real run for the money, getting him some much needed exercise.

On the radio front:

The antenna project is still on hold, awaiting some help from the Barrow County ARC gang to complete the tower installation and mounting the antennas. The Drake 2B needs some work in the audio section. The K2 is getting farmed out to a local ham who will complete soldering the high density PCBs, which I can no longer do. I have some restoral to do on the Drake TR4 station but that is nothing that directly affects the operation of the rig. The K3 continues to putt-putt along constantly spoiling me. I just don't deserve that great of a rig!

I am Elmering a couple of guys that I shoot with. One of them just got his license a couple of days ago and is happy as a clam getting on the air on 2M FM. Unfortunately there is a growing trend (or possibly pressure) among ham clubs to run a "Ham Cram" program on a weekend. This is where one or two members of the local club take an afternoon on a weekend to teach the test, so to speak to anyone wanting/needing a Technician Class ham ticket. It seems that a large number of "preppers" (or survivalists) are getting their ham tickets for the day the SHTF!

I really don't like this type of "instruction". Over the last 20 years between the ARRL and the FCC the license tests have been "dumbed down" to the point that if a person can properly spell his/her name they can get a license! That's not what Ham Radio is all about. At least not in my opinion. Of course the ARRL did this (with the blessing of the FCC) to swell the ranks of amateurs and stimulate the hobby. I can't help but think that there is a connection in there somewhere between the ARRL and the various Evil Offshore Empire equipment manufacturers, too. After all, it takes a LOT of money to buy several full pages of advertising in QST!

In reality what has happened is that there are a lot of new hams who will never go beyond a technician class license and in turn stay on the V/UHF frequencies with their shack-on-the-belt hand-held. Not that this is a bad thing, but there sure as hell is more to ham radio than repeaters and packet radio.

This brings me to another point of irritation: clubs. I belong to three here in the Atlanta area. I rarely go to meetings due to Pat's work schedule and some other family obligations that occur on meeting nights. However, I have noticed that the active clubs, the ones with large memberships, are a diverse bunch. This is great. It's the smaller clubs that lack a large member pool that suffer stagnation while trying to scare up hams to present presentations at meetings. Therefore, my New Years wish for all of you out there in Radio Land: become active with one or two local clubs and stir up some interest in areas of ham radio not directly related to 2M FM operation. In other words, train your replacement in the hobby.   

In other news:

I love guns. I have been a long-time target and pistol competitor. This year I finally conceded that I could no longer shoot accurately with the 1911A1 in .45 ACP. At the urging of several other shooters (Herb, from Alaska, among them) I unloaded the two .45s I had and procured three Glocks in 9mm (G-19, G-26, & G-34). One thing about all Glocks.......the sights suck! Big time! No, really, they SUCK!!! I took some drastic measures and replaced the stock sights on two out of the three Glocks with Trijicon sights (http://www.trijicon.com/na_en/index.php).  MAN! What a difference!!! I can actually pick up the front sight now with almost no effort at all! They are low light/night sights and you can really lock onto the front and rear sights with very little effort. If you have a problem with the sights on your weapon, go to Trijicon. You won't be sorry. They are a little expensive but it is well worth the cost to be able to boost your accuracy. Additionally, if you carry concealed on a regular basis, it goes without saying that you need to insure that you have the proper sights on your weapon.Check out "In the Gravest Extreme" by Mass Ayoob. Amazon.com has them in stock.

Speaking of shooting, and I do a LOT of it now, I am converting over to lead reloads, since I have two reloading presses and a whole bunch of dies and brass in various calibers. Acme Bullet Company ( http://www.acmebullet.com/index.php?route=common/home) offers a great price on their lead alloy bullets for all popular pistol and rifle calibers. They do a land office business with the Cowboy Action Shooting crowd. They offer some really nice prices and they modified their mailing boxes to fit inside Priority Mail boxes, thereby cutting the shipping costs over half! They have a great customer service department, and are just plain good folks to deal with.

The latest trend in concealed holsters are the "plastic" holsters offered by a number of shooting accessory companies. I prefer Fobus holsters as they are inexpensive (around $20-25) and they come in a large variety of models to cover the most popular hand guns currently in use by police, military and civilians. Fobus products are made in Israel (http://www.fobusholster.com/).  The IDF uses them almost exclusively. In reality they are a carbon fiber holster sometimes called by the trade name of "Kydex". I use one on my G-26 and it keeps the pistol in close to the body and can resist attempts by individuals that wish to snatch your firearm out of your holster. Speaking of my Glock 26, it is now my favorite carry piece. It has double the firepower of the Smith model 442 that I use to carry, and with the Fobus holster it stays put and I hardly know its there!

All for now. Have a Happy New Year.

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Antennas, Towers and "Stuff"

Well, here we are four days before Christmas and the weather has been "WONDERFUL"! Today's temperature was in the high 60s with virtually no wind. Ditto for yesterday. Perfect for antenna/tower work. Unfortunately, Bill, KJ4EX, my tower guy, has one of those erratic work schedules and couldn't get time off to come over and finish the tower installation.

HOWEVER, Dave, N4KD, is in the midst of erecting a small tower and beam at his place. Since he has been one of my "go to guys" for my installation, I assured him that if he needed assistance or coolie labor, I was available. He completed his hole earlier last week using a rented auger from one of the big box stores. Bill, KJ4EX, had access to a similar auger which he used to dig my tower hole next to the house earlier in the year.

Using an auger greatly speeds and simplifies the hard work of digging out the hole that holds the concrete and the base of the tower. Once several holes are dug using the auger it is simple work to remove the excess dirt and square up the overall dimensions of the hole to make a square (or rectangle) approximately one cubic yard which will hold about 800 pounds (ten 80 pound bags) of concrete mix and the tower base. This type of installation is good enough to support a tower installation up to 80 or 90 feet, provided guy wires (or Dacron rope) is use to prevent lateral movement of the tower. In my tower installation I will be using one set of three guy ropes set at just under the 60 foot level on the tower. These will be attached to guy anchors (augers, actually) set out into the yard in three locations approximately 120 degrees apart. In addition, I am attaching the tower to the side of my house, just under the roof gable, at the 25 foot level for additional support.

While Dave didn't seem to need me for anything like "work" he did mention that since I had a cement mixer (actually a birthday present to Patricia, KB3MCT, a few years back) he would be tapping me and my mixer when he was ready to plant the base of the tower into the hole and add the concrete. Of course, I said "yes" so right now I am awaiting his phone call.

On to other antenna projects here at the Bent Dipole Ranch.....I procured two Newtronics (Hustler) 4BTV verticals, one just prior to Dayton from a local ham who had it stored in his shop, and the other one I procured new, from DX Engineering, at the Dayton Hamvention. The used antenna was in pretty sad shape, and I will be restoring it over the winter for use as a portable emergency HF vertical to support EmComm. The new one will be affixed to the roof tower that use to hold the Cushcraft A3S HF Yagi and the Skycraft 6 meter beam, which are being moved to the new tower after completion of the tower installation.

The 4BTV is a rather interesting antenna. Originally designed as a quarter wave length trapped vertical to cover 40/20/15/10 meters, this antenna has enjoyed a dedicated following over the years. I used one when I was active in the Azores (CT2BH) in the early 1970s with outstanding results. Over the years the engineers have modified the design to include adding the 80 and 30 meter bands, using additional traps and resonator coils. 80 meter operation is quite restricted due to the limited bandwidth of this vertical's design. Although I have never had one modified for 30 meters; I may add that trap (available from DX Engineering) before erecting it on the roof tower.

One thing to always remember regarding vertical antennas: they need a good radial or counterpoise system to properly radiate an RF signal. Since the vertical antenna element itself is only a quarter wavelength radiator, the radial system provides the other half of the antenna. Since this installation will be above ground on my roof, I will need to provide wire radials cut to approximately a quarter wavelength of the operating frequency on each band. According to the manufacturer I will need at least two, possibly four, of these wire radials per band! This makes for a lot of wire on the roof! In my Azores installation (roof mounted) I used four radials per band and the antenna worked amazingly well. Therefore, I will duplicate that counterpoise system at my current location, in hopes of having an antenna that is a real "DX getter".

The radials don't need to be anything fancy. In the past, on other vertical installations, I have used wire sizes ranging from #26 to #12 with good results. There is also a method of taking five conductor rotator wire and cutting the radials for up to four bands. This greatly simplifies the number of wires you have to deal with and terminate on the roof. I have used this method once before and it worked well. Depending upon my situation here at the Bent Dipole Ranch, I may use that method again just to save space.

One thing about multi-band trapped verticals:  adjustment of the antenna and the traps is paramount to obtaining good results on the air. Using my trusty MFJ Model 269 antenna analyzer and taking my time, I will insure that the element measurements are accurate and the radials are properly cut and configured.

Many hams who erect a quarter wavelength trapped vertical and fail to put the necessary work into the counterpoise system see a very low SWR across the bands. This leads them to the erroneous conclusion  that their antenna is working just fine. On the contrary, this means that the radiation resistance is so low that the antenna won't radiate properly on the air. You actually want to see a pronounced "dip" in the SWR curve on each band. Remember: the higher bands won't exhibit as much of a drastic "dip" as these bands tend to be much wider in working bandwidth than the lower bands. On the 4BTV the 40 meter band should only be about 75 to 100 kHz wide, from the chosen frequency of operation to where the SWR rises to approximately 2:1. On 80 meters (provided you add the capacity hat and 80 meter resonator) your bandwidth will only be about 25-30 kHz! This means that you will have to re-tune your antenna tuner if your operating excursions exceed the chosen frequency of operation.

One of the major features regarding quarter wavelength verticals is that, when properly configured and adjusted, their angle of radiation (the take off angle of the radiated RF wave) is very low, allowing the RF signal to project further out into space before it encounters a reflective layer of the ionosphere, where it will be refracted (bent) back toward the earth. This is refereed to as "skip zone" and the longer that skip zone, the further out you can successfully work other stations. So basically the lower the angle of radiation (take off angle) the further you can reach with your signals. Therefore, the vertical antenna is often refereed to as a good antenna for DXing. Again, this is provided the antenna is carefully installed and a proper RF counterpoise (radial) system is installed and tuned.

OK, enough for now. I need to get into the shack and do some much needed house cleaning and straightening up. Then, if time permits, I may get on the air and see what DX is available.

Until next time, Vy 73 and good DX.

Rich K7SZ

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I must apologize for not being more productive in keeping this blog up to date. There have been lots of developments over the last six months that have kept me preoccupied and not in the blog-publishing mode. I will try to do better in the upcoming year.

To be extremely candid, I have almost completely retired from the Ham Radio hobby....Just no interest. At all. Period. However, things are slowly changing with regard to Ham Radio.

The tower/antenna project at the Bent Dipole Ranch has been slowly progressing over the last 9 months. Since I no longer climb, I must depend upon others to do the climbing and tower work for me. If it had not been for Bill Wilson, KJ4EX, in Winder, GA, I would not have any tower up on the air at all. Bill, along with Dave, N4ND, have done yeoman's work in getting this project as far along as it currently is.

All we have left to do is to put the 9 ft top section of Rohn 25G in place, mount the antennas on a mast, mount the rotator, run the coax and cables and set the permanent guy wires in place. Sounds simple, huh? Well, it ain't! Especially the guy wire (guy rope, actually.....7/16s inch Dacron line) situation. My wife, Patricia, KB3MCT, and I are discussing the placement of two of the in-ground guy anchors, one of which has got to go in the front garden. (I guess a trip to Kay Jewelers might be in order to smooth this over!!!)

On the radio front, I have several major projects: upgrade the Drake AC-4 PSU for the TR-4 station, update the TR-4 transceiver, overhaul and upgrade the Drake 2B receiver (has a bad audio problem), complete the Elecraft K2 kit (this includes upgrading the Rev A board to a Rev B board....lots of stuff to change out on the main PCB), restore KL0SW's National RX he bought at Dayton this year, relocate the 2M FM station to the new shack, upgrade the 2M FM antennas (a Diamond dual bander vertical right at the top of the antenna stack on the new tower!) I am sure I have left one or two things off the list, but that is enough for right now. 

While Ham Radio has taken a back seat since mid-year, it has been replaced by my doing some serious firearms training and competition shooting at the local range. For over 50 years I have had a love affair with the 1911A1 .45 ACP pistol. Mr. Browning's gift to the firearms world has held a fascination for me that is hard to explain. Earlier this year I realized that I was not as competent with that weapon as I had been in the past. After several local competitions I compared notes with the owner of the range, a retired USMC Gunnery Sargent, master marksman/armorer, and all around good guy. He suggested that I try using a 9mm (9 x 19mm or 9mm Luger, for you novice shooters out there) and see if my scores improved. After borrowing a Glock G-19 from a friend at the range, I was amazed at how my marksmanship improved by simply changing calibers! Now I am a dyed-in-the-wool Glock shooter. My concealed carry is a G-26 "Baby Glock", my competition weapon is a Glock G-34, and I am trying to get Patricia to become proficient with the G-19 I picked up earlier this summer. This is a hard sell as Patricia is a long time "wheel gun" (revolver) shooter. In addition to our military combat arms training Pat was an armed security guard for the Social Security Administration Data Center in Plains, PA for several years. They used Smith & Wesson Model 19s, in .357 caliber as their duty weapon. She had to qualify twice a year and always did so with high marks, much to the dismay of some of the local law enforcement officers who had to qualify at the range and didn't do so well score wise. 

Both Pat and I know the value of on-going firearms training. We strongly believe that if you own firearms it behooves you to become proficient in their use. We both enjoy the shooting sports and have passed this along to our kids.

As for me, my grandfather started me shooting at the tender age of 5. Both he and my dad were outstanding trap (shotgun) shooters. Dad was a regular at the yearly Bing Crosby invitational shoot at Hayden Lake, Idaho for a number of years.

I started shooting pistols when I was 15 under the guidance of a couple of WSU policemen who substituted for our city cop (remember my home town only had a population of 1000 people and therefore we had only one policeman!) when he took his yearly vacation. They taught me how to reload ammunition with the proviso that they would instruct me in the use of the pistol but I had to reload all the ammo we would shoot that week! I fell in love with hand gunning and have been an active pistol shooter ever since. During my teaching career at the prison, I was a member of the pistol team and shot PPC competitively for a number of years. 

Well, that is all for now. Here's hoping you have a very Merry Christmas and a Joyful, Happy New Year. See you on the air, AND, as Jim Scoutten, host of Shooting USA says, "Keep 'em in the 10 ring".

VY 73

Rich K7SZ