Lock Down

Day seven of the lock down for me. Initially, it was a strong recommendation. Now here in Indiana it’s a firmer suggestion, though no one is getting tossed in the hoosegow for violating the order. Naps and a lot of reading have filled my days. The television is an annoyance I can do without for long stretches of time. The hardest part so far has been not constantly checking my retirement accounts as I watch plans to retire in less than a year dissolve into the virus stream.

I suppose life and pandemics are what happen while you’re busy making other plans. There were many things we could have done to better prepare, but we didn’t, not the government, not me. I’ve been dreaming of moving to a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, maybe in the Upper Peninsula, but have never gotten round to it. Social isolation isn’t just a near-term goal for me, I expect to spend the rest of my life in its pursuit. Assuming things ever get back to normal, if that’s even possible now.

That’s mostly because I don’t see this pandemic as a once in a lifetime event. There are now 7 billion of us sharing this planet and almost half of the people who live here can, on a whim, hop on a jet with carry-on luggage and exotic germs and travel wherever their heart desires, and I don’t see that as a good thing. Globalism has always been a bad idea that looks even worse in light of this novel Coronavirus. I expect another pandemic sooner, rather than later and I don’t see the government taking interest in planning ahead for any threat they can’t see or bomb so we’re doomed to repeat this history and very likely in my lifetime.

And gloomy as that sounds, it also assumes the virus to be naturally occurring.

For all I know, this one could have been concocted in an Army laboratory as a bio-weapon. I don’t have the necessary expertise to determine that for myself. I’m forced to trust someone else to inform me about the origin of a contagion. Do I trust sources on Facebook or Twitter to inform me? The media? How about the orange-tinted fellow who once claimed this whole virus episode to be a left-wing hoax intended to hurt his re-election chances?

Do you trust politicians to tell you the truth? I don’t.

Antennas & Bad Timing

Having all the antennas down a couple weeks before the beginning of a global pandemic was either plain dumb or really bad timing. I’ve been pulling new feed line this week for the VHF/UHF stack. But it’s springtime in Indiana so it’s nice one day and rainy for three in a row. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and I’m finding it tough to complete those kind of projects despite having plenty of spare time to do it right now.

On the HF front I’ve taken to the field. The “field” being the backyard where the KX3 and AX1 antenna continue to impress me. And that’s handy since I noticed a recent post from Larry, W2LJ about the upcoming QRP to the Field (QRPTTF) event now being a backyard special this time due to the virus and social distancing.

Things to Read

Lots of interesting links are appearing online probably due to us having a little extra time for the hobby. For instance, you can download the book, 200 Meters and Down, the definitive early history of amateur radio. Paul Harden, NA5N made his design plans for one damn fine looking TFD antenna. CQ Magazine is making the March and April 2020 digital editions of that publication free for download. You could download the excellent March 2020 edition of Cheese Bits newsletter from the Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club. And one more, the latest edition of the 432 & Above EME Newsletter is waiting to be downloaded. That should keep you busy and out of trouble for at least a day!

Reason to Melt Solder

If you ever assembled a 4SQRP Cricket transceiver, you might be interested to learn about the club’s latest offering, the Cric-Key designed by Dave Cripe, NM0S. The Cricket series consists of low cost entry level minimalist CW transceivers. This NEW kit is designed to complement the popular Cricket series of QRP transceivers with a useful and easy-to build keyer circuit. It was intended to be a build project at the annual OzarkCon QRP convention until fate changed those plans. It’s twenty-five bucks USD plus shipping and will give you reason to melt a little solder while stuck at home.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay isolated, and wash your hands.


Cable Prep

The LMR-400, N-connectors, tooling to install them, and a lightning arrestor showed up on Friday (DX Engineering) and now everything is on hand to install the Diamond X6000A tri-band vertical. The hardest part will either be installing the N-connectors (I’ve never done that) or else routing the cable through the attic.

With that complete, I’ll finally be able to put the IC-9700 on the air and begin exploring the local VHF/UHF/1.2 landscape. Next will come the installation of a rotor and directional antennas for 6, 2, 440, and 1.2 – new slices of radio spectrum (for me) to be explored.


Winter Fades

It seems winter may be giving up and will soon flee to wherever it hides during these days of perpetual warming. We had some snow and a short cold snap in the final week of February, but now that March has arrived, the forecast for the next 7-10 days all show high temps in the 50’s (F). And if this spring is anything like last, we’ll be running the air-conditioning in a few weeks. We don’t really have spring here anymore, we leap right from winter into hot and muggy. I’m never pleased about these abrupt transitions, I enjoy cold and snowy weather, but the longer days and milder temps means I can get to work sooner on the antenna farm.

Being fully persuaded that Cycle 25 will be every bit as miserable as this current solar cycle, I suspect the low-bands are going to become our permanent home address so an Inverted-L antenna configuration seems a good choice. Given the arrangement of my lot, I’ll need to be creative with the ground radials, but I have a few ideas that should work. I enjoyed great results on multiple bands, including TopBand, with an “L” when we lived in North Carolina. Those tall pine trees made for great natural supports. Here, I’m going to have to install artificial supports, like the Rohn H50 telescoping mast.

Beyond the antenna work at home, the change in season should permit a return to field operations and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve no specific goals for this year, other than to get outside and take a radio every chance I get. We’re even planning some vacation time around travel to select State Parks and a lakefront cottage or two. It will also provide opportunity for portable antenna experimentation in the backyard.

That’s always enjoyable and the extra preparation makes work in the field a little easier.

On the Air

Back to the Future

Somewhere back in my long ago the local ham radio group conducted a Sunday night 6-meter AM net. I joined the fray when I upgraded to Technician. That began a period of radio woes for me that included neighbors complaining to my Dad that my antennas were attracting lightning to the neighborhood, and that I interfered with their television programs when transmitting during the AM net. Fortunately, my Dad ignored the lightning nonsense, but I did have to curtail the 6M activity until after the TV stations went off the air around midnight. Yes, TV stations used to shut down after the late-night news and the national anthem.

Gonset G-50 6 Meter Communicator (1958)

It wasn’t long until the net moved to the new two-meter FM repeater and TVI complaints disappeared. Fast-forward forty-years and another local fellow and I were discussing the old 6-meter net and decided to do something about it. We’ve been meeting at 8pm local on 50.400 MHz AM for weeks now and have managed to attract a small following. Last night I counted eight total check-ins all from around town. A few weeks ago, we had two stations check-in from Indianapolis (50 miles).

Signal strength has been a bit of a problem because few of us have decent six-meter antennas. I’m just using a dipole that I had available. The tuner likes it well enough, but I can’t imagine it’s terribly efficient. A few of the guys have much better signals since adding new 50MHz antennas. The rest of us will likely suffer a little longer until the weather cheers up enough for some outdoor work. A three-element beam is typically a nice choice for this band, however, it’s directivity isn’t welcome when working others in the area who are scattered about town. An omni-directional would be a better choice for our net operation. One fellow recently installed this 6M horizontal antenna with great results and now we all want one.

One of the guys who checked in last night lives across town from me. He talked for a few minutes about the success he had the night before using meteor scatter on two-meters. This weekend was the big Geminids meteor shower and he reported contacts with stations in Texas, Florida, Michigan, Wyoming, and Canada. It was encouraging to hear from a local who was having success bouncing VHF radio signals off the ionized trails of falling rocks using a modest setup. I’m anxious to give that a try and pleased as punch to know there’s a local ham who can help me get started.


Getting Started

End of the year is always busy what with trying to wrap things up at work and getting ready for Christmas and New Year’s. And it’s all crammed into a short time for me as I’ll be on vacation for a few weeks so you can see that time is short. Carving out time to build the new station has been a challenge but there has been some progress.

My first goal with the new transceiver is to get it on the air on FM. That probably seems simple enough but I haven’t had a VHF antenna on the house in more than twenty years so this is a bigger deal than you might imagine. It’s starting from scratch.

I ordered a Diamond X-6000A antenna, a vertical that covers 2M, 440, and 1.2GHz. At the same time I ordered the Diamond MX3000N tri-plexer to handle the intermediate connection with the three radio antenna ports.

There just happened to have been a review on this hardware in the December QST (pages 38-40). I doubt that was fate, the IC-9700 is already a popular transceiver and the publishing team at ARRL is simply on top of sharing the best way to get started with a new tri-band transceiver with its readers.

Specs on the antenna and the tri-plexer were more than adequate for how I intend to use them though seasoned VHF operators may have opted for something different. I intend to mount the antenna at one corner of the house and use a short run of LMR400 cable from there, through the attic, and into the shack. I’ll install it on a 30-foot mast and after grounding and adding lightning protection I’ll call this simple first step, “done”.

Easy as that sounds, within hours of placing my order I got a note from Ham Radio Outlet that the tri-plexer isn’t available at any of their locations and will have to be shipped “later”. Meanwhile, the antenna has already shipped.

That’s not such bad news since the installation of the antenna and running new feed line is the real work. I hope the wait for the tri-plexer will be a short one. I still need to order the LMR400 and a collection of connectors and hardware.

Assuming all that can be installed over the long holiday break, I’ll move ahead with acquiring Yagis for 6, 2, and 440. But having all that in place and functional in time for the January VHF contest is, I’m afraid, just wishful thinking.

Along the way I’m also remodeling the shack. Gone is the big desk as I intend to install a single workbench to serve as the center of operation. That will require a little drywall work to route new power feeds along with antenna and rotor cables in an alternate configuration.

Lots to do and little free time to do it but progress continues, even if it’s difficult to measure.

I did update the firmware on the 9700 to the latest v1.20. That task couldn’t have been easier but it does require reading the instructions. I’m on one mailing list for that transceiver where some have had minor problems with this task, but in the end, that was all operator error due to failure to carefully read the fine manual.