Monday, April 25, 2016

Bloom Number 4

Bloom 4 from Tillandsia simulata.
Number 4
This is the bloom that I predicted in a previous post about this airplant. I've been so busy with finals, projects, and life in general that I didn't manage to get a picture of the unopened bud, but I do have this shot at least! Something about these temporary tubes of pollen and purple make me smile. I don't know if it's the brevity of their duration, or their gaudy appearance on what most might consider a drab plant, but it's there, and I like them. Even the three withered blooms hold a charm all their own. I shall keep vigil for bloom #5! School draws to a close, and I begin a new schedule Monday.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Final Countdown

Que Europe!

Sing along, I guess.

Here's what I've done recently:

Here's what's coming up:
  • Starting a new job
  • Continuing the series on Skeleton Sleeve Dipoles 
  • More ham radio! 
  • Planning more college classes
To borrow some lyrics, I'm "optimistically discontent" over what the next month will hold, if only we can all hang on that long.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

KG4GVL Skeleton Sleeve Pt 1

In my quest for finding an antenna that gives me two bands without a tuner, one of the most interesting candidates so far is the "Skeleton Sleeve Dipole" featured in the Appendix of Small Antennas for Small Spaces.
This antenna fascinates me because it's one of the physically simplest multiband antennas I've seen. I know an EARCHI type endfed could be called "simplier", I also think they could be called "lossier" too. I've built a couple Half-wave end fed antennas, and while they are impressive, I am not really sure about how good they are. the SSD has no tuner, no traps, no matching section. When deployed to the proper height, they can exhibit gain when compared to a dipole of similar height, especially on the higher frequency band.

I wanted to build an antenna that was easy to operate on bands that it's hard for my W3EDP to tune, namely 30m and 17m. Especially 30m. With the the solar minimum upon us, and the potential for a larger Maunder minimum type event, I figured it would be wise to have something dedicated to 30, that may be the best daytime DX band.

The Original 40m/20m Folded skeleton Sleeve Antenna Courtesy W1ZR

I started, by taking a spreadsheet and calculating the length of the antenna depicted in the book as a percent of a standard dipole in feet ie: L/(486/f) * 100%. L = total length of the folded skeleton sleeve in feet, f = Frequency in MHz.

After that, I calculated the similar percent needed for 30m and 17m, and soon discovered that if I was going to keep what I thought was similar spacing and construction as the original, 17m would not fit! I decided to go with 30m and 15m instead, figuring it would be a better fit. I came up with the model mentioned in a previous blog post. It didn't take me long to figure out that the model didn't quite work the way I expected it to work. I had some questions about why that could be, so started out by fiddling with the lengths of the antenna, and even putting it in freespace. Eventually, I emailed the expert, W1ZR, the original designer of the antenna. He sent me some wonderful information and tips about modelling these types of antennas I want to share.

First off, here's what a generic image of the design looks like:

I plan on building the top style. The bottom one has some potential, too, but the top style is the one I want to build because it's over all length is shorter than a traditional dipole.

The particular dimensions I'm after

Above is some of the excellent information W1ZR sent me. Notice the dimensions for most band combinations. I asked him if he used any formulas to come up with the numbers, and he said no. He created the model with trial and error, and then built it out to see if real life fit the model. That's dedication the ham radio way! I circled the information for the 30/17 model so you can get a rough idea of the dimensions. I got all this information last fall, and over the winter I began building the antenna with the idea that I would have it up in time to catch some winter QSOs and Spring E-Skip on 17. Turns out, I busted my timetable all up by going back to school! 

To be continued...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blooming Sequence Prediction UPDATE: Prediction Accurate!

So the third bloom on the T. simulata in my backyard has completely dried out, and there are no more blooms showing for now. I have a prediction to make, though. I believe I know where the next bloom will emerge from. Now that I've seen three, I believe that the next bloom will emerge from the bract opposite of and above the previous bloom. In other words, they bloom in a zig-zag pattern. I've been reading a lot of technical documents about plants, and T. simulata in particular, so I'm sure there's a technical name for this action, I haven't deciphered it yet. Below are some pictures of the area where I believe the next bloom will emerge, and some pups that the plant has. I'm keeping this short because I bet there's going to be a fourth bloom in the morning, and I want to spend more time talking about  that!
detail of the end of the spike
 Right in front of the 2nd blossom to bloom (blossom that's dead and hanging on the right side of the picture.)
Little Tiny thing in the middle is a pup
 Tiny Tiny pup in the middle.
Another detail shot
This picture gives the appearance that the bud may already be on its way! It seems to be open just ever so slightly on the right.

big pup
Big pup! Still has some growing to do.

So I saw the barest smidgen of the tip of a purple blossom on the bract I had predicted the next bloom would emerge from!

About 1mm of bloom showing!

Monday, April 18, 2016

What do you Call Ham Radio Shenanigans?

Doesn't really roll off of the tongue.
Something, I don't really like that either.
Anywho, I did get up to some ham radio shenanigans recently, notably on Sunday March 12th during the WES (Weekend Sprint-a-Thon). The family went to the beach, and I brought my SW-20, and a vertical antenna I've been working on. I didn't figure I'd get much time to do radio, that's why this fits in the category of "shenanigans". I had two goals:
1. Set up in less than 10 minutes.
2. Make one QSO.

Anything else would be gravy.

Antenna is Up
Radio Deployed
I had some trouble with the first goal. I would get a wire stretched out, and then have to chase down a kid. All said, we were there about an hour before I was fully set up. I probably spent just over ten minutes of that setting up. My biggest issue came when I undid everything. I had to spend most of my time untangling the radiator from the radials. I remember this problem last time I set this pole up, and remembered that my solution was to wrap the radials up first, and then the radiator, so that the radiator could be deployed without undoing the radials.Everything should have taken under 5 minutes to set up. After setting up, I tuned around where I thought the WES would be taking place, and I was rewarded with signals! That's a plus! Throwing the antenna tuner into tune mode, and twiddling knobs for maximum noise, I quickly discovered that tuning this antenna in this configuration is not easy. I don't know if it's the twists around the pole, or interaction due to proximity to the radio, but it would not tune well at all. I've tuned this before at the house, but not with the center conductor spiralled around the support pole. Some more trimming may be needed for the wire. I tuned around until I heard the loudest signal I could, and tried to call him when I had a chance. It was Bill in TX, K8DN/5, and his fist sounded great. After two tries, I managed to get Bill to copy my call, and give me a 339, but he couldn't hear me complete the exchange. That was ALMOST a QSO. QRN was just too great, plus my transmitting situation was suboptimal. Still glad I had the practice. After tuning around a couple more minutes, I shut the station down, the kids were needing me, so time to stop being a sun baked ham, and time to start being dad at the beach.

The whole experience goes to show that perfect practice makes perfect, and I've not been practicing enough. Perhaps some mini-trips to the outdoors after school one day? IDK, Most of the time I'm too busy to bother fooling with radio, but I might start trying to set up. Maybe during lunch I can pop out to the car, set up, call CQ long enough to be heard on a reverse beacon net, then pop back in. I carry the stuff in the car now just in case.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Great Bloomin' Bromeliads!

This is "Choo-Choo Cha-Cha"
New bloom in the yard!
New bloom in the yard!
Tillandsia simulata has bloomed in my yard!
That makes a Tillandsia quartet of blooming airplants that I've seen in or from my yard! (The Neighbor's house had blooming T. setacea. Right now, all the T. setacea plants in my yard are too young to bloom.) Recently, I finally noticed a purple bloom sticking out of  "Choo-Choo Cha-Cha" the airplant Grace found in the backyard back in January, after our last trip to the Ichetucknee. I still haven't located the source of this particular plant, I'm thinking the live oak in the neighbor's yard. It's mature enough that it has a flower spike, and side growths. The plant is pictured on the right, shortly after I tied it to the tree with some nylon twine. I've seen pictures of this plant growing out of cypress tree trunks, and it seems to have attached itself to a hardwood twig. We'll see if it latches on to the live oak.
It's been just over one year since my first post about Tillandsia bromeliads. My affection for them continues to grow. They have such amazing depth of existence! Consider this: the T. simulata above is Florida's only endemic species of Tillandsia. It's only found here, in this state in the wild! It's considered common, but that could change. It's believed that the Mexican bromeliad weevil (Metamasius callizona) could use this as a host plant. This pest is responsible for making many once common species of bromeliads rare, and is considered a serious pest for the State's most rare native bromeliads. I've been keeping an eye on this plant, and so far, no issues with weevils! The only critter I've found living in it is a green spider who can barely be seen below.
Itsy bitsy spider crawled up the Tillandsia spike!
The Upshot
Sometime Later, in flower!
Try as I might, that was about the best picture I could get of the spider. I've seen it's web in the morning occasionally, so I know it's out there! Maybe it'll keep the weevils at bay. The biggest issue I have had with this plant so far is keeping it on the trunk. There are a couple of side shoots growing, I'm hoping that they will produce roots that will anchor the tree to the trunk of the Live Oak.

T. simulata is commonly known as "Broad needleleaf", "The Manatee airplant", or "Florida airplant". According to  the Atlas of Florida plants sponsored by USF, it has been vouchered in twenty-one counties in the state, all in a band across the middle of the peninsula. They bloom in the spring, and judging from the absence of a seed-spike, I'm guessing this is the first year for this particular plant to bloom. In the closeup picture of the flowerspike below, you see a new bloom emerging from the spike, and an old flower hanging off the side. According to the University of Florida's page on the species, it should produce 5-30 flowers. I'm still monitoring for further development.

 In investigating the history of this plant, I discovered that it was at one point considered the same species as T. bartramii, but that it was reclassified as a separate species in 1982 by Sue Gardner. She now operates as an artist under the name of Cecelia Sue Sill in Texas. I haven't been able to locate the exact reason for the split, but I figure I can research it more later.

When the flowers bloom, they seem to emerge from the bract for a day, then they open up for a day, then they begin to wither after the second day. These three pictures were taken about a day apart. Notice how the old flower is still attached to the bract. I haven't attempted to see if I can remove it. As of April 16, there were no further emerged flowers.

Enjoy the pics! I'll monitor the spike for further flower development.
2nd Bloom

Two Blooms Done

Other Side notes: I didn't get any really good pictures of the first bloom, My phone camera isn't all that great. I need to get a new lens for the Canon, I've been thinking something along the lines of a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 so that I can get nice, low light, high quality shots. Add a 25mm extension tube, and I would be set for 85% of the pictures I would want to take of  plants and people. If anyone has a good line on a good camera deal, let me know. I like Canon, and have a Rebel. I need a new/new-to-me lens.


I took the following pictures Sunday, April 17th. They show a THIRD BLOOM! Looking closely, you can tell that the bloom is old, close to withering. Since there was nothing on the spike before I left for school Friday, I believe that this must have emerged from the bract sometime Friday, and bloomed all day Saturday. Just goes to show you, check your plants every day, you never know what's going to happen!
Third Bloom!

Whole plant

Info about Florida's Bromeliads:

Info about the Mexican bromeliad weevil:

Atlas of Florida Plants: