Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Bluster Antenna Buster

Wisconsin is know for aggressive March weather, and this year has been exceptional in weather extremes.

This week we had nearly three days of high winds, with area airports reporting 70 mph winds. Our local recording equipment appears to have been broken by the wind as it showed 1 mph winds when the actual weather was throwing semi truck trailer rigs on their sides.

These same winds did some damage to my Tennadyne T-8 LPDA by bending an element which had previously been temporarily repaired and knocking another element down.

Wounded T-8 Antenna

Wounded T-8 Antenna

This particular T-8 has withstood a huge amount of weather over a twenty plus year exposure. (I acquired it about 15 years ago second hand).

So now the decision is whether to patch it up for now with the idea of doing an antenna overhaul in warmer weather, check how it tunes to possibly just live with it as is until warm weather is here, or do an upgrade/replacement?

How much damage has time, wind and the lightning issue actually caused?

How long do I want to have the tower down-&-over putting me off the air?

Bounced some ideas off a friend Vern K9EME who helps with my station, my buddy George W9EVT who lives near my other QTH on Washington Island and who takes the time to explain what has worked well for his station, and then Rog WB8NDC owner of Tennadyne.

In the end I’ve ordered a brand new T-8 with new choke coil, and a hardware upgrade kit for the this damaged T-8.

Should be here in a few days, and I will assemble & swap the antenna on the tower, then rebuild the damaged one this summer.

Whether it takes a bit to get parts won’t matter, and I can take the time to do a complete tear-down rather than just a patch.

Will need to decide what to do with the renovated T-8? Might store it as a spare, could take it to the Island QTH, might put it up at my work compound as a tower is going up there for a club repeater that could be configured to take a rotator and beam, or I could sell it onwards once restored.

I have some sheet metal fabrication to do as well from the storm. The custom anti-climb panels were blown off and beaten up. They really should have been redone for color coordination reasons when we had the house painted a year back, so no huge loss.

Always things to do!

73

Steve
K9ZW

A Word About Writing this Amateur Radio Blog – Reflection at Ten Years

Amateur radio is really a lot of fun – “Huge Fun” to use the meme of these days.

Particularly rewarding is sharing what you have learned, done and are experimenting in your hobby pursuit with other hams.  Interesting a potential ham enough to get their license is a real thrill.

It was out of that desire to share-back and pay-forward that ten years ago I started this blog project. It was also an answer to a challenge when my children (all have their ham licenses as well) suggested I was “too old” to do a blog.

With the postings dropping down to months between them, it is mostly from a lack of feedback. Unlike the in-person helping of another ham, a blog post is less a two-way QSO and more a Broadcast.  And I hadn’t figured out how to access if what I wrote had a positive influence on anyone, as comments when left tend to be questions, complaints or clarifications, and the blog mechanism does tell me how many page views I’ve earned each day, but not so much about whether anything I’ve written has helped another soul better their enjoyment in our hobby.

I did a short run of more provocative articles, where I expressed my opinions on most ham radio topics, but the feedback was either from those synchronized with my thoughts or statements that I was “all wet” by those opposed. I don’t think I helped anyone learn a darn thing, and it was rare that any response was intellectual enough to make me think.  And it seemed like always someone was upset and simply tuned further posts out or stopped reading altogether.  Not such a good idea were these provocative posts.

On the lighter side I shared some Travelogue and Shack-Diary posts, but one grows tired of doing so for a number of reasons. The comments and emails were not supportive.  If I wrote of something I was lucky to experience or have to enjoy, the constant “it must be nice” sniping is a bore.  Since I started in this hobby I have put aside some money every month, and combined with taking good enough care of equipment that I can easily sell it as I upgrade I have parlayed the old Yaesu FT-101EE I bought from a pawn shop, with my homemade dipole into some fairly nice gear and station features.  That it was upgraded little by little over 27+ years of doing ham radio seems to escape the complainers.

So that writing again seemed to attract the upset who trolled before they disappeared.

I will share that the main reason I have a nice station, have over a lifetime of other activities now ride a nice motorcycle, can do some nice travel and can indulge my passion to read real paper copies of books is sticking at these activities and working at making a better ham station, faster/nicer motorcycle, targeting 6 or more trips a year and have read a lot of what interests me immediately on publication, is sticking to my hobbies. Sure a bit of reinvestment was needed, but mostly I needed to be active and have my ears opened for solid advice.

Enough of all that, I would guess if you are still reading you may be wondering where this bit of writing is going.

My intent for With Varying Frequency – Amateur Radio Ponderings is to return to writing what pleases me. I may even turn off comments – perhaps right away or maybe after a post is a couple weeks old.

With the radio posts I plan to weave in other posts that while they apply to the radio amateur the posts will have a wider application. Might be on good decision making, or about a great place to travel to that has a radio interest.  Hang around and see,

73

Steve
K9ZW

Projects at the K9ZW South QTH – New AlfaSpid Rotor

It is maintenance time at my home QTH. Fixing storm damage, wear and tear, doing preventative maintenance and replacing broken things.

I’ve had some serious help from Vern K9EME in the work. Actually too often it must be admitted I was watching as Vern K9EME took care of the work.

A high energy strike nearby (I think it was when a nearby streetlight was “smoked” by lightning) had finished off an increasingly unreliable rotor, taken out the half-sloper, and I had some damage occur at the same time to the larger Log Periodic antenna, with one element suddenly impossibly drooping.

Fixing the half-sloper was easy. The solder from the main wire to the connector was gone – simply burnt away, and soldering things back together and inspecting took care of that problem.

Swapping out the rotor, an old Ham-IV for a new AlfaSpid RAK was a real challenge.

This tower is a Tri-Ex LM354 and is a motorized crank-down with manual tip-over.

Here is the new rotor going into place:

AlfaSpid RAK replaces Ham-IV

AlfaSpid RAK replaces Ham-IV

 

The AlfaSpid RAK rotors I have all came from Alfaradio.ca in Edmonton Canada. The units are built in Poland, are a very different design than the typical small ham radio rotors, are unfortunately a bit pricey but offer great precision, high reliability, better capabilities and more precision.

Here is a bit closer what it looks like:

 

The AlfaSpid RAK up close

The AlfaSpid RAK up close

 

It was challenging work to get everything sorted and K9EME’s experience made all the difference.

As there was very heavy duty eight-wire rotor cable in place, we wired the four-wire AlfaSpid with double wires on the sensor connections.

After verifying everything with a multi-meter we photo-documented how we wired it:

Photo-Documentation is a Good Thing!  RAK wiring up close

Photo-Documentation is a Good Thing! RAK wiring up close

Cannot tell you how useful pictures are when years later something needs fixing or replacement.

Getting the Greenheron controller operating with the AlfaSpid didn’t go well, and I called Jeff at Greenheron who quickly help me figure out the protective TranZorb diodes had been fused along the way. A quick temporary fix and all was well and replacement diodes were ordered online.

The Tennadyne T-8 is actually missing a bit of the square boom at the lower longest element. I have a call into Tennadyne for the spares, but it is hunting season in Michigan and Wisconsin, and I got the answering machine,

I have a concept for a repair that should stand up for now. More in another post.

I’ll spare sharing the inspection and PM, but when you have a tower down and over it is a good time to do a full service.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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What I took away from the 2016 W9DXCC on the Flex-6000/SmartSDR future

First a quick insight into the gap in posts – since my last post a lot has gone on in my world.  Seven countries visited, eleven states, some life issues, some awards and a lot more.   Highs were unexpectedly being made a Fellow of a business education group I’ve been volunteering at and being recognized as one of FlexRadio Systems “Elmer of the Year.”  Downs include losses of a niece to depression and a work colleague to cancer, and taking unwell while at sea.

So the blog was given a short shrift and let lay fallow.

Forward plans will leave space in my schedule for more regular posts.


The 2016 W9DXCC was in Schaumburg Illinois September 16th and 17th. Included was an excellent presentation by Steve N5AC on FlexRadio Systems products and prospects.

For readers not familiar with the Flex-6000 radio series, it’s SmartSDR software (version 1.9.7 as I type), accessories like the Maestro and 4o3a products, and partner software like SmartSDR for iOS and DogparkSDR for the Mac, you will want to do some catch up reading.

I’m going to presume you have a working knowledge of the present product offering and state of affairs.

Here is what I took away from the W9DXCC:

“We’ve only just begun…” – FRS has some awesome plans for SmartSDR and shared that in the 6-month sort of horizon we will see one radio supporting more than one client, integrated VPN type WAN networking, and much more….

“I’d like to teach the world to sing…” – with with an increasing percentage of ham dollars spent on SDR radio designs of various types.  FRS will continue to lead as an SDR with a full ecosystem.

“Come Together…” – with tighter integration of hardware like the 4o3a Antenna, Station, Rotor and Power Genius products being able to work seamlessly with SmartSDR, very tight integration of some third-party software packages like digital programs and loggers.  N1MM+ was mentioned several times.

“Different Strokes for Different Folks…” – that interfacing to a Flex-6000 by SmartSDR for Windows, SmartSDR for iOS, SmartSDR for Maestro and DogparkSDR for OSX is the groundwork for even more offerings of different ways to run your Flex-6000.

“Picture yourself on a boat on a river…,” “I’m leaving on a jet plane…,” “Somewhere, Across the Sea….” – remoting to  Flex-6000 unit will become a norm. Whether from your office desk to your radio shack downstairs or from an airplane in flight over another continent to your home station, it will be easy.

Steve N5AC did shated some awesome clips demonstrating the effectiveness of the Filters and algorithms behind the WNB filter and the CESSB TX audio.   I hadn’t understood why my 6700 barefoot got out better than non-flex radios with a small amp until the benefits of the algorithms putting nearly 3dB effectivity in the Flex-6700’s output was graphically shown.

The cost effectiveness of using a Flex-6000 was shown, and will greatly outdistance the competition when the Flex SOnR box launches with the Flex-6500 w/SOnR box and Flex-6300 w/SOnR box really being cost effective setups.

There was more shared and hinted, but I’ll leave it to FRS to put legs to   future plans when it is right for their purposes.

73

Steve K9ZW

 

 

 

When is it too much Monitor for a Shack?

Okay I’m going to admit I may have hit “More is Less” in monitor size.

Swapped the AMD Raedon video card my machine came with, and which was a DOG with all sorts of driver errors, for a NVidia card Winston KC9FVR helped me pick out.  Okay it is a “EVGA GeForce GTX 970 4GB SC GAMING ACX 2.0 Graphics Card 04G-P4-2974-KR” for those of you into that sort of detail.

Pulling the two 22 in monitors and putting in a “Seiki SE42UM 4K Ultra HD LED TV/Monitor” took hardly anytime at all.

Now why Windows 10 would default to a 300% item size, making the screen act like a Jumbotron with 5/8inch high text, well who knows?

Taming the hummingbird sized mouse pointer and other quirks took a couple minutes.

The result:

Flex SmartSDR - Hig Screen Version.

Flex SmartSDR – Big Screen Version

Not so smart…yes there is four times as much screen space, but a lot of the additional is so high above the desk that I’ll end up with a creak in my neck!

I think there might even be different weather up there at the top of the screen!

The screen definitely needs to come down lower.

The amount of real estate showing is impressive.

I’m glad I kept the two other monitors incase I decide to revert back and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I actually bought two of these monster monitors to run side-by-side!!   Guess one can go to the Island QTH.

73

Steve
K9ZW

K9ZW Washington Island Operating Gear

The Island setup is evolving and when not in the radio room will be based on a Maestro with a Touch Screen ToughBook.

Here is a quick shot of what I am working on for the Washington Island – Wisconsin QTH’s portable operating position.

This is what I will be able to operate from (adding a headset & PTT in many cases) from anywhere I connect with my wireless system there.

Paired with the Maestro is a Touchscreen Toughbook laptop to do logging and other site-mobility chores. They will be wireless to the new Flex-6700.

Maestro and ToughBook laptop

Maestro and ToughBook laptop

ToughBooks are available refurbished under $300 with licensed operating system from Toughbook Tech.

Built strong enough to be a aircraft wheel-chock!

Ruggedized touchscreen does better with the stylus than finger jabs, which is a contrast to the Maestro touch screen sensitivity.

For activation of smaller islands the Maestro & Flex-6700 will stay behind, with the Flex-6300 then being paired with the Toughbook via SmartSDR for Windows.

For antennas I have several choices there. Typically I have been using a SteppIR CrankIR with the Flex-6300 for island activations other than the main island. I have several other portable antenna options.

Depends on what Island access I’m allowed (full setup on the activated Island or using one of the US Island Programs alternative rules when not allowed to completely disembark. http://www.usislands.org I think is the URL.)

On Washington Island itself I have a proper antenna farm in the works. As I am rethinking this whole setup you’re invited to follow along as I rework plans.

Still to come is a mobilization preparation of the Flex-6300 to keep everything needed together and protect it from some level of adverse weather while out on the smaller islands.

73

Steve K9ZW

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