Lots of little stuff going on…

I went to the HAMBASH in Kansas City this morning. Pretty big venue, most all of the tables were filled – also some quality vendors around the periphery. Lots of old-time rigs that looked like they were in good shape. Only saw one table were there was a guy selling DVDs (that had nothing to do with ham radio). They had an XYL Lounge upstairs, with coffee and cookies. There were a few city/county EOC radio shelters setup outside but by the time I got out there, my daughter had hit the meltdown stage and so we headed back home for her nap.

Did I buy anything? Of course. I got some antenna wire for a horizontal loop antenna project that I want to complete soon. Also some black Dacron line to use to help raise the loop. There was also a mini-hamfest near the parking lot were I found an old dummy load for $15 and a bunch of old Motorola gear that included these plastic wedge radio/phone stands that I think would be perfect for placing a mobile radio on when you are using as a base to better allow you to see the front of the rig (I bought two for $1 each). HAMBASH was quite crowded, despite the rainy weather outside.

Yesterday, the weather was great and I got a chance to take my daughter out on a bicycle ride again. Wanting to improve the TX capability of my bike-mounted TH-D7A for APRS, I built an HT Tigertail. I did notice significant improvement on my ability to get out on APRS when using the Tigertail (still with the power set at 500mW).

Tomorrow I want to try to launch my horizontal sky loop. I’ve got plenty of antenna wire and support line. I have ladderline for the feedline. I should be set. I hope the weather cooperates.

This Weekend…

Joseph Sheehan Bicycle Road Race: Today I helped support a 52.9 mile bicycle race between Leavenworth and Atchison, KS. The weather was miserable. A cold morning to begin with. Then rain… and sleet. Even snow. I was positioned at a intersection that crossed the highway which served as about the 10 mile mark and then 40 mile mark on the route back. 52 cyclist made it to the 10 mile point and not more than 20 went on to finish the race. I couldn’t believe that many of the guys hung with it. Those were some dedicated folks.
There were four of us supporting the race, positioned at key spots along the route (inside our nice, warm vehicles). I was able to have several “lessons learned” for this event. I had a distinct lack of planning and preparation.
(1) I didn’t fully check my rig prior to the event. I was at the event site trying to do a radio check with net control with no results.
(2) When it is time to troubleshoot, you have to use logic. When time is short (because of lack of preparation) and problems come up, you have to keep your head. Troubleshooting a radio system is pretty basic. Start from one end and work to the other. Finding that the antenna feedline isn’t properly connected to the rig should be an easy fix.
(3) Having an HT as backup is good. Knowing how to change the settings on it is critical. One of those Nifty manuals or smart cards does the trick.

That being said, thanks to the quick thinking of the net control I was able to initially talk to him on my HT using a repeater that didn’t require a tone (I’d forgotten how to change the tone setting on my Kenwood TH-D7A). I eventually figured out how to set the tone and was on the repeater with the other folks. Then with a bit more thought and troubleshooting, I discovered my feedline connection to the rig had come loose and with that fixed I was back in business. Part of the problem is that I have a relatively new rig in the truck, the Kenwood TM-D710A. It is a very complicated rig and I have only scratched the surface on how to operate it. I was able to interface it with the Garmin Nuvi 350 thanks to a cable from Argent Data Systems. The cable allows the D710A to pass APRS data to the Nuvi and the Nuvi plots the data as waypoints. It works pretty well.

Big week ahead. I mentioned before that I have some specific graduation requirements for the course I am in at Fort Leavenworth. This week I should be able to complete another of the requirements: speak to a community group, school, or other organized gathering of citizens. I have put together a presentation concerning my operations of both amateur radio and MARS station while in Iraq and will be giving the presentation to one of the local amateur radio clubs. The presentation, in addition to my operations, covers the history of the US Army and amateur radio while deployed overseas. It has been fascinating researching the operations of previous Army hams from WWII (Germany and Japan), Korea, Vietnam,

Spec/5 Dennis Vernacchia operating MARS Radio Station AB8AY, out of relocated radio station in quonset hut, puts radio-telephone calls through to the states for the troops stationed at LZ Betty and to co-ordinate “Operation Vietnam Merry Christmas”

Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. I also cover the history of amateur radio in Iraq from the early days in the 1920s through the Saddam period and then today. Once I get my slides spiffied up a bit more and add some notes, I will post a link here so those who are interested can take a look. My final requirement is: write professionally by submitting a letter to the editor, Op-Ed piece, or article for publication. My intent is to turn the presentation into an article and then send it to ARRL’s QST. Most of the article is done – I hope to get it completed this week as well.

Items of interest

Interesting post on W2LJ’s blog about his PDA. I have an assortment of PDAs:

– Palm Pilot Pro that I got an upgrade kit for to make it a Palm III (new chip along with IR sync capability)

– Palm IIIxe which I bought on eBay. It works well except that it eats up batteries even when it is turned off. I have used this PDA with my Kenwood TH-D7 to do mobile 2m packet and PocketAPRS.

– Palm m130. This was the first PDA I had that allowed you to use an SD card. I have used this to program my TinyTrack APRS device.

– Palm Tungsten 3 (or T3). First PDA with wireless connectivity, in this case Bluetooth. Also has a slot for an SD card. I used this PDA for mobile logging, mainly taking advantage of the voice recording function… I’d have a mobile QSO, pick up the Palm T3 and record a voice memo of the time, freq, callsign, and any other significant info. At a later point I used that to update my primary log.

– Some variant of an HP PDA that has WiFi and an SD card slot.

Also have an assortment of keyboards, cameras, and other doo-dads that go with these.

I have the Palm T3 with me now… I’m guessing it needs to be charged.

K3OQ has a post about his upcoming trip to the Outer Banks. He also plans to activate The Bodie Island Lighthouse (USA-067). I had the opportunity to activate that light back in June of 2006. Beautiful area out there – very relaxing. One of the highlights of any hams visit to the Outer Banks is using the Outer Banks Repeater Association’s 2m and 70cm repeaters. I had a few great exchanges with Jack, W2EHD who lives in the area year around. The repeater system also allowed me to stay in contact with the XYL while I was off activating lighthouses.

N9IK’s Radio Blog has a new post about his completion of the Rock-Mite 40 transceiver kit. He’s got some great pics of his work. I hope to develop my building skills to that level. Very nice work. I look forward to hearing about the contacts he makes with it.

K9ZW tries to solve the age old question of the best way to organize QSL cards with his latest post. I’m curious to see how others keep their cards organized. I don’t have a ton of cards yet, but I would like a solid method of keeping my cards organized that will last for years and allow me to access them as needed.

As always – I enjoy reading your blogs. It keeps my interest in amateur radio strong even if I don’t get on the air as often as I’d like.

Hampton, VA to Cleveland, OH

I left yesterday at about 10:20am, having done a poor job packing and generally having any semblance of organization. I ended up dumping a lot of extra stuff in a footlocker, piled everything in the backseat of the truck and headed out. Not more than a few feet out of the driveway I answered a CQ from Andy, W2QIQ. Andy has been a ham for 66 years (as opposed to my 6 years). He served in the Army during WWII in Europe, starting in Egland, making his way through France and ending up in Berlin.

My radio started acting up on 40M. I was using my Workman Hamstick tuned for the 40M phone band. The Icom AT-180 gets a good match right away bringing the SWR down to a 1:1. But then after I’m transmitting for about a minute, the Tune light flashes for about 10 or 15 seconds and then the Tune light shuts off and the power drops and SWR goes up. My first guess is that the radio and tuner need to have a better ground. But the matching impedance range for the AT-180 is only between 16 and 150 ohms, so that could be the problem. This is only a problem on 40M.

My TH-D7A APRS kludge seems to be working well when there is a digipeater. When I was on I-77N coming across the West Virginia/Ohio border, I accidentally pulled one of the power leads. I didn’t really notice it because all through the Smoky Mountains the APRS coverage was nonexistent. I got a few hits through Charleston, WV and then it (maybe) tapered off after Charleston or maybe I had pulled the power. When I was approaching Canton, OH, I knew something had to be wrong, because it was such a large area it would have to have a digipeater. That’s when I noticed the power was disconnected. I reattached the power and there was tons of APRS traffic.

Had some nice QSOs along the way: KL7GKY, EB7xx, YU1XA, and KB5YAY.

APRS in the Toyota Tundra

I’ve played around with APRS in the Toyota Tundra before. Now I’m upgrading the setup a bit. Instead of using the ICOM IC-T81A I switched to the Kenwood TH-D7A(G). To bump up the 5 watt output, I tossed in a Mirage 30 watt amp that I’ve had sitting on the shelf for the last five years. I’m still using my Garmin’s eTrex Vista, but now have the combo data/power cable. No longer do I need to worry about swapping out the 2x AA batteries.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to integrate one of my old Palm Pilots (Palm m125) to run Pocket APRS.

I also have to do some massaging with all the cables.

Go here to track me while mobile.

Tom Mills – K6LHE – SK

Farewell to Tom Mills
by Ed Fong
Sept. 2002

This month we regret the lost of one of our long time member Tomas B. Mills (K6LHE). He was an avid admirer of the Motorola HT220 and had modified dozens in his life time. I officially met Tom in 1990 when I joined National Semiconductor but I had seen him previously at the Foothill swap. I also meant him at the Sunnyvale SARES meeting a few times in the early 80’s.

I would always meet Tom at the swap meet and he was always a joy to talk to. His knowledge of radios was unsurpass since he worked on the design of IC’s for radio and TV for 40 years. We would walk up and down the isles and he would see a radio and say “hey, I had one of those” and then would go through the technical details of the radio. He was the mastermind behind all the video driver chips using the VIP high voltage process at National Semiconductor. Chances are that your TV or computer monitor has a chip that Tom designed. I thought I had a passion for radios until I meant Tom. This guy knew his Collins R390’s and his HT220’s.

Tom lived in the neighborhood and I had talked to him just Wednesday August 28th when I was testing a radio with Ron Quan. He broke on in with his distinct voice “Hey, is that doctor Ed??” That was the last time I talked with him. He passed away Sunday evening September 1st.

He is survived by his wife Joyce. His daughter Jeni Johnstone and husband James, his son Robert Mills and wife Donna. They have two grand children Emma and Ian.

His widow Joyce had at the Sunday September 8 memorial service his HT220 and other memorabilia that made Tom so well loved by his friends.

So K6LHE, we say our final 73’s. It has been my privilege knowing you and you will be missed, but your influence on me will be with me for a lifetime.

Ed Fong WB6IQN

Weekend wrap up

Got to see a bit of the air show today from a nearby park that has a good view of Langley Air Force Base. Had my Bearcat Scanner (BC245XLT) with the Radio Shack antenna and was able to monitor the Air Boss as well as the air/ground communications for the Golden Knights parachute team.

Tired to contact the special events station at Fort Knox (W2P), but the propagation just wasn’t there. I was able to make two other SSB contacts while trying as well as a PSK31 contact with a Swedish amateur radio operator on St. Martin.

Worked on cleaning the radio room.

Started looking at using my TH-D7A for accessing a DX packet cluster… but I’m not sure if we have any packet clusters in the area. We’ll see.

I’m looking at getting an amp for my FT-817 so I can use it for portable operations without having to pull the IC-706 out of the shack.

Finished about 30 QSL cards to be sent out tomorrow.

Weather Display works on Ubuntu!! I need to transition my weather station from the radio room to the linux box out in the garage. I need to figure out how to do do the FTP upload and webcam.

Started working on a webpage for Old Point Comfort Lighthouse activations: http://www.ni0l.com/monroe/monroe.html

“Tigertail” HT Counterpoise

by Chad Rudolph, W1CAR

The idea here was inspired by many other amateurs including Ed KE4SKY and Virginia RACES

These parts can all be found at Wal Mart or any hardware store. I found them in my garage.

– about 20″ 14-18 gauge stranded copper wire, or equivalent (smaller gauge = easier portability)
– 5/8″ hose clamp (fits BNC well, although larger will work if cut or shortened)
– solder

– wire strippers / cutters
– soldering iron
– straight screwdriver
– Dremel with grinding or sanding bit (optional)

(1) Cut the 18 gauge wire to 1/4 wavelength of the designated frequency, for this example I used 19.25 to 19.5″ for 2 meters (and this also works well on 440mhz). Strip 1/4″ of the insulation and twist the fine copper to keep it from spreading apart.
– For 220mhz, use 11.5″ and for 440mhz, use 6.5″
(2) Gauge how you want the hose clamp to seat on your BNC connector first, and tighten it to get an idea where you will solder the wire. Mark it with a pencil, then use a Dremel tool (optional) to sand a spot so the solder will hold to the clamp.
(3) Lay the wire on the clamp or even run the copper through one of the openings on the clamp, but not too much. Solder the wire to the clamp and let it cool. Pull slightly to make sure the wire is firmly attached.
(4) Attach the hose clamp to the BNC connector, and tighten it so that it doesn’t slip off accidentally, but don’t over-tighten and damage the BNC connector.

Theory: (KE4SKY’s explanation here)
– The idea is that an HT using a “rubber duck” has -5db gain compared to a quarter wave antenna that is held at shoulder height. Speaking in terms of effective radiated power, a 5 watt HT with rubber duck antenna held at shoulder height is actually only radiating 1.5 watts on key-down. The stock antenna is a horrible radiator, and it lacks a counterpoise or a ground plane to keep the RF from coupling to your body. Similar to using a 1/4 wave mobile mag-mount and not mounting it to a metal surface.

– By using a Tiger Tail counterpoise, you give your HT a missing lower quarter wave and along with a quality aftermarket antenna (flexible 1/4 wave or telescoping 1/2 wave) you succeed in creating a center-fed half-wave vertical dipole, giving the HT much much more effective radiated power. The Tiger Tail can be left to dangle, but is directional and the radiation pattern can pointed in the direction of the station you are attempting to contact for better results.

– I’ve seen these talked about many places on the internet, and most say to use a battery clip to connect the Tiger Tail to the BNC connector of the HT. I have yet to see a picture of one, however…and that left me with a bit of uncertainty about the construction itself and its inherent durability. So instead if using a battery clip, I decided to use the hose clamp because of availability, ease of use, and the ability to tighten it to the BNC to make sure one won’t loose it in the field. This is also a good idea if you have several different antennas for your rig, so you can temporarily or even permanently attach the Tiger Tail to each antenna.

– Try it out and see the difference for yourself.

Another idea inspired by Ed Harris KE4SKY: For dual-band HTs, try using 2-wire zip cord…of a small gauge, like 18 or even 24. Speaker wire works fine. Cut the wire at the normal 2 meter 1/4 wavelength for the 2 meter side of the counterpoise. Follow the rest of the instructions to finish the single-band Tigertail listed below. Once finished, carefully mark 6.5″ down from the HT antenna connection point and unzip and cut the cord to that length, making a 1/4 wave counterpoise for the 440 band with the shorter of the two wires of the zip cord. Install heat shrink at the split point to keep the zip cord from coming further unzipped.

Bicycle Mobile

My endstate objective is to have a bicycle mobile setup with APRS and packet functionality.

Bicycle Mobile – Test #1

Objective: xmit at least one APRS beacon packet from my bicycle mobile HT to a digipeater capable of ultimately passing the packet to an Igate and enabling anyone to view my location via www.findu.com.

Components used:
(1) Garmin eTrex Vista GPS. I originally got this GPS when I was stationed in Korea back in 2001. While pulling duty in the brigade EOC I overheard radio traffic of a company XO who was making a chow run…. running hot chow out to soldiers in the field. The company XO (a lieutenant) was lost. He didn’t admit it at first, but finally said he didn’t know where he was. Being lost as a lieutenant is pretty bad, but having to admit over the brigade net that you are lost ranks among the most humiliating acts. At that point, I determined I’d purchase a GPS so I’d never be “lost”. I’ve really enjoyed the GPS so far. It worked great in Korea, I also used it in Germany, took it to Kuwait, used it on the convoy into Iraq and Baghdad, used it in and around Baghdad, and also used it on the return trip. It’s very solid and is pretty easy on the batteries. I was previously using the GPS along with my TinyTrack as an APRS beacon (http://www.livejournal.com/users/shedberg/2005/04/21/).
(2) GPS handlebar mount. I received it in the mail yesterday and installed it this morning. Pretty easy to install, the GPS slides on and locks into place.
(3) Kenwood TH-D7A(G). Designed to be used specifically for APRS, I figured the D7A was the radio for the task. I have the stock battery pack (PB-39, 9.6 V, 600mAh). For an antenna, I’m using something similar to the MFJ-1715S. It’s one of those thin, long dual band jobs.
(4) eTrex-Kenwood GPS data cable. I purchased this off of eBay from the GPSGeek store. The cable has the Garmin eTrex proprietary plug on one end and the 2.5mm plug for the radio on the other.

As a preparatory test last night, I attached the D7A to my 2m/70cm vertical installed on the top of my house. I set the packet path to Wide3-3, manually inserted my lat/long location into the D7A, activated the beacon function and was able to transmit the following packets that made it to the www.findu.com database:
KD7PJQ-6>S7PS8P,WIDE3-1,qAo,N9VP:’h/Vl TH-D7A(G)
KD7PJQ-6>S7PS8P,N3XKU-15*,WIDE3,qAo,KA1UDX-1:’h/Vl TH-D7A(G)
KD7PJQ-6>S7PS8P,N4EVA-11,WIDE3*,qAo,N3IJW:’h/Vl TH-D7A(G)
KD7PJQ-6>S7PS8P,N4EVA-11,WIDE3*,qAo,W8JUK-3:’h/Vl TH-D7A(G)
KD7PJQ-6>S7PS8P,K4EME-3*,WIDE3-1,qAo,N4DSL:’h/Vl TH-D7A(G)

This test confirmed for me that the D7A was capable of transmitting APRS data locally, finding it’s way to an Igate, providing anyone the capability to check my location via the internet.

Test #1 Execution:
This morning I clipped my GPS onto my bikes handlebars and rolled the bike onto the driveway. Turning on the GPS, I was quickly able to get satellite lock and a position read out. I connected the data cable between the GPS and the D7A and powered the D7A on. A Band was already set with the APRS freq and TNC on. I pressed the POS button and the D7A successfully pulled my current location from the GPS and displayed it on the D7A. Immediately after that, the D7A’s red xmit light came on, indicating that the HT was xmiting my current position. The radio beeped and I could see other APRS traffic being received. I locked the key pad and placed the D7A into the bag on the front of my bike with the antenna sticking out at a 45 degree angle.

I headed out on my 5.44 mile trek to work.

The GPS was working fine the entire ride. The speedometer on the GPS was showing the same speed as my little Bell cycling computer.

I arrived at work and pulled the radio out of the bag. There were no stations listed on the screen – which indicates to me that no APRS stations were received by the D7A. I hit the BCON button a few times, but didn’t receive any responses.

I’m assuming one of two things happen: (1) my antenna isn’t doing an adequate job. Again, the D7A is located in the bike bag hanging off my handlebars and I’m not using any type of counterpoise with the antenna. Or (2) there was an issue with how the radio was positioned in the bag which either caused the data cable to come loose or accidentally engaged a key on the key pad.

Test assessment:
Overall the test was a failure.

Before I head back home after work, I’m going to take my bike over to a location with good line-of-sight and try sending an APRS beacon to see if I’m getting a response. I’m going to first attempt to send the beacon while I’m holding the radio so I can monitor what is being displayed on the screen. If I’m successful with that, I will carefully place the radio into the bike bag and try this test again on my trip home.