Monthly Archives: April 2013

Spring Antenna Service

This winter and early spring have not been kind to outdoor equipment.

This weekend finally the weather broke and it has been nice enough to spend some time on the antennas.

Original plan was to do a lower, inspect, service & repair in a few weeks, but some obvious impact from exceptionally high winds has made it prudent to start now.

The two log periodics are on the same mast, and winds have tweaked the larger (T-8 10-20m) about 5-10 degrees from the upper smaller (T-28 1.3ghz-6m) most likely by slipping the larger boom.

My T-8 predates the “Slipp-Not” brackets that Tennadyne offers and a set will be on order (I make pick it up at Dayton).  This should reduce the chance of one antenna slipping in relation to the other.  Beam Width coverage is wide enough the little tweak is more an offense to me than it is to performance, so it may wait until the next lowering.

My Tri-Ex/Tasjian Tower has feedline stand-offs that I user large UV resistant o-rings as the cable retainers in the forked ends of the stand-offs.

Wind and time took out the second from top o-ring and the wild winds caused the feedline to be hooked about the clamp.  It is amazing to think how wild of wilds would be needed to raise that much triple-coax-feedlines-plus-rotor cable around enough to whip it about – must have been a monster wind.

The cable is not hugely at risk, but it would be better to get it back in place.  Again I will have to decide if I deal with it now or in a few weeks.

When the tower is lowered and tilted over I use a set of scaffold I bought from work – a handful of rings from a manufacturer long out of business that don’t connect with any other brand (not that you should).  Useless for work but just what I needed and makes an ultra safe work platform.

WHen it comes down next the coax seals will all be inspected and renewed as needed, each cable gets a visual and wipe down, plus gets a check with the TDR for any electrical problems.

I have upgraded lightning protection that will get installed.

A decision to be made is whether to swap out the rotor (a Ham-IV) for a freshly overhauled Ham-IV or whether to leave well enough alone.  Plan was to swap in the fresh overhaul and then have the long serving unit overhauled as the spare.

Decisions will hing on whether I can disengage the displaced cables for now (I lower the mast but haven’t tipped it over yet) or whether I need to hand crank the tip-over now.

It is also time to get the buried feedline in to do a second HF antenna on most bands.  Originally I was going to make the vertical just another setting on the remote antenna switch, but I am now thinking it should be on the second feedline to the shack so two can be used at the same time.  The Flex-5000A could use the dual antennas now and the Flex-6700 will take the diversity capability to a new level if I get my antennas sorted out correctly.

At least it is warmer out once I figure out the plan!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Station Design and Documentation Tools – Scapple & Scrivener

Documenting an amateur radio station is very easy when you have one radio running barefoot (no amp or other gear), yet gets very complex quickly with each additional radio/operating station or accessory exponentially adding complexity to the documentation effort.

I am experimenting with using two writer’s tools to plan and document my station:

Scrivener_ArrangingWordsSmall

Scrivener – a multi-file cross-file editor and project writing system.
Scrivener Link:   http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

and

showcase-scapple_header

Scapple – a freeform graphical relationship editor.
Scapple Link: http://literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php

Both are by the British firm “Literature and Latte” and are truly much more powerful than needed for this task, but as I use them for other writing tasks it only makes sense to keep using them.

Literature and Latte Logo

Literature and Latte Link:  http://literatureandlatte.com/

These tools can be configured so very many ways, but what I am doing in Scrivener is putting every piece of hardware and software information I can gather, including my individual settings, into Scrivener “Characters” which can be grouped into operating positions (and reused where appropriate when shared or duplicated).

I’m dumping in spec sheets, operating & technical manuals, receipts, crib notes – basically everything I can gather to do with an item.  Scrivener considers that my “research” and acts like a database/filing system for all that data.

Then the mission critical is brought up into the actual station notes as Chapters & other divisions.

The Scrivener file is a type of archive that can be accessed in various ways, and is inclusive of all the research as well as the product documents.

The Station Notes export document is a flater document distilled down to what I’ve included as actual station notes.

Sounds more complex than it is, and I will do research data entry item by item over a period of time.

Did I mention you can incorporate pdfs and media files in both the research and the product document?

Awesome tool really intended for script writing, novel writing, and other complex major work projects.  I’ve just coopted it to adapt to a technical hobby use.

Scrapple comes into play as the tool to make up the connectivity and other relationship drawings to outline the Station Notes.  I know I could do these sketches on CAD software, but this is slick and easy, and rolls seamlessly into my Scrivener work.  Presently Scrapple is OS-X only, which is fine for my use, but leaves me looking for a similar resource for the Windows Based Scrivener work I do for work.

If there is interest, I can post some samples of the various levels of work to share.

Maybe using these tools (which are the huge total of $60.00 worth of software, which is amazingly inexpensive for their power & utility) is like taking something like a Ferrari to the supermarket.  Yet it is nice to know the product of the exercise will easily meet and exceed every foreseeable Station Notes use.

As a spoiler I do have point out YMMV, as I had already invested the time to learn the basics of Scrivener – without this time spent I would have an extra hour or two of learning curve.

73

Steve

K9ZW

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Visalia DX Conference 2013 – Flex 6700 in Action with Youtube Video

A HUGE thank you to Howard VE3GFW for his YouTube and write up!

Direct LINK Visalia DX 2013. Flex 6700 – YouTube.

Visalia DX Conference – Youtube Video – Flex 6700 in Action

Sun Apr 21, 2013 4:29 pm (PDT) . Posted by: “Dr. Howard S. White”

I have posted a video of the Visalia DX Convention with the First Public Demonstration of the Flex 6700

Visalia DX 2013. Flex 6700 – YouTube.

Not too much about the Convention but mostly the radio in operation…

The Flex 6700 radio was definitely working but clearly it was a beta test unit.

I did manage to crash the software at least once and many features are yet to be fully operational.

For the uninitiated… the radio software is now a simple browse that does NOT need a major computer system
All the processing is now done inside the radio with its own computer power…
it should even ultimately be able to run on your iPad or other simple device…

Interestingly it was interfaced directly to N1MM Contest Logger, a SteppIR DB-18 and an Alpha 9500 so it clearly was set up for contesting.
While I am not the contest Ultra Maven… I personally found the clean simple interface much more intuitive for contesting than my Flex 5000
as you really never need to have your hands leave the logger keyboard. I can see where the Flex will finally be more than competitive, if not excel the K3 for contests.

In spite of the limitations of the beta test software, the receiver performance was astounding.
It appeared that the radio was hearing down to -142dBm (or about S0 – 15db or almost 2 ½ S Units below S0)
BUT what was more astounding was that they introduced DSP gain into the system so that it could hear down to -149 dBm or about the phase noise levels. I am not sure how to measure down to those levels as the thermal noise in my test equipment is higher than that. (The figures are un-calibrated- we will see what Sherwood says)

Adjacent Channel rejection appeared be out of the world….you could totally block an S9+40db signal 100Hz away…..
This would be especially important in multi-stations…. AND you do not Need to use any Roofing Filters

Of course it was really cool to be able to listen to several slices of the band at the same time and easily jump from band to band without losing any information.
They had 4 spectral operational but could only receive on 2 slices… (It will be 8 slices in the final model)

Real World Performance…
Several times we had Armchair copy in QSO’s with Hams who had could barely copy our signals due to their poor antennas and outdated equipment
We definitely could easily copy the very weak DX Stations…

Although I am not a CW Operator .. The CW ops I talked to said it was full QSK with no delays whatsoever…

Delivery
Flex said they hoped to ship production units within 30 days (maybe by Dayton anyone?) however I am skeptical that they can get everything 100% by then as clearly there is still a lot of software to get right. I suspect that in order to meet that tight schedule, they will ship the first units with a reduced feature set. The good thing about a SDR is that you can easily upgrade in a matter of seconds.

Bottom Line:
When I read the specs and placed my order at Dayton 2012, I knew that this was going to be the radio that will set the bar for the next standard in Ham Radio

However, I was personally astounded by the performance which even in Beta far exceeded my expectations.

__________________________________________________________
Howard S. White Ph.D. P. Eng., VE3GFW/K6 ex-AE6SM KY6LA

Enthusiasm to get my hands on a Flex-6000 series radio? Yeah!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Remote Updates to Ham Shack Firmware – Daily Uploads?

Quick stop at friend George W9EVT’s shack, to which I brought a thumbdrive of the latest firmware updates downloaded two days ago.

Loaded no sweat, only to find some of the updates have been updated in the last 48 hours!

The vastly improved internet infrastructure on Washington Island (US/CA Island WI-001L) made downloading the “latest latest” easy and a quick repeat brought things truly up to date – at least until the next firmware is released.

Very rough ferry ride out (I didn’t mind too much, but it wasn’t reasonable to read, so a quick kip substituted. Cold, but sunny (14F or -10c this morning early).

Hope to get some operating in tomorrow.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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New NIST Time Code to Boost Reception for Radio-Controlled Clocks

A recent announcement focuses on consumer use of an enhanced time signal:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is changing the way it broadcasts time signals that synchronize radio-controlled “atomic” clocks and watches to official U.S. time in ways that will enable new radio-controlled timepieces to be significantly more robust and reliable.

This new time broadcast protocol will not only improve the performance of new radio-controlled clocks and watches, but will encourage the development of new timekeeping products that were not practical with the old broadcast system because of local interference or other limitations. For example, appliances such as refrigerators, microwave ovens and thermostats, as well as traffic light timers and sprinkler systems will be able to take advantage of this new phase modulation broadcast.

…..

Link: New NIST Time Code to Boost Reception for Radio-Controlled Clocks.

Could this be put to use for Amateur Radio? Is it accurate enough for time sync sensitive digital protocols like JT65? Would certainly seem to be potential option for a non-internet time sync.

Usually consumer gear only truly syncs one in 24 hours with a sub-second accuracy over the course of a day.

In theory the WWVB service could achieve 0.20 ms accuracy in sync, but this is fairly loose compared to some other time options.

Even at the end 2/10th second accuracy with twice daily full WWVB Sync JT65-HF should work (see: JT65-HF Source Document )

A WWVB receiver as a USB dongle for a non-internet connected PC?

This would seem to be a good workaround for high latency remote connected PCs, as what happens with many satellite ISP services.

You can read more about NSIT Time services at Link: WWVB Radio Controlled Clocks

Food for thought.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Sudden Radio Silence in High Risk Scenarios

At Boston we’ve ben attacked as a nation by a bomber.

Our prayers and thoughts are with those killed and injured, and their families.

Our heartfelt thank you and admiration goes out to those who responded, especially as they really didn’t know if they themselves were safe from an additional bombing.

From the news one item dealing with RF jumped out – the Cell Phone Network was instantly taken down by authorities to prevent its use as a trigger for any additional bombs.

Bombs, or IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) if you prefer, are typically controlled in two ways:

  • Time
  • Trigger

For Time you can imagine the electronic, mechanical, or chemical functional equivalent of a “fuse.”  Once the fuse is lit, the bomb will be set off at a set period of time afterwards.  The timer can be internal or external, but the functional distinction of a Time Bomb is the device is exploded based on Time as the primary criteria.

For Trigger devices there may be manual control (pull a string, a trip-wire, or hit the detonator with an impact), electronic control (wires back to detonator control box),  a conditional control (goes off when stepped on, moved, opened, when wet, or any other a number of sensor based criteria), radio control (think of the door lock button on your car’s key fob, or perhaps its own cell phone or other receiver), or other set-off methods.  The main criteria of Trigger is that external stimulus is needed to set the bomb off.

There are combinations of Time and Trigger – the combinations are endless.

As radio amateurs we’re interested in the Trigger by Radio.  In the Boston case authorities feared/theorized that the cell phone network was a potential Trigger and for safety they shut it down.

In the videos released I didn’t spot any first responders, police, fire or security on radios, though it is unclear if radio silence was being enforced.

Often used in warfare, there are jamming countermeasures that might be deployed, which deny the use of the RF spectrum as a Trigger.  Some variations are intended to set off the RF based Trigger exploding a device from a stand-off situation.

The cowards who did the Boston bombings very likely may have controlled the bombs by cell phone.

In a situation like this bombing one has to reflect if keying up an HT is very smart – at least until the area is searched for additional devices & cleared.  If the enemy has left a tiered pattern of devices the RF from an HT may be the next device’s Trigger.

Temporary self imposed Radio Silence in High Risk Scenarios may be needed until the “all clear” is given.

“Certainly much more will come to light about the remote Cell Phone detonation of the devices, over the next few days and weeks.

Again our prayers and thoughts are with those killed and injured, and their families.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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