Imablog Perspectives of a Canadian in the Old/Deep/New/Geographic South: This is where I ramble on about nothing in particular and post a few nice pictures.

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Moving time

After a couple of months running with MovableType 5 at blog.ab4ug.net, I've decided that it's time to close up shop here and start off fresh and clean.

This will be the last entry here at blog.imabug.net, but the site and archives will remain. The blog here has been active for nearly 10 years and has been through numerous MovableType upgrades starting somewhere around 2.1. The database has seen beta versions, upgrades, downgrades, switched back and forth between MT and OpenMelody at least a couple of times and seems to be showing its age these days.

Time to start fresh. New posts will show up at imablog.net, a shiny new installation of MovableType 5.2.3 with a brand new database.

Next on the air

Now that the HF radio is on the air, the next things I need to get set up are the VHF radio, the OpenBeacon and the Softrock receiver.

I'll need to get/make suitable antennas and get coax for each of them.

The OpenBeacon needs to be reprogrammed, but it works. I can plug in a USB cable and watch it blink out slow Morse code (which is still almost too fast for me to copy). I can also hear it on the HF radio at 10.130 MHz. I'll need to make up a suitable antenna for it.

The VHF radio should be all set to go once I get an antenna set up and hooked up to it.

Just need to get around to putting the last transformer on the Softrock receiver and make up the external connections to get it on the air.

I'll need to make up a shopping list for the hamfest next week.

First contest

Operated for the last few hours of the North American QSO party last night. First contest I've participated in under my own call sign. There was a pretty good amount of activity on 40m when I was on and I added 17 more contacts to my log. I even managed to make one contact at 5W because I forgot to turn the power up on the radio after tuning it.

Didn't hear much activity on any of the other bands, although I wasn't listening too hard.

Had fun tuning around the bands making contacts. It was interesting seeing where my signal was reaching out to.

Almost invisible

From the street, the antenna is practically invisible against the trees, aside from the white rope used to secure one of the wires (and sometimes even that's hard to spot).
Invisible antenna

Both ends of the antenna float, with tension provided by a couple of surplus weights
Weights

Weights

Coax goes up the house to the eaves where it meets up with the ladder feedline of the antenna
Feedline

From the other side, the antenna and ropes are a little more visible against the sky
IMG_8787.JPG

A place to stash some code

Long, long ago, I cobbled together a database and a bunch of PHP scripts to help me keep track of x-ray equipment and the dates I tested them. There are a few other things that I track with it, and a bunch more things that I'd like to keep track of.

For most of its existence, I was the only one who used it so features were added on an "as I wanted/needed them" basis. Worked well enough for my purposes. Made attempts to keep track of bugs and features I wanted using Bugzilla, but I never really used it very consistently.

Now my little database has been "discovered" by management at work and others are starting to poke around in it. They're also starting to make requests for additions, so I decided it was time to start up again with some bug/issue/feature tracking. I didn't want to go with something heavy like Bugzilla again. Wanted something relatively lightweight, that I could use to track multiple projects and wouldn't be too difficult to install/configure/maintain. I also wanted to be able to access it online so I'd still be able to reach it if I wasn't at work or home. I started looking at a few, then came across Google's project hosting, code.google.com.

After looking at the docs for a bit, I decided it would probably work. Nothing for me to install, configure or maintain. Works with version control software. Has a wiki for documentation. Fairly flexible looking bug tracker. Pretty much everything I was looking for.

My little equipment database project has a home out in the wild now. With more people using it now, I think there will be a little more motivation to keep up with the bug tracking and continuing development (in what little time I have for it). Maybe it will help making the long wanted re-write a little easier.

Securing the antenna

After a week of being temporarily tied to trees and bushes, I finally got around to anchoring the antenna a little more securely using some eye screws. In the process I was able to raise the center of the antenna up another couple of meters which might help things.

One arm of the antenna is weighted down with a 2lb weight and floats up and down so that it can move with the trees. The center and other leg are tied down with enough slack to handle windy days. I may change them so that they're just weighted down as well rather than tied off.

The coax got routed through the crawl space so I won't have to worry about running over it with the lawn mower. It runs up the side of the house through another eye screw to the antenna feed line. When the radios get moved into their permanent location in the office/shack, I'll look at some floor or wall connections for the coax.

Play testing d20 Yahtzee

Connie and I played a game of d20 Yahtzee to see how it would go. It definitely lasts a lot longer than Yahtzee played with plain old d6s, and getting the special combinations (3/4 of a kind, full house, straights and crits) is a lot harder than it is in regular Yahtzee. Scores are a lot higher too. I got solidly trounced 1264 to 1023.

Connie came up with a few modifications for the special combos, like all primes, powers of 2 and other math-y related things. I think that calls for a new variant of the game.

I think there's something very satisfying about rolling d20s, although that may be a result of many mis-spent hours playing RPGs.

First contacts

I was tuning around the radio last night while waiting for Fedora 18 beta to install on the computer and heard 9A9A from Croatia calling loud and clear. He had quite the pileup going and it was interesting listening to him work everyone. A little while later after the pile up cleared away, I called him and managed to get him on the first attempt. First contact with the new antenna and it was a DX from almost 7900 km away! His signal was easily 59+ like he was next door, and I got a 59 back from him.

About 40 minutes later, I heard UT2IJ in the Ukraine calling and working a pileup too. Rather than wait, I responded and managed to work him on the first try too from 9100 km away! His signal was pretty good, a 58 and I got a 57 back.

Looks like the antenna is working pretty well.

d20 Yahtzee

Connie and I were playing Yahtzee last night and ended up talking about playing with different dice. Of course, the Bag o' Dice came out, and I started thinking about how a game of Yahtzee would go played with d20s.

Well, I wasn't the only one, and a Google search brought me to this page with rules and even a score sheet for d20 Yahtzee, or "Yahtwentee" as he calls it.

I decided to turn his PDF score sheet into a Google spreadsheet (d20 Yahtzee) with one minor fix to the bonus score threshold for 1-6's.

I think I'll have to try play testing it tonight.

Building the Softrock Lite II

Finally got around to starting one of the Softrock radios I got a few months ago. Decided to start with the Softrock Lite II receiver since it was the easiest and didn't have too many SMT components to put on. Most of the components are through-hole, with a few SMT capacitors, ICs and an op amp. Perfect for starting off with SMT work.

It's a pretty easy build, and the build instructions are pretty thorough and informative. The instructions break up the build into the different sections of the radio, explain what it does and provides the schematics, list of parts, where to put them on the board and tests afterwards.

I did run into a couple of problems with getting the SMT capacitors on. One of them was the wrong one (didn't take note that one set was marked and the other wasn't), and two of them I put in the wrong orientation because I wasn't paying attention to the diagram. Other than that the SMT work turned out to be a little easier than I thought it would be.

The build starts with the power supply part of the radio. All through hole stuff, except for one SMT capactior, so pretty easy. Just need to pay attention to the orientation of the diode.
IMG_8764.JPG

I used a couple of jumper pins and used power from the MiniLab to supply power to the radio for testing. The oscillator part was next. Again, all through hole stuff and one SMT capactior here for this section of the radio.
Oscillator part of the radio

Most of the SMT components are in the divider and op-amp stages of the build. There are 3 SMT ICs and the rest of the SMT capacitors that go on in this part. With a bit of practice from the first two SMT capacitors, getting the rest of the capacitors on wasn't too hard (aside from not paying attention to orientation). The SMT ICs and op amp were a little trickier, but still not as bad as I expected.
Divider stage

SMT ICs

Except for the inductor and transformer in the band pass filter stage, all the components are on the radio. Will need to study the section on winding toroids first before I try to make them. Then I'll have to switch out the jumper pins for a more permanent power connection and then make up the computer and antenna connections.
Mostly completed radio

Dog show time!

It's January, and that means it's time for more dog show action. This year's Charleston Kennel Club dog show is Jan 26-27 at the Ladson fairgrounds, and I'll be there for the CSCLRC Supported Entry, because Labs are the cool dogs.

Hopefully this year continues the nice weather last year, and not the wet rainy trend of the previous years.

Come on out and check out all the dogs!

Charleston Hamfest

The Charleston Hamfest is only a few weeks away on Feb 2. This will be the second hamfest that I've gone to so I'm looking forward to seeing what will be there. The first hamfest was the Atlanta Hamfest back in June (which is also where I passed the ham radio license tests) and was a lot of fun. A pretty decent attendance and a lot of neat looking gear. I wonder what this one will have.

Wifi router antennas

I thought I'd see what I got out of EZNEC for modeling the three antennas on the wifi router. I treated each of them as single wires at 2.452 GHz about 1m off the ground (not the floor). Each wire was 8 cm long (0.654 lambda) spaced 8 cm apart. Radiation pattern is directed perpendicularly to the plane containing the antennas, so I have two of them pointed down (the wifi router is mounted to the side of the desk) and one pointed off to the side (there's a power strip that gets in the way of it pointing down like the others)

Antenna_Wifi.png

After reading through some of the original documentation for NEC learning about the somewhat arcane input format (like MCNP, it can be pretty confusing at first), I'm liking how EZNEC simplifies and hides some of the complexity, but is still accessible if needed. When I start getting into building antennas, I might have to get a copy of it.

New antenna model

I was able to find some EZNEC model files for a G5RV antenna including the feed line and tried to modify it to match my current antenna setup. 40m and 80m are pretty much the same, but the radiation patterns for 20m and 10m become a little more complex compared to my initial model.

10m
AntennaG5RV_10m.png

20m
AntennaG5RV_20m.png

Here's EZNEC's SWR plot
AntennaG5RV_SWR.png

Modeling the antenna

Using the EZNEC ARRL version that comes in the ARRL Antenna book, I attempted to create a simple model of the antenna as it's currently set up.

Using a tape measure and some very rough estimating, I came up with this plot of how the antenna is set up, without the ladder line in the middle (haven't figured out how to add the feed line yet).

AntennaDiagram.png

AntennaDiagram_XY.png

The far field plots EZNEC gives me look like this

80m
AntennaFF_80m.png

40m
AntennaFF_40m.png

20m
AntennaFF_20m.png

10m
AntennaFF_10m.png

The antenna model is pretty simple and nowhere near perfect. I'm probably missing a lot by not having the feed line included. Based on these rough simulations though, it looks like I'm warming a lot of clouds (ham speak for when your antenna is sending radiation mostly straight up).

Up antenna!

Thanks to help from Dave/KF4FFO and Tom/AJ4UQ, the antenna is now hoisted up into the trees and plugged into the radio. I didn't get a chance to grab my camera, but Tom had his to take pictures with.

Antenna raised

My Hyperdog ball launcher and 4 fishing weights with some lightweight line that Dave brought proved to be a very effective combination for getting rope and antenna up into the tree.

The arms of the antenna are arranged in kind of a tilted/rotated inverted L, with one side angled down and secured to shrubs at one corner of the house, and the other side nearly horizontal. Perhaps not an ideal configuration for this. Right now everything is secured with temporary knots. I'll spend some more time making some adjustments to the antenna before securing everything down properly.

SWR tested with Dave's Youkits analyzer showed pretty decent SWR and impedance at 20m and 40m (~1.7 or so), so-so at 80m, maybe usable at 15m and 30m with some tweaking and not so good at 10m. Since the antenna should be able to do 10m, there's probably some adjustment that needs to be done with how things are arranged. I think I'm going to have to get myself one of those Youkits analyzers. They're pretty slick.

Analyzing the antenna

Radio receives pretty well on 20m and 40m so far. I can hear the WWV time signal at 5 MHz and 10 MHz pretty clearly. Heard lots of CW and digital signals on 20m after connecting up the antenna. Need to test how well I can get out next.

Right now the coax feed line just runs along the ground, but I think I'll look into routing it through the crawl space so that it's not lying out in the elements and won't get run over by the lawn mower.

Now an interesting exercise will be to figure out how to use something like EZNEC and try to model what the antenna is doing.

Temporary ham shack

This is a very temporary set up of our two radios, a 2m Kenwood and the HF rig.

Temporary ham shack

Until I make myself a better antenna, the 2m rig is running at 5W feeding one of my extra HT antennas (a Diamond SRH 77CA). Perhaps not ideal, but it works well enough to pick up the CARS repeater on the Yorktown (146.790 MHz). The radio has a few issues with the display operating intermittently or just displaying random LCD segments. It receives, I just may not know what frequency I'm receiving on. Hopefully it's nothing more than just a loose connector to the control panel.

Soon the radios will move into their permanent corner of the office/shack. Then we'll be cooking with fire!

Ham radio goal list

Stealing a page from KQ2RP, I thought I'd create my own list of 2013 ham radio goals.

  • Get the shack up and running
  • Build the SoftRock radio kits
  • Get the OpenBeacon W2MDW gave me up and running
  • Build my own OpenBeacon
  • Earn skill levels in CW
  • Build Moxon antennas for 6 and 10m
  • Experiment with making antennas
  • Try some digital modes

Happy New Year from the dogs

Nala and Simba want to wish everybody a happy 2013.

DSC00542.JPG

Today we went to Folly Beach for our traditional New Year's Day beach walk. A bit warmer today than the past couple of days and mostly cloudy. It appears that good portions of the dunes along the Washout area were washed away by whatever storm breezed by recently.

DSC00558.JPG

I only took the little camera out, but managed to find some interesting shots to take with it.

DSC00555.JPG

DSC00556.JPG

Bai 2012, Hai 2013

And so goes another year. And here comes another "year in review" post.

This past one was pretty busy as far as work goes, with at close to 130 x-ray machines and workstations units that I have to lay my hands on for annual testing. This is probably twice the number that there were when I first started.

Diabetes management has gone pretty well in 2012, with HbA1C staying steady at 5.6%. Trying to stick to a mostly low-carb diet, which I think is helping, although I do occasionally fall off the wagon. Weight has been pretty stable at around 77kg (170lb).

My running fell off quite a bit once the summer heat hit. Then there was much busy-ness and I got lazy about getting up for early morning runs once the weather cooled down again. It's something I need to get back to again. I've been missing it lately.

On the school front, there wasn't a whole lot of progress in 2012. Going to have to change that for the coming year because I really need to get this over and done with.

2012 was a year for taking up new hobbies for me it seems, with amateur radio and electronics becoming the latest time sinks. I've been enjoying learning new things and putting into practice all the electronics that I learned so many years ago. Lots of new gadgets to play with, and there was also much fun had disassembling and dissecting various dead electronic things.

There's this new and awesome girl that I met in 2012 who's making life pretty fun and fantastic these days. 2013 together looks like it's going to be a whole lot of fun.

There's a lot to look forward to in 2013. Work will stay busy, and I don't see it getting any less busy anytime soon. Soon I'll have the ham shack up and running. There will be radios all over the place once that happens plus a beacon or two.

2013 should be a pretty good year.

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