Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Dodging the Bullet at the K9ZW Island QTH

Water on the Floor Basement at the K9ZW Island HomeFlooded Yard at K9ZW Island HomeAt our Island home several massive storms dropped over 3 inches of rain in a short period first flooding our yard, and then overwhelming our sump pump.

Photos:

  • First the yard 10 hours after the rain stopped (it is usually bone dry, and is 8-10 inches of soil over the rock) with over an inch of standing water.

Flooded Yard at K9ZW Island Home

  • Second is the basement with 2-1/2 inches of water on the floor.

 

Water on the Floor Basement at the K9ZW Island Home

What tipped us off was one of the Home Monitor systems we have – the simple one that calls on POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) with alerts – started calling with a Water Alarm.

The device is a “Control Products FreezeAlarm Homesitter Temperature, Water, Power Alarm HS-700” – link https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002MUAIP8/

This $90 device saved the day by calling us repeatedly with alerts.  Estimates are that water could rise to about 18-24 inches in the basement before enough systems would get knocked out to set off our other monitors.  (We also have Canary devices for security and backup, but they cannot sense the water issue directly.)

With this much water that was a possibility of intervention didn’t happen right away – which is why the alarm worked so well!

The shack is on a rolling radio bench with power supplies and some gear 7 inches off the floor, so the important stuff would begin to be damaged, as would the boiler and everything on the lowest storage shelves.

Plumber and Painter we are working with have the water issue resolved (both short term and also a long term solution figured out) and only my boxes of Hardline/Coax which you see got wet because we caught it this early.

I’ve just ordered another of the “Control Products FreezeAlarm Homesitter Temperature, Water, Power Alarm HS-700” to install at our main house.

Well worth it!

73

Steve
K9ZW

The Flexer’s Advantage Series: Do you See what I hear….

Do you see what I hear?   Strange question, or is it?

a real Flexer’s advantage is the superlative implementation of multiple highly flexible Panadapters letting an operator visually evaluate the band(s) before listening.

I typically use less than the eight Panadapter “Slices” the Flex-6700 allows, though I often use about five or six.

My preference is the Panafall configuration and my first two will be where I am working as “slice A for Active” works for me.  Then the next slices will be sized for an overview of the segment in each of the bands I am thinking of operating.

I do not tend to drop very many receivers unless I’m planning to pop back and forth between bands.  Rather my style is to instead change frequency on my first slice Panadapter and receiver treating the other Panadapters as sort of big spectrum scope.

what is very neat – the real advantage – is your style of setting up slices and receivers doesn’t have to be anything like mine.  Upcoming SmartSDR versions allow undocking of slices, potentially sharing the visuals in even more effective ways.

To be certain other radios have had Panadapters for many decades.  But it has been in the SDR software offerings where this useful tool has been taken to new levels.

It is easy to visually recognize a DX operation, especially if running split by the fainter DX – sometimes barely showing – being answered by massive calls.  In the SmartSDR for iOS Panadapter it is possible to map the DX cluster directly onto the Panafall.

Once you see it, it is simple enough to drop a slice receiver on the signal, set up split if appropriate, and see if you too can work the DX.

73

Steve
K9ZW

The Flexer’s Advantage Series: The Casual DXer Advantages of SmartSDR for iOS and SmartSDR via Maestro

The Casual DXer Advantages of SmartSDR for iOS and SmartSDR via Maestro

While some of us have the ability to block-off large chunks of time to be on the air, many of us have to grab our radio time when we can – usually while on the fly.

Sometimes being on the air involves multi-tasking – perhaps food prep while waiting for UPS to deliver and expecting a business call… hard to go down to the shack and ignore the world in situations like that.

Sometimes that slice of possible radio time means you don’t get enough outside time as you really want to be outside.

In winter sometimes it is nicer to stay in front of a fireplace if you can.

I’ve found a way to get a few QSOs in during these slots of time I just cannot go down to my main operating station in the shacks.

I’m saying the plural shacks, as at both my main home QTH and my Washington Island QTH 115 miles north I have a Flex-6700 station in the homes’ basement. Home I coopted what was intended to be a “wine cellar” room when we moved in as my main operating station location.  On the island there was a really nice workshop area in the semi-finished basement that was a natural for both a Flex-6700 and a Collins S-Line setup.

A long time ago George W9EVT recommended never putting your operating position more than 10-20 footsteps away from where you otherwise would be. W9EVT’s thought was you would be able to operate a lot more if it was convenient to your regular life.  I’ve kind of violated this recommendation at both QTHs by being 2-3 times further away.

So my problem is I could not allocate shack space at either QTH that is truly in the main living area.

This cut into my on-air time. In the case of the home QTH the cool wine cellar room simply is uncomfortable for much more than an hour.  The air is too chilly, plus it has bone chilling cold hard tile flooring, and in the end is too tucked out of the way. On the island the only time it is desirable to be in a basement is when it is super hot outside.  Otherwise I’d rather be in eth main area or outside (eventually I will have a Garage with workshop changing things).

Since both stations have a Flex-6700 there is an easy solution.

Go LAN-Remote. As long as the Flex-6700 and a remote client are on the same subnet block of internal IP addresses you can go wireless as far as your router will let you.

If I am going to be on the air for more than an hour or repeatedly in the same spot, setting up a Maestro is the way to go. Both QTHs have one, and a computer to use with the Maestro if wanted.

But if I am truly on the run, using SmartSDR for iOS on my iPhone 6plus or iPad Air is simply magic!

Example, earlier I had about 20 minutes I would be waiting for family before leaving for an appointment, and using the iPad I quickly grabbed several DX QSOs, including the Spanish African Enclaves (EA9) and the South Cook Islands (E51). Slick, quick and a blast!

I occasional use a Raspberry Pi powered VPN setup with a Maestro to extend off my home Flex-6700’s LAN to my office 3 miles away, but that hasn’t worked so well due to the dynamic office environment. Thought I might get quiet lunch hours in of operating, but if I am here people need decisions and the interruptions are too many.

So my recommendation if you are a Flex-6000 owner is to check out SmartSDR for iOS to increase your casual DXing time, and you will pick up more DX QSOs as a result.

73

Steve
K9ZW

One Face of Grant – There are few hobbies as inexpensive as Amateur Radio

There are few hobbies as inexpensive as Amateur Radio

Okay, fust let’s be clear – like every other hobby out there you can spend the earth in pursuit of hobby nirvana in Amateur Radio.
But you don’t have to!
Amateur radio can be about the most inexpensive hobby you can ever participate in!
Let’s do a quick roundup on what $$$ you need to get a start:
  • Study Material is available free on the internet.  You might even find a free Hamcram training session.
  • Initial Exam ranges from free with some test groups to $15.00 with others.  Let’s put down $15.00
  • An ultra basic NEW HT like the Baofeng UV-5R Gen 2 can be bought for $25.00 or less including shipping – so add $25.00
  • Repeater guide information can be looked up online (check your are Repeater Coordinator Website, and don’t waste your money on the printed to CD-Rom lists groups like the ARRL offer as that information is stale & unverified.) – so the information is Free
So for $50.00 you can be one the air!  Maybe after a couple hundred times on the air you might want a fancier radio or a high class license, but you can run a long long time on your first $50.00  One single “face of Grant” gets you started and off running!
You aren’t going to get started in Tennis, Fishing, Shooting, XC-skiiing, flying, polishing gemstones, playing saxophone, building a HiFi, going to the symphony, going to a rock concert or much else for just $50.00
It is fantastic that there basically is no major economic barrier to entry for Amateur Radio.
73
Steve
K9ZW

Tidbits, False Ham News, Fact, Fiction and Trolls

Tidbits, False Ham News, Fact, Fiction and Trolls

 

This is a bit of a random post, as I want to cover a fair bit of area. During the course of my amateur radio interests I do participate in the FlexRadio Systems Community Forum, periodically look at the QRZ.com website, and occasionally look at the infestations at other websites like eHam.

The Community is a pretty decent bi-directional information and idea exchange, very lightly moderated and wide ranging. You can find current products, announced new products, hypothetical possible future products and legacy discontinued products discussed.  Biggest weakness is the rudimentary Community search and keyword sort the platform offers.  There is some workaround for that available if your search using Google.

Personalities, language and temperament do come into play even in a more level forum like this Community, with fairly predictable results. Of course only those who wish to contribute their thoughts and Ideas post.  It is a decent place all around, and about the only one where you will see lots of posts from FlexRadio Systems employees and Alpha team members.

There are a bunch of unofficial Yahoo Groups with some FlexRadio System content, but unless you like endless user-created surveys or repeated posts on several Yahoo Groups all cluttering your inbox, they are not so useful, and as a rule I let emails from these “reflectors” accumulate in a special folder. After a periodic skim through they get deleted in bulk.  There is almost no FlexRadio System participation other than rare posts to correct misconceptions the Yahoo Group is giving legs to.

On the air you hear all sorts of discussion on FlexRadio Systems. A fellow ham recently emailed me asking if what the 40m (7.133.5) group said Gerald K5SDR was true?  Think about this, if Gerald K5SDR was on the air he truly is the voice of FlexRadio Systems, so that there was even a question should have been a clue that BS was being passed as accurate.  The storing being told is that on the air Gerald K5SDR had said FlexRadio Systems was now in 2017 going to start hiring actual employees as they had only agency contract staff until now.  The implication seemed to be that the company was a marketing shell without any real substance.  It seems unlikely Gerald K5SDR was on 40m actually discussing his company’s hiring history & his forward hiring plans.  Expect there is some kernel of factual information somewhere at the start (Guessing. But maybe FRS has developed enough need to hire full time professionals for specific tasks they contracted out?  I know many firms do this until they have enough need to keep a direct hire fully engaged).  But the result was “Fake News” – though that is nothing new for Amateur Radio.

The QRZ.com site underwent a modernization early in the year that replaced the list-based formatting I enjoyed for being so quick to review with a tile-based eye-candy format. I don’t look at the website very often, and it is now only by happenchance that I see a thread that interests me enough to click through.  Standards are pretty decent in the forum threads, though there is some name-calling/slagging that seems to be on the simmer ready to be served up by too many hams.  The old PHP style forums are pretty ubiquitous and familiar for most internet connected hams.

The ARRL I guess still has a website, but again I seldom go there since they went eye-candy over function and dropped so much of the user based content. Increasingly there are ARRL publications and information that seem to be only part of the story, or even outright incorrect (Example – who could depend on their repeater guide these days?  Things that have never changed are suddenly wrong, phantom repeaters that have never been on the air are listed, and somehow they have a disconnect with some of the repeater coordinating groups over sharing data. )  Their website is a non-factoras an information source.

Then once in a blue moon I have a look at the chaos of eHam’s forums. It would seem that eHam has a moderation policy that can be summed up as “as long as we don’t get sued, any forum activity that increases page views (which equates to advertising “clicks” or more simply is money for eHam) is okay.”  The SDR forum is rift with open Troll activity – persons who have no first-hand experience the SDR being discussed but have a vendetta  that creates controversy are encouraged.  Remember the apparent eHam formula – controversy creates page views, which then creates advertising revenue for eHam.  Useless place but like a filling missing in a tooth, somehow the controversies draw in participation.  For those of you old enough to remember the old original BBS systems (like FidoNet) you would recognize the Troll-Creates-Activity pattern, and the monetarization through advertising makes it in eHam’s best financial interest to let it all roll on.  A hit is a hit is a dollar.

There are other information quality problems with online forums.  Some of them are Repeated Misstatements, Persistence of Temporary Information, Arm Chair Experts sans Actual Experience, Sock Puppets, Misconceptions of Audience Size/Composition/Quality/Participation/Awareness, Unrecognized Humor/Cynicism, Mischief, Economic Background Agendas, Hidden Trolls, Search Weighting due to Repetition, Language Barriers, Difficulties Timelining Evolving Information, Platforms that lack Error Correction Editing features, Outrageous Noise over Signal Ratios, Thread Bumping games, and so on..

So where does this all leave a ham?

Perhaps taking a sampling of all, but trusting their own personal experience and first hand user experience above other sources?

Would seem to make sense to me.

73

Steve
K9ZW

PowerPoles can really suck – why not CliffCon Power Connectors instead?

Who has not had a Powerpole disconnect inadvertently?

If you notice high end gear eschews Powerpoles for high performance positive-interface connectors.

The military ones are pretty pricey and hard to source.

Following the leadership of high end radios like the Hilberling PT-8000A, I’ve instead brought in a supply of Cliff CliffCon Power Connectors, and will be slowly implementing them in my shack.

Here is what they look like:

CliffCon Connectors – “Blue” Four-Pole Series

 

UK Website

http://www.cliffuk.co.uk/products/cliffcon/pole4.htm

USA Website

http://www.cliffinc.com/products/cliffcon/pole4.htm

A PDF datasheet

http://www.cliffuk.co.uk/products/cliffcon/cliffcon.pdf

Additional information from my order:

 

Stock No: Manufacturer Part No: UOM: Quantity: Price: Extended Price:
23T0887 FCR2068 Each 1
Customer Part Number:
Description: SOCKET, 4POLE, 4PC/S/LV, LOW VOLTAGE; Product Range:Cliffcon Series; Gender:Receptacle; Voltage Rating:120V; Current Rating:20A; Connector Mounting:Panel Mount; Contact Termination Type:Through Hole; SVHC:No SVHC (17-Dec-2015);

 

Stock No: Manufacturer Part No: UOM: Quantity: Price: Extended Price:
23T0883 FCR2066 Each 1
Customer Part Number:
Description: PLUG, 4POLE, 4PC/P/LV, LOW VOLTAGE; Product Range:Cliffcon Series; Gender:Plug; Voltage Rating:120V; Current Rating:20A; Connector Mounting:Cable Mount; Contact Termination Type:Clamp; SVHC:No SVHC (17-Dec-2015); Colour:Blue; Contact

 

Stock No: Manufacturer Part No: UOM: Quantity: Price: Extended Price:
23T0884 FCR20663 Each 1
Customer Part Number:
Description: PLUG, 4POLE, R/A, 4PC/P90/LV, LV; Product Range:Cliffcon Series; Gender:Plug; Voltage Rating:120V; Current Rating:20A; Connector Mounting:Cable Mount; Contact Termination Type:Clamp; SVHC:No SVHC (17-Dec-2015); Colour:Blue; Contact

Okay in comparison they are a bit spendy compared to Powerpoles, but they are positive-interface and will not pull out shutting your station down.  They are also vibration resistant making the selection for field use even more appropriate.  They have redundancy (four wire) which in the interest of standardization within my equipment I will keep to a set pattern.

Yet they allow disconnection quickly.

More on this over the next few months as they are put to use.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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