Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The First Annual 4SQRP 4X4 QRP Sprint

I sprinted out my cube, into the parking lot, and partook in the 4SQRP club 4X4 Sprint.
Here's what that means:
20m Vertical
My job is to monitor jobs using something called CA-7. (as a comedic aside, when people ask me what I do, I tell them "I push the L button... a lot", I know, it's not funny, but this is humor in my head) Each day, the jobs start at 6pm. On Saturdays I work a 12 hour shift. When I get in, yesterday's jobs are still running. I take a half hour break sometime after they finish, and before the next set of jobs begins at 6pm. I also take a couple of 15 minute on the clock breaks. I decided that I needed to use my 2 fifteen minute breaks for set up and take down, so that's what I did. I've tried operating from the work parking lot before. Haven't exactly been successful either. Mostly there's a time problem. Half an hour isn't a lot of time to set up, operate, and tear down. I've had to adjust my scheduling so that I get outside during a break, set up the antenna, and then come outside. Fifteen minutes isn't a long time to set up. I decided that since I was without multiband blackbox radio, or multiband kit radio, I would go monoband radio, monoband antenna.  The only setup I for that right now is 20m.

I get QRV^ on twenty because some time ago, I acquired an SW-20+ from AL7FS. He had an unbuilt kit, and was offering it at a fair price on QRP-L. I decided to buy it. I swapped the Killer Watt Radio* out for this, and have been using it for a while now. Turns out, I'd been a real QRP operator with that radio, because I thought I was putting out a buck and a quarter (1.25 watts) with it, but in reality, I was putting out 250 milliwatts! I had about 5 QSOs in the log with it before the 4x4 contest. After retweaking it to put out 1 watt with 8AA batteries for a power supply, I hit the field, hoping for a QSO. When I use the bench power supply, it's about 1.8 watts. The SW+ line is most efficient at 1.25, but can usually be tweaked out to about 2.2 watts without stability issues, if you heat sink the final transistor. I may decide at some point in time to put a diode in line with the bench PS, just for the drop in supply voltage, but not just yet. The Killer Watt Radio is in the wings though, it abides, waiting for the day I aquire Molex KK crimp terminals, but when they get here, and they are installed on the ends of my connectors... it will be awesome.

I needed an antenna that required minimal fuss to get put up. I tried the St Louis Vertical before, and while it's a great antenna for field ops, it requires some fussing with to get up up correctly. I've got some ideas for fixing it up right, but it's going to be a while before I get ready to work those issues out. When I get the Killer Watt Radio back in action, I'll go back to the SLV, until then, I use a 20m vertical. I choose to use the vertical design because they 'radiate equally poorly in all directions' or something like that :) I took a collapsible fishing pole I'd been using as a field antenna for 6m when I had an FT-817, and adapted it for 20 after building the radio months ago. I quickly discovered that I had been using poor math when planning the antenna. I knew I would be using just over 16.5 feet of speaker wire when setting the antenna up. I also knew that my fishing pole was 16 foot long, and that was close enough for me. Yippee, no worries! right? Wrong! When I initially created this antenna, I created it with with an elevated feedpoint. I did this on purpose. Why, I don't remember, but I know I had a reason! That shortened the usable amount of antenna length by about two and a half feet. I decided to ditch the top part of the antenna. It's Florida, and if I'm not at the beach, chances are, there's a tree near by, so I just stretch the radiator part up, and use the tree to keep it high. At home, I was able to get the SWR down to near perfect. In the field, I find that getting the radials deployed right is a little tougher, so I use an Emtech ZM-2 antenna tuner.
Battle Station!
 I tuned up my antenna on break, and went back inside to wait for my jobs to finish running. After it finished, and after I'd done some database wranglin' in preparation for the next run of jobs, it was time to QRV. This is where I literally sprinted to the sprint. Radio operators occasionally enjoy operating in radio contests. That's when they pit their skill against radio wave propagation and try to make as many radio contacts (QSOs) as possible while following a certain set of rules. One of those rules is usually some sort of time limit. A sprint is usually 4 or fewer hours. I've even heard of a "Russian Sprint" where you Work a station, then that station takes over the frequency and you QSY, thus keeping the frequency active with new callsign. I've tried contests before from the parking lot. Mainly, they turned into learning how not to quickly deploy an antenna in the parking lot lessons. I think I'm going to try to make it a regular habit to QRV during the Spartan Sprint (SP). Back in the day, when I had the Might FT-817, I would often get QRV during 'SP', using the full QRP gallon of 5 watts. I had a lot of fun. Now that I know what I'm doing at my job, and I know that I should be able to have some time to take a lunch break in the middle of the contest, I might try to get PLP (Parking Lot Portable) some more during the SP. I tried in October, but there was no signals audible on 20m. I did call CQ though, and I did get picked up on the Reverse Beacon Net (RBN), so it was good to halfway confirm that my signal was radiating. Last week, I heard about the 4SQRP Club 4x4 Sprint, and decided I was going to give it my best effort.

20m is a Daytime band, it needs some sunshine to really be effective, and I got outside at 19:30 UTC, 3:30 pm local. Tuning around I could hear several stations calling CQ 4S, and threw my call out there to answer them. Three of them actually heard me well enough to call me back!
I worked KB4QQJ who was the loudest signal I heard, a genuine S-9 Plus, and there must have been a pipeline to his QTH in North Carolina because he gave me a 599 too. I tried really hard for about 15 minutes to work WA5BDU but just couldn't do it. He was loud, about 579, but there was QSB, and I think that's what got him down. I did work WA0ITP. WA0ITP was the weakest station I could copy. He was usually about 229, occasionally he was 559. I gave him a 229, and he gave me a 559. Unfortunately, that was it for my operating time, so QRT for me, and I clocked back in. I went back out after checking to make sure nothing had exploded, and managed to work KG3W who was 559 to me during my second 15 minute break. I tore the antenna down, and was content with my three QSOs. After the sprint, my membership in the 4SQRP club was approved, so next year I will be worth more points!

When I got back inside, this dude was sitting by the badge access reader:
You Can't See Me!
Purdy neet huh?

^ I make extensive use of Q-codes. Q-codes are a kind of short hand when using Morse code. A list of common Q codes is here.

* The Killer Watt Radio is an SW+ on 40m, originally given to me as a gift for my birthday the year we moved to the current QTH. It may only radiate 1 watt of RF, but that 1 watt is 1 killer watt! Once again, this is humor. Laughter is appropriate.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tradition, A Meal and Doing New Things

This is the communion meditation for Highlands Church of Christ, as given 10/7/2012:

Tradition plays an important role in how my family does things. I got to thinking about that when I was making hotcakes for everybody. My wife reminded me of how my life has been shaped by tradition later that evening. My first name is a traditional first name for my family. Hotcakes are a traditional breakfast. I grew up going to weekly fish fry suppers at Possum Hollow, and Sunday Dinners at Grandma, and Grandpa's house. When it is the fourth of July, it is time for a family reunion, and I look forward to my 80th birthday party, that's the big party in my family. Tradition is important, it keeps the family together, and tells the stories of where we have been.

Some people are against tradition, I don't understand why, but they feel like change is coming, and that change is good. I like change every now and again my own self. Sometimes change is needed and necessary. Something may be broke, and not fixable. Something could be worn out, or inadequate for the job you are trying to do. There is a danger here though, because change for the sake of change is a dangerous thing. From what I've seen in this world, things that change too quickly do not do well. Perhaps you've heard that bit of wisdom "It's not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop at the end." I also know that a pond that is stagnant and unchanging will die, suffocated. Somewhere between rigid unchanging repetitive motion, and constant change is life. I think tradition helps us find that. The relationship we have with God is built in tradition. When used appropriately tradition calls to mind the past good that God has done for us, and calls us to do right. When done wrong, tradition condemns us, and enslaves us. I think it helps when we establish the right tradition. The right tradition begins in Scripture, with The Good News, the Gospel. The Gospel has been present since the fall of man, and is present with us until the day of the coming of the Lord. The message hasn't changed, listen to it:

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (ESV)

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
 You see, this is our tradition! The tradition was initialized in the Garden of Eden when God promised the Crusher is coming. It was there when Jacob blessed his Children, and promised that the scepter would not depart from Judah. The Tradition was confirmed when Moses told the Hebrews to slay a lamb, and spread its blood on the lintel and doorposts. The tradition flickered, but was passed down through Isaiah during dark times, when he promised that the stump of Jesse would produce a branch that would bear fruit. The tradition came to Mary, and she was with a child even though she had no husband. The tradition lived in her son, who is the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Crusher, the Ruler, the Stump of Jesse, the Lamb of God. He made the tradition real and tangible on the night he was betrayed, taking bread, and calling it his body. He took a cup, and called what was in it his blood, the seal of the new covenant. Then he made that tradition the Final Tradition, offering himself on the cross for our sins. That's the key to what we proclaim when we take the bread and cup during this time. Christ has made us a promise. His body and blood for our sins, and we share in that tradition every week.

Tradition and Innovation

Sliced Apples, Ready for Innovation

Hotcakes are a big deal in my family. One of the first things I remember cooking is hotcakes with my Grandpa. Visiting my Grandparents usually meant stuffing yourself silly with 4 inch hotcakes, buttered and soaked in cane syrup that comes in what looks like a paint can. He was smart, Grandpa, he'd keep some cane syrup blended with some Aunt Jemima put a lil dollup on top, and a couple of days later you were reaching for the full strength stuff your own self.
I try to make hotcakes once a week at least myself, usually on Saturdays when I don't have to be anywhere until noon, if not then, Sunday is the day. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and I miss a week, but I try.
I made some regular hotcakes this Saturday, then got to looking at who was left to feed, and what I had to work with. I decided that since it was just my wife and I left to feed, I would try something innovative. I had some apples, and wondered if I could make something special. I sliced them thin, and covered them in cinnamon and sugar, we keep some mixed up and handy for a quick 'cinnamon toast' snack. Then I decided to fry the apples in butter in the official hotcake pan of the Hoyt House:

  I use a black iron flat pan, made in America, and in my possession since my college days. Cooking hotcakes on black iron is the right way to do it, no teflon, stainless, or anything else will do. The key to cooking anything on iron is using lots of butter, and keeping the temp low. The iron is a massive heat sink, and helps even out the cooking, the draw back being, it takes a while to warm up, and doesn't react as quickly as stainless to temperature changes. It forces you to slow down and think about what you are cooking. It's not a bad thing, but it is a thing.  Beware of things. My idea was simple, fry apples, apply batter, and treat as a normal hotcake.
   My griddle is a size that means I normally make 3 hotcakes about 4-5 inches in diameter. I knew the apples would cook up well if sliced thin, and kept in large pieces, as is illustrated in the pictures. I gathered the apples together in the center of the pan, and poured the batter on top. When gathering the apples, I made sure to keep the apples from touching each other, seemed like it was a good idea to make sure batter could get around the apple. I did discover though, that the batter would push the apples around if you weren't careful. Next time I may fry the apples, let them cool, then put them in the batter to cook. I may also try cutting the apples some more.
 This is what yummy looks like about five minutes before serving! You can kind of see in this pic how the apples get pushed out as the batter comes down. When I was taught how to make hotcakes, I was taught that you wait for the bubbles to come up and when they are done popping, the hotcake is ready to flip. That works when you are using normal milk for your batter, but lately, we've been cutting out the milk from our diet. Now I have made my hotcake batter with water before... you will do about anything to fill your belly when you are broke and in college... Doing so by choice is just plain wrong. I decided that while orange juice was a great choice for cereal, it, like water, was also a poor choice for hotcake batter. We've supplanted our milk with almond milk, and when we first started doing that, I decided that I would try to make my hotcakes with almond milk. That is a winning choice, but it does pose some challenges.  First of all, almond milk has a slightly different flavor than regular milk. There's no sugar in standard, unsweetened almond milk. That also means that it cooks a little different. I've noticed that I need to cook the hotcakes a little longer, and I think that's because there's not as much sugar in the batter to carmelize and turn brown. I find that the hotcakes are best turned when the bubbles have stopped, and the edges of the hotcakes look a little dry. You have to be careful though, or the hotcake will dry out on the griddle.
Got to get it just right.
Flipping this thing was a challenge, that's another thing about putting apples in the mix. The apples make the hotcake kind of break up a little, but if you are careful, it can flip. On the bottom side you can really see the difference between hotcake and apple. The apple is brown, not only because it's been on the heat longer, but because the sugar carmelizes. You can taste the difference. Using unsweetened almond milk is a great choice because the sweetness of the apple really pops when you bite it. Now I'm getting ahead of myself...

I cooked the cake a little longer, when I was done, my wife was kind, and allowed me to share have of it with her. I was originally planning on giving her the whole cake, so you now see how excellent my woman is!
 After cutting in half, adding a few normal hotcakes, and adding a generous dollop of my ever dwindling supply of Henry Corley made cane syrup, I had an enjoyable meal.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Project Clean Up Part 1 Chapter 8

Chapter 8: "Walking in the Hollow State"

This is a continuation, the First part is Here,  a complete list is available under "Ham Radio Master links" on the sidebar.

Getting the power supply working, putting out good, well filtered voltage was relatively easy. The hard work was getting the radio itself QRV once again.
That's right, more problems.
Seeing that I was trying something crazy, like switching tubes, I decided that I would revert to the original two tubes, in their original sockets. Why tempt the smoke? It needed to stay in the caps this time, or money would be spent!
I put the two tubes in, confident in the knowledge that I have made QSOs with these tubes, tuned the Swan 100-MX to 3579ish, tuned the antenna on that frequency, switched antenna outlets, keyed down, and heard noise! Victory? Not quite.
 So I tried peaking the tank cap, no dice, then went investigating the tube sockets themselves again because I stopped getting any signal out when I jiggled the connection. I didn't notice anything immediately obvious, but Warmed some joints anyway, and made sure nothing was shorting anything out.


I packed up shop for the night, scowling at my fortunes.
No power, no nothing, just time for bed.
Suddenly, I had an idea!
What if one of the tubes was bad? Like the one that was still on the chassis when I smoked the radio the first time? Couldn't hurt to try right?
Sho' nuff, soon as I  switched tubes and gave it a minute to warm up, bam! power out. Then I went to bed.

 Time for the Finishing touches

I decided to button up the power supply. I clipped the primary to secondary connection to shorten the wires. The plan here was to mount the capacitors and surge resistor in the middle and the rectifier more or less on top of the secondary transformer.
More or less that's how it went.
Getting that bugger in there was tough! I had to cajole, caress, tweak and twitch over the course of two nites, but sure enough, it happened, and I was able to get that sucker in there!

Now it's time for a QSO!
That corresponds to ONE BLAZING WATT of RF on a dummy load.
On to the next project!


Thank you all for reading!

I will occasionally post followup articles to this series, and will keep a list of all the states I've worked and confirmed. My goal for this rig will be WAS or something. Look for me round about 3579KHz, in between all the digi stuff...