All Out of Ham

With my wife in continued pain and suffering from her back surgery and not moving at a rapid pace, the last thing I should be thinking about is amateur radio. I already passed on the RTTY Roundup last weekend and will end up missing NAQP CW this weekend. In reality, it probably won’t be until April or May that I have a fully functioning shack. Priorities being what they are, my wife comes first along with her rehabilitation.

That hasn’t stopped me from stealing a corner of the garage in our new place so I can use it as my shack. The raised floor is now in place and I am hanging faux wood paneling (again). I like the look and and feel of it, reminds me of my dad’s shack (N6SV) down in Poway, CA. Although I just found out today I have 2 dead 110v outlets and the closest 220v outlet is on the other side of the door that leads in the laundry room. Not sure I will be running my Alpha 76PA when all is said and done.

I did come across a helluva deal today from K6EQR, who made mention in a reflector e-mail to the NCCC that another ham was selling a 55′ crank, tilt over tower in Folsom for $300! I did not hesitate to jump on the e-mail and make an inquiry. While I am not so sure about setting up at this house a tilt over, crank up tower fits the bill for me. The tower was raised in 2006 and had a 3el SteppIR on it. This would be perfect for my 5 band hex beam and maybe even the 6-meter beam I have.

Still much work must be done in order to get back on the air. It’s been very rough the last 18 months for me and ham radio as time has not allowed me much opportunity to get on the air. I have achieved a few awards, some personal, some from contesting. Hopefully I can beat my April/May deadline and be back on the air. Now to check with the city to see if I can erect something like this tower in my backyard.

Life Priorities Over Contesting

The best laid plans…isn’t there a say about that? Heading into Friday I was thrilled to have Saturday off to participate in the first big contest of 2012, the ARRL RTTY Round up. I had hoped to put in a full 24 hour effort, unfortunately I was not able to get Sunday off from work, so my 24 hour effort was suddenly cut in half and the contest was still a day away.

The one thing nice about contesting in the world of amateur radio is, if you miss one this weekend, there is one next weekend. Sure, it might not be the same mode and RTTY is a favorite mode of mine considering all the hardware issues I have recently had, coupled with the fact the insurance claim took most of 2011 away from me and I would have felt too guilty to spend time in a contest when I had remodeling to finish.

While radio is a hobby of mine, family and friends take priority. That was the reason I spent only 46 minutes at the start of the RTTY contest participating. All but about 5 minutes was spent on 10M before moving to 15M right before I shut the radio off and hung out with a friend in need for the day. Thankfully it was wild card weekend in the NFL and we sat around drinking beer, eating pizza (or potato leek soup in my case) watching football, with a spattering of discussion over his situation.

Not sure if our time together was beneficial to him or not, I hope it was. I know there have been times in my life where I needed a friend and thankfully my buddy went above and beyond to spend time with me and discuss my situation, for that I was very thankful to know I have friends like that in my life. Sometimes just being there for others allows you to escape the current situation and just have a bit of a break from life before you must think about situation at hand. Maybe a Saturday together with pizza, beer and football was a well needed break for him.

Contesting seems to be very tough for me with a 6 year old son, my wife’s work schedule and the fact that I don’t have weekend off, when most all of the contests run. I do wish I would have been more involved in contesting when I was first licensed (1995) or even earlier when I didn’t have so many responsibilities to fulfill. While it’s not a problem, you don’t look at what you missed out on, but what is coming up. Thankfully that is a long list that runs the rest of 2012 and every subsequent year.

With any luck my schedule and priorities will allow me to participate in the winter sessions of the North American QSO Party. The CW contest is January 14, while the SSB contest is a week later on January 21. Just like last year I was not able to participate in either contest, but only have 2010 numbers to go off. With any luck I will be able to put in a full effort for both contests, but we will see what happens.

I guess this one of those instances, where you cherish the family and friends you have, forgo contesting and be thankfully for the people around you. Sometimes it might seem difficult to set aside but contesting won’t go away. The last thing you want in your life is for family and friends to do the same.

2012 RTTY RU Goals

It has been a hope of mine that I would be able to put in a 24 hour effort in the upcoming ARRL RTTY Roundup. As luck and my work schedule would have it, I will be lucky to get 12 hours of “BIC” during the contest. More realistically it will probably fall to about 10 hours when all is said and done.

I was able to get Saturday off from work, which allows me time to work the start of the contest through a time of my choosing. Looking over my 2010 RTTY Roundup statistics, I should be able to make 300 QSOs, if not more. Recently 15M has started to be the hot band in contests, but being without a radio that had that made things tough. In 2010 15M was not good (15 QSOs) and 10M was non-existent for me, while 20M was the hot band with 422 QSOs.

Unless I am fortunate enough to get Sunday off I will plan on 350 QSOs with 48 states and 12 Canadian provinces. With the solar cycle really heating up in the last few months, we should have some nice propagation into Europe. At least that is what I am hoping for so I can improve on my 21 DXCC worked in 2010. Taking these numbers into consideration I will figure a final score of 25,200. Not great by any stretch, but given the conditions I have to work within, it’s better than not participating at all.

Radio Repair: Part 3

I am glad I did not save all this work for the day of the contest, because there would have been no way I would finished it all before the contest started. Since the XYL is off at work today and my son is keeping himself busy with toys from Christmas I had time to further troubleshoot the SteppIR BigIR and connect the Yaesu FT-1000MP MkV in the shack.

Since it was more important to work on getting back on the low bands (40/80M) I decided to pull apart the SteppIR BigIR and take a second look at it. Yesterday was nothing more than replacing the spindle correctly to take up the slack on the copper tape that runs up and down the length of the antenna, depending on what band I am on.

It sounded terrible as I let it calibrate, eventually it stopped and thankfully there was no visible damage done to the sprockets or the copper tape. I then came in the shack and changed bands to 20M. A quick check and the tape was spinning and feeding into the antenna. I reconnected the 80M coil and the 1:1 balun and the antenna seemed to work. Rarely do I use the vertical for anything other than 40 and 80M because of the hex beam ends up working 5 different bands (10M thru 20M). This is the main antenna I use when contesting on 10/15/20M.

I then turned my attention to the Yaesu FT-1000MP MkV I got on loan from George, K6GT. I cannot thank him enough for lending it to me. Hopefully I can put in a good show this coming weekend during the ARRL RTTY Roundup and give George partial credit for allowing me actually get on 15M. It’s been a while since 15M working on my Yeasu FT-1000MP.

The easy part was to remove my rig and replace it with his MkV. Once the new radio was in place, I connected my radio to an adjacent outlet and began configuring the loaner unit. There were a few new menus and the front panel is a little different than what I have been used to. The menu navigation was just as easy. Some menus went unused, but about 20 minutes and I had the new rig configured with all my settings. I went off in search of a RTTY signal.

I found two hams having a QSO and it seemed I was decoding correctly using MMTTY. Half the battle won.  I found WM5DX calling CQ and answered his CQ. He told me I was “upside down” on my signal and he could not see my print. A quick flip to the correct menu and I modified one setting. I found WM5DX about 2 minutes later and answered his CQ. When he finally turned his beam towards me he said I was 10 to 20 db over. I was glad to know I could transmit and receive.

One minor issue I had was with the rotator and I can’t pin a reason as to why. I had to set up two ladders to get on top of the roof to investigate. I opened up the rotator housing to confirm all the wires were connected. They were. I checked the power in the shack, it was on, as well as the wires that move the antenna. All connected. I attempted to turn the hex beam a second time and it moved. So, while it was a problem momentarily it seems to have worked itself out. All the better, because the last thing I want to do is resort to the “armstrong” method of turning my hex beam.

So all seems ready for RTTY RU weekend. There will be 4 established practice sessions sponsored by the NCCC beginning Thursday with 2 different sessions, followed by 2 more sessions on Friday. While I can’t confirm I have either or both days off from work I am hoping to get both off. Since my 2010 effort of 652 QSOs and 49,552 points running high power (500 watts). This was one of my best efforts in ANY contest to date, based on the number of contacts made. I will post my goals on Friday.


Radio Repairs: Part 2

Today I took my son and we headed south down towards San Jose to meet up with George, K6GT. After about a 90 minute drive from Oakley we arrived somewhat early in his neighborhood, so we kill a few minutes. Got to see where Apple is headquartered, that was neat. I called George about 11:45am and he said he was home, so we headed over.

I have seen George at some of the NCCC meetings I attend, but I had never spoken to him. Great guy, he is. He showed Zack and I his shack, completely with Elecraft K3 and Panadapter. No one he could loan me his Yaesu FT-1000 MkV, it goes unused in the closet. LOL.

He had the radio packed up in its original boxes with all the paperwork included. I think this is what they call a “selling point” as he made mention, “it’s for sale, name your price.” Wow, a MkV, the radio above mine, which has 200w output, although he said I would not get it. Still it would be great, since it is loaded with filters.

George even gave my son his QSL card for visiting his shack. Unfortunately Zack got very quick and shied away. At least he did say hello when we arrived. So I packed him up, and tied down the radio in the back the truck and we were off towards Pleasant Hill to get the wife.

Once home I took down the SteppIR BigIR and carried out to the front of the house to work on it. The copper tape was a complete mess. Thankfully I was able to straighten it out and get it on the spindle. I even got the spindle back on correctly (or so I thought) before connecting the 80M coil and balun and moving back to the mount to raise.

I spent a few minutes connecting all the cables up to the vertical and then made my way to the shack to fire it up. I turned on the controller and then attempted to calibrate the antenna. No sooner did I start that process and I got a very ugly sound coming from the housing. I let it run about 15 seconds and then powered it down. I was loosing light and decided I would take a second look at it tomorrow. No idea what it causing it to hang up now, hopefully the few seconds I had it on didn’t ruin the tape.

As for the radio, I held off setting it up tonight. With any luck it should be a seamless transition to the loaner rig. I will have to spend about 60 minutes configuring it the software I use. At the least I will have the low bands for the RTTY RU, but might be out of luck on 40/80M unless I can figure out WHY the Copper-Beryllium tape does not want to retract or extend.