Projects

Projects

‘Projects’ will likely be the main focus of this website. I bought the domain fifteen or twenty years ago and did nothing with it. Now let me at least say something about my projects.

The first and foremost comment about my projects is….there are too many of them! A common problem I suppose. At least I am never bored! I’ve gotten pretty good at mixing and pouring concrete at home. Below is the remainder of fifty 80-pound bags of mix. That was for the base of one of the towers. It sits on granite so it was a totally custom job. Most of it is above ground. There are more than one like that and my buddy calls them my ‘anti-tank barriers’. Pretty appropriate I’d say.

Towers: There are six tower projects. Two are complete, if you can say ANY project is ever complete. Three of the six have the hard part done. One of those three needs only to be stood up and guyed (and antennas added of course). The last tower has part of the hole dug. That’s all. Oh well, no boredom here.

Did you ever think sailing could provide inspiration for amateur radio? Rather, for amateur radio towers to be more specific. Well, you might say it has been for me. I have a few very short towers that I call ‘intermediate towers’. They are not meant for supporting antennas, but rather as a point for changing the angle of guy wires. In some cases, the normal spot at where guy wires reach the ground turns out to be very inconvenient, or downright impossible. Generally, these intermediate towers allow me to shorten the total distance from the supported tower to the ground anchor. These towers also have practical height limitations for more than one reason.

My towers and anchors all have letters that indicate which one is which on a map and in my station documentation. You do document your station, don’t you? One in particular is denoted “Z”. Again, its basic purpose is to alter the angle of guy wires from the tower to the anchor, and that gives it some front-to-back stability. But what about side-to-side? Chances are that side-to-side stability is not too much of an issue, but the taller the intermediate tower, the greater the issue.

I need to climb to the top to hang a pulley for a wire antenna, but the doggone thing is shaky and towers that are manufactured for guyed installations are NOT self-supporting. Nope, they are NOT self-supporting at ANY height. Read the manufacturer’s literature and you will see that note displayed right up front. Please my friend, take their advice. DO NOT assume it is safe to climb your ‘guyed’ type tower without guys. It is not safe. Therefore I need to add some lateral stability and this is where my nautical roots (of which I don’t have any) come in.

In nautical parlance, the devices which add lateral stability to a mast are known as ‘spreaders’ and ‘shrouds’. More or less, a spreader is a horizontal bar which allows a cable or rope to descend from the top of a mast, down to the gunwales, as some distance from the mast, providing some lateral stability. Those ropes or cables are known as the shrouds. Since ships are longer than they are wide, you cannot get the leverage of a backstay or forestay, but you can get some leverage. In the ham radio world, this is known as a ‘knee-brace’.

This is what I am doing to “Z”. When it’s done, the old man will be able to climb up and hang a tiny pulley for a wire antenna. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Emergency Power: Better progress here although I can’t say it hasn’t taken quite a while. There are two separate systems: a 12VDC system and a 48VDC system. The 12V system powers the repeaters, Internet, phones, security devices and more. It works well.

The 48V system will power the radio room or ‘shack’. It has to run a greater distance and therefore needs to run on a higher voltage. Besides, the higher voltage systems are more efficient, right? I can say it is certainly more complicated than the 12V system. It uses a much more sophisticated charging system with alarms and all that jazz. Don’t forget, it requires stepping back down to 12V to be used by numerous devices, so it has to have DC-DC converters. Add to that a 48V inverter.

The 48V system runs off of 240VAC, unlike the 12V system which runs off of 120VAC. When I plugged in the 48V plant after wiring to the building, no smoke or sparks were emitted. So far so good! I’ve made good progress on that system lately. Maybe when I’m finished I’ll be duly impressed. Too bad that doesn’t pay!

Just to clarify: When I say this or that system ‘runs’ off of a certain voltage, that is until the power goes off. Then it truly is a such-and-such voltage system.  I have seen the 12V system at work a couple of times.

October 2017: Made some more progress on the 48V plant. By the time I’m 150 years old, I will have this finished! Anyway, the DC breakers are wired in, the batteries wired in and the system checks OK and is charging the batteries. That ‘only’ leaves cables to the shack, a DC-DC converter, a 48V inverter plus a power distribution system in the shack. Oh yes, there are some doodads like low-voltage disconnects, alarms and setup routines that will need to be done.

Since the Fire Department was not involved before or after power was applied, I must understand something about basic electricity. I wired 240VAC over to the rectifiers, re-wired the rectifier controller for 240 and wired all the DC stuff in. That was an hour ago and I don’t smell smoke yet. The picture below is from part of the 12VDC power plant. The 48VDC plant is bigger and badder.

 

 

Digital Capability: Actually that is going well at the moment. I am not about to claim I can do it all. I’m not trying to do it all.  I participate in weekly digital practice nets and started a ‘digital learning group’. Its name is Yellow River Digital Group. It goes by that name in Yahoo Groups and can be found on the web at <www.yrdg.org> .

Our learning group held its fourth meeting on October 29th, 2017 and we covered ‘digital voice methods’. In addition, we have learned how to do some new things with existing equipment we did not know we could do. It was rather fun!

VHF/UHF: This was the area I thought I would concentrate on and get good at. We are talking mainly SSB and CW here although other modes are certainly allowed. I took up contesting in this area because I liked the increased activity during contests on otherwise moribund frequencies, and because I like talking to folks a really long way off on frequencies you would not normally equate DX with.

One day an award arrived in the mail. It was not expected at all. Apparently I won some sort of ARRL VHF contest award. That got me to investigating and I found I was qualified for some others. Prior to that I never thought about hanging accolades on the wall. I got a few more before I fell away from contesting and VHF+ in general. Oh, I still like it. I haven’t sold anything. Hmm, speaking of selling, that should be a subject unto itself.

Satellite TV: The satellite TV system is back up and running full speed now. I believe I will add a fourth orbital position to the system soon.

Mobile Operating: I gave up mobile operating some time back….probably about the time I installed dash cams in my cars. They required 5VDC and those cheap little converters radiated so much hash, it was unbelievable. I used the mobile radios for other purposes. So recently I was looking for a C4FM 2m radio I could use as a remote base for the purpose of adding Allstar Link to my WiRES-X room. I ended up with TWO mobile radios with lots of power. It seemed that they were destined for the cars.

Preferably, I’d like to have dual-banders in the cars and those with detachable control heads. These new radios do not have that nicety, so I shall do without. Just in case I run across such a radio, I put one of the monobanders in the older vehicle. I was quickly reminded why I took them out to start with. The hash is unbearable. Guess I’ll need to find a linear converter rather than a switching converter. There’s just no good place for a full-sized mobile radio in the newer vehicle so I am going to spin the wheel a while and see if a two-piece radio falls in my lap. No rush, right?

In days gone by, I ran everything from 160m to 23 cm in the mobile. needless to say, many of those efforts left something to be desired. The 160m signal had a groundwave of a few blocks, if that far. The 23 cm setup covered both horizontal and vertical polarization and was basically for contesting. It DID work though. What I took from all of that was that I am pretty much satisfied with 2m and 70cm for mobile use. Besides, I spend so little time in the vehicles there is little point in big mobile investments.

I suppose my main interest now is in trying to impress myself by operating through my own repeaters. Nothing like talking to yourself! Oh well, at least I will begin to understand just how well my repeaters do, or do not, work. I can make improvements based on my findings. On one vehicle I used to run a quarter-wave antenna (on 2m) that was not on the roof. Someone made light of it. I replied that if I got the repeaters working well enough to use that chump antenna, think how well they would work with good antennas. He replied that he had heard that sentiment from another guy too. Must be something to it then.

Sure, if I were mobiling all the time I might want to put HF back in the car. I found it useful to be able to pick up the weather, find out what the cause of the traffic jam was and ratchet-jaw with somebody to pass the time. Actually, I would enjoy listening to shortwave broadcasts, if there was much to listen to. In the ‘good old days’, you could find some mighty fine broadcasting going on. Not so much these days. I would even enjoy some nighttime AM BCB listening like I remember as a kid riding with my Dad. As recently as the 90’s I enjoyed listening to KMOX, nearly 500 miles away, while driving home from work at night.

Are those magic days gone? Well, radio still holds an interest for me and I still see magic in it, but the magic has changed. Now it is more like being amazed that I can walk around the place with a handie-talkie and have conversations all over the world. Mostly I talk to my friends around town, but it IS liberating to be portable and not confined to the radio room. What do we talk about? We talk about anything and everything, but the main subjects are usually the technical aspects of the hobby. There’s our magic.

By the way, the cause of that accident and resulting traffic jam was that a guardrail and a tree jumped out in front of a car.

UPDATE TO MOBILE OPERATING:

One day recently the ‘price got right’ on a new dual-band mobile radio. Good timing too as I had just declined to by a used example of the same radio for what I considered too high a cost. Instead I got a new radio, with warranty, with new firmware upgrades, with new GPS receiver and without taxes or shipping cost. All this for only a few dollars more. Good thing I had set aside some moola for this purpose. It’s always an excellent idea to be sitting on ‘ready’.

Well, then comes the joy of installing the radio, and the hardest part these days is finding a place to mount the control head. Naturally, I did the other parts first! Starting with mounting the main body of the radio, I began the journey. There had been another radio in that vehicle at one time so I merely adapted the new body to the old location. The other big pain is to find a power source. Months ago I had actually called the vehicle manufacturer for advice. They told me to call the dealer….seriously. Given my prior experiences there, I declined. I checked with a car stereo shop and they said ‘just wire it to the battery’. In fact, this is what the manual says. I had hoped to find some place inside the cab for this purpose but, hey, I looked under the hood anyway.

There were actually some places on either side that seemed like they were made for this purpose. I wanted to go through the passenger side. It was closer to the battery anyway, but I could not see the under-dash side of it. On the driver side I could see what I was doing. Being a graduate of The School of Southern Engineering, I forged ahead on the driver side. Yeah well, I took two days to do it up right though. It looks almost ‘factory’.

Routing the antenna cable was next as I was avoiding the control head dilemma. The real trick was remembering how to unlatch the back seat. I had gone this route before but removed everything except a bracket for the antenna mount. When the cable was routed I stuck a little antenna on the mount and it did not even stick out above the roof. That wasn’t very good for transmitting and receiving, but it sure looked clean! Besides, I was in a hurry. I just had to get that control head mounted somewhere.

As it turned out, my original idea for placement was unacceptable as the gearshift lever contacted the head. On to Plan B! Needless to say, I spent quite some time searching for the right spot. I won’t say I found the perfect place, but I did find a place. In one of my junk rooms I keep a box with mounting solutions. After digging all that stuff out, I used none of it. I had even purchased a very neat little piece when I bought the radio, but never used it. Instead I ended up using the bracket that comes with the radio.

Mounting radios and radio heads has become the most awful exercise there is. Back in the good ole days, there was enough room under the dash to install a portable TV (of the yesteryear type). Not any more! The solution turned out to be a temporary, no, semi-temporary location. By bending the mounting bracket flange slightly, I found I could slide it under a lip on the dashtop. Putting some magnetic strips with one sticky side on them underneath the front lip of the head bracket made the head fairly rigid, but it slides out quite easily. This ended up being very handy as it solved two problems.

Problem number one was that the GPS antenna is mounted in the control head and needs to be in view of the satellites. Short of being outside the car, this was almost the perfect place. Problem number two was having a way to conceal the control head when not in the car. That is accomplished by sliding it forward and out of its little gap that it rests in. I put it away and feel better about not attracting attention.

MOBILE OPERATING – DON’T LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE

Just so my understated radio install did not stay understated, I slapped a 6+ foot tall antenna on the mount. Now it sticks WAY up above the roof! Well, the real reason for doing that was because I wasn’t hearing or being heard. I don’t expect to leave it that way, but who knows? The antenna is so tall because it is a 2m, 440 AND 6m model. It has all kinds of gain on 440! Now I am looking for something shorter for 2m and 440 only. What happened to all those 2m/440 antennas I used to have? Oh yeah, they hit tree branches and so forth and only exist in pieces now. Time to stimulate the economy I suppose.

What was next on the list? You know….programming the doggone thing, and here’s where it gets interesting. Yep, it caused me to have another dream. Not a night dream and not a day dream, but simply a ‘I wish they would build a’ dream. Foregoing part of the story, I loaded local repeaters onto a tablet computer and carried it out to the car. I am well aware that you can buy programming software and load that into your computer, but I am one of those hardheads who insists on doing it the manual way. Hey! It’s free! The tablet has location services enabled so it pulls up repeaters within a given distance of whatever location I desire. I desired my home as that location. I don’t travel much.

During the programming process the dream happened. Why can’t the radio be WiFi enabled, see the data from the tablet, and accept that load? You could tell the radio in advance to allocate X number of memories just for that purpose. This radio has 1000 memories in two bands…that ought to be enough! But wait! There’s more: The beauty of that process would come when you are traveling. Everyone knows you could program repeaters in memory that were along your route of travel. But what if you alter your route of travel…or don’t have a specified route of travel? You need an efficient way of loading in repeaters.

So, the Internet has this neat method of getting that repeater information onto your tablet or laptop or smartphone. What about your RADIO? Your radio is where you need that info. There has to be a better way than punching in all that info, whether it be manually or via programming software. Think about it: If you were traveling, you’d likely need new repeater information every 20-30 minutes. Are you going to pull over and enter all that every half-hour? No way! The technology exists to keep up with your location. Why then is there no technology employed to automatically load that info into your radio? Even if you got an alert and had to respond to a LOAD? message for each update, that would beat the pants off of pulling over every 30 minutes.

What we are looking at, using existing technology, is some sort of computing device, likely with cellular service, that can WiFi or Bluetooth over to your radio. You set the program to reload at a given interval, then each new load gets sent to the radio. Suddenly you have a danged smart radio that KEEPS YOU IN TOUCH WITH LOCAL REPEATERS CONSTANTLY. What could be more useful? Ham radio has so many neat things going for it, but there is a real shortage of networking. Your previous loads get overwritten as the number of memories allocated is reached. Surely this could be accomplished. Okay, so that’s the latest dream. Doesn’t somebody want to sell me a new radio with this feature?