Category Archives: Uncategorized

International Roundtable Celebrating 150th ICQPodcast

ICQPodcast

ICQ Podcast

It was my honor to be on the international round-table group—Ireland, England, Australia, USA—yesterday for a couple of hours. This recording session was to celebrate the 150th episode of the ICQPodcast established by the father-son team of Martin M1MRB / W9ICQ and Colin Butler. It’s a bit of a rarity for fathers and sons today to do things together but this duo have a harmonious charm about them which I’ve greatly enjoyed. Ed VK2JI in Auzzie-Land fits right in too!

The four of us discussed a wide array of topics, from the future of HF radio, the ARRL QST apps for iOS and Android, digital voice in amateur radio, cheap Chinese radios, and Broadband-Hamnet. You’ll have to download the podcast when it drops but it was amazing to see as much agreement, yet diversity in observations, amongst four hams.

I’m honored to be the US Correspondent for the ICQ Podcast…and hope I can keep up with my editing/writing for Springer Media.

73 de K4FMH

UPDATE: Link for 150th episode here.

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ARRL Delta Division Survey Sez….

UPDATE: Complete report in PDF is now available at the ARRL Delta Division website at this URL: http://www.arrldelta.org/2013final.pdf

I’ve completed the report for the semi-annual Delta Division Survey of ARRL members! It should be posted on the Division’s website (arrldelta.org) by Director Norris K5UZ soon. In the meantime, here’s a map of 2013 ARRL (licensed) members, survey respondents, and Affiliated Clubs in the four state Division:

73 de Frank K4FMH Assistant Director

Delta Division Members, Survey Respondents, and Affiliated Clubs

Delta Division Members, Survey Respondents, and Affiliated Clubs


Field Day 2013? Not really….

ARRL Field Day 2013

I’d be working on a (cool) setup for this year’s Field Day by now….but I won’t be participating in the ARRL-sponsored Field Day this year. (Please don’t tell Hiram!). It’s not because I’m boycotting or anything. Amateur radio is an important hobby and public service in my life. BUT, having a first grandchild is more important!

Our son and his wife are having a girl scheduled over this year’s Field Day period. We will be at the hospital waiting out her first birth, eager to meet our grand daughter, Sadie Elizabeth Howell, when she chooses to make her entrance into this world and into our lives!

We love being aunt and uncle (and, ahem, great aunt and great uncle) to several younger ones in our large family. But being grandpop will be a new experience, I’m sure.

Like not making it to Dayton, I’ll have to plead “next year” for Field Day too. But this brings up a type of soap-box point.

babygirloutline

I used to play golf in a Faculty League at Mississippi State University. There were Tuesday afternoon sessions and alternate Saturday tournaments during the season. Retired faculty (such as me now) always wanted to play earlier than the officially scheduled 4:30pm time on Tuesday. This was especially the case once the hot sun is a constant and the humidity levels reduced ex-Marines to sitting on the benches at each water stop. We faculty and staff who were still working and had meetings or classes scheduled until late hours would always be either late or absent. The common mantra among those who left work, family, or students “early” to attend an “employer sponsored health maintenance program” was:

You’ve Got to Get Your Priorities Straight!

As we hams see others dropping out of the hobby, taking a siesta, or dropping their podcasts, blogs, or other intensive activities, should we think that they do not have their “priorities straight”? I think not. Hobbies, especially for men, tend to occupy more of a front-and-center place in the daily calendar than for women, who tend to do more of the work at home whether they’re employed or not. (OK, no citation here but I can come up with a reference list that would choke a horse if need be!) Family life can be very stressful— even for one party— if the other has long-term absences from key activities that keep family bonds strong. Think SWR here — you can operate with a high degree of it but the transmissions are losing something which can eventually lead to a component failure. Family ties are not a lot different from this. Not everyone has a ham activity competing with the birth of a first grandchild but hopefully readers get my point. If you’re in amateur radio for the long haul, balance is important. Just ask your family! From this perspective, I believe that I have my priorities straight.

Have a great 2013 Field Day! I’ll be at the hospital, hopefully holding my newborn granddaughter, Sadie. Now how can I get her a baby-sized set of headphones….

73 de GrandPops


Grounding…a heated floor in Mississippi?

Being on the 2nd floor, I was especially concerned about an RF ground. I read and re-read a lot of the current websites on RF grounds, saw folks call one another names, and figured I was going to be out of luck! To make it worse, the builder and electrical contractor had placed my electric service panel where the local code required it: nearest point of entry to the extant buried service point. Unfortunately, this was on the opposite of the house from my shack. No nice tying everything into the service ground as all of my sources insisted was needed. With brick, concrete, and landscaping, there was no way (after the fact) to run a buried ground cable down to the point under my ham shack.

Mississippi Gumbo!

Mississippi Gumbo!

The soil where we built is commonly referred to as Mississippi Gumbo, or Yazoo Clay. Not great for stable, sturdy, and long-term structures being built on it. But hopefully not bad as far as ground conductivity. I’m still searching for a more precise measurement of that for Yazoo Clay. It does tend to stay moist but some Kitty Litter and watering the Hydrangea plant in front of the PVC pipe may help.

At the same time, there are a lot of hams who’ve operated successfully without explicit RF grounds. One is Steve Katz WB2WIK. See his QRZed posts or his appearance on Ham Nation. On the other hand, Tom W8JI, has a masterful website and he operates a contest station on the 2nd floor of a converted barn. Hmm…surely I could come up with something that made sense and would help keep RF out in the ether instead of my lips at the mic or my alarm system or in my neighbor’s stereo.

W8JI’s site shows a grid laid down on the 2nd floor. He suggests copper, of course, and further says that the grid with a pattern of smaller than 2’x2′ doesn’t make much of a difference. I checked Georgia Copper and a host of other copper mesh suppliers so that I could perhaps put a layer of copper mesh down on top of the plywood sub-flooring before the carpet went down. That would have cost about $600! Tom W8JI made a comment about thin copper strips from a hobby store. A trip with my wife to a nearby Hobby Lobby and I was ready to start with the grid! I laid down a 2″ copper strap on the floor to connect a common ground between both sets of built-in cabinets. From this copper strap, the thin copper adhesive strips from the hobby store were run so that  the desired 2’x2′ grid pattern emerged on the sub-flooring. These were all soldered where ever the copper strip connected to another or to the copper connecting strap.

As a humorous aside, the carpenters installing cabinets in the adjacent bathroom had bets on what the hell was going down on the floor in my office. They thought I was another sub-contractor installing a heated floor but what idiot would get a heated floor in Mississippi! To a person, they all gathered to watch as I explained what I was doing and why I was doing it. They said they don’t see that every day in the houses they help build!

Copper Connecting Strap

Copper Connecting Strap

Copper Grid Pattern

Copper Grid Pattern

The PVC pipe that ran from the attic above my shack contained a T-connector for coax and control wire to enter under a shelf on the cabinet. It continued and made an elbow turn to outside the house near the ground. I put three ground rods several feet apart into the Yazoo Clay and connected each one by the 2″ copper strap as shown below. Following W8JI, I connected a master bus under one of the shack cabinet shelves next to the incoming PVC elbow with the outside ground strap and the inside false ground grid to a common ground bus. All of my  powered equipment is connected to this ground bus using tinned copper braid ground strap material.

On the left picture, you can see the exiting copper strap—I’ll paint the white PVC to a rust color to please the XYL—and the right picture is the final ground rod. There is one more to the right of the one beneath the PVC pipe next to the brick chimney not shown in the two pictures.

IMG_1669IMG_1671

George W5JDX, host of Smoke and Solder on Ham Nation and co-host of Amateur Logic TV, said he’d wager that this would solve my ground problem as the potential for the ground strap inside the descending PVC to the ground was less than 10 feet. Thus far, and as far as I can tell, he’s right!

I have an MFJ-931 Artificial Ground device that Martin Jue sells. It it great for portable operations where radials aren’t very easy to lay down. But it’s also a good tool to “see” the differential between what is expected in ground impedance and what is present. I may experiment with this notion to see how the false ground under the carpet operates vs. the strap to the three ground rods outside. For the time being, I’m just glad to feel like I’ve done what I could do with what I have to play with.


Designing a new shack

This is something that numerous hams have had the chance to do. But, it’s never (ok, almost never) done in a vacuum. Using the latest marital equations….we chose a lot in what could be the worst neighborhood for amateur radio that I can realistically imagine. No trees. HOA with lots of folk with time on their hands. Our lot is a corner lot in prime view of the goings and comings of the neighborhood. Image of “hams” is very old school. See what I mean? But as the calculus resolved, here we are so I wanted to do the best I could within the financial and practical constraints that I faced. I can imagine that I’m no different than many other licensed amateurs so I’ll quit complaining.

Our lot with designed house footprint is shown here with my future shack location shown by the big red dot. The shack, however, is on the 2nd floor. That was my wife’s idea and it was a good one. I am retired but am still active writing. Putting my ham shack somewhere in my office made overall sense. Plus, this room opens out to a second floor screened porch with the best view of the Reservoir (Barnett Reservoir north of Jackson, MS).

HouseFootprintShack

Red mark = my ham shack alcove

Now that the location was set, I needed to think about antennas. Hmm…not much room to fantasize about given the CC &Rs and the lot size! The covenants states that “aerials” are not banned but cannot be seen. OK, that gives me some hide-in-plain-sight strategies to play with.

I had bought a custom-built 160M full wave horizontal loop from Maple Leaf Studios (http://myworld.ebay.com/mapleleafstudio/). Bruce NU0R had kindly agreed to build one for me after I had bought and used his G5RV at my previous Starkville MS residence where I had many 120+ foot oaks and pines. I had my electrical crew (thanks Chuck and Brian!) install this loop just under the outer edge of the roof shingles (about 1″). It fed back under the soffit on the narrow alleyway between the two houses for a few inches, connected to the Amidon balun. Unfortunately, we ran out of roof perimeter so the length of the loop had to be reduced. It resonates between the 80M and 160M bands. With an autotuner, it loads up well on 160M so that turned out to be very workable. I’ll talk more about the loop in future posts but at least I would have one HF antenna.

One problem that came up was a good one, from an energy savings point of view. My builder used foil-backed plywood as the substructure of the roof along with a ridge cap. It works very, very well as during the heat of summer in Mississippi, I can do work in the attic while in shorts and short sleeves. I’ve read mostly negative experiences from other hams with foil-backed roofing. I took a 2M HT in the attic and hit several area repeaters so that gave me some relief that my attic space might be useful for HF and VHF/UHF or higher antennas.

VUH/UHF Ventenna

VUH/UHF Ventenna

However, the Ventenna Company (www.ventenna.com) makes a 2M/70cm version that fits over a regular roof-based vent. I had my plumber install this model over the vent identified by the red arrow in the picture below. The coax is inside the attic which runs over to my shack quick nicely using LMR-400 coax. The good thing was, a month after the installation, the plumber asked me which vent the antenna was on as he couldn’t tell. I told him that was alright with me! It will handle up to 200 watts but I suspect that it’s only good for me to hit the repeaters around the greater Jackson MS area.

I’ll close for now. What I did for managing coax, grounding, built-ins for equipment, and other issues will be in following posts….soon!


I’m Back…

Finally! We completed our new home in Ridgeland, MS in June and moved in. I’ll be posting about the build as it relates to my new ham shack. For now, I want to show off a gift from my two great nieces: an antique ham call plaque:

Antique Ham Call Placque

Antique Ham Call Plaque from OAK Originals

These can be ordered from Oak Originals (http://oakbysigresthunt.com). They can be fully customized since each one is hand painted by Amy on real wood.

Mine is priceless but if you say that you saw it on the Foxtrot Mike Hotel blog, you qualify for a discount! 😉

Happy Thanksgiving and 73,

Frank


CQ….

This is my ham radio blog. I am a relatively new ham so I’ll post periodically about my experiences in amateur radio here in the U.S. I’ve been a shortwave listener (SWL) for 50 years now but just recently got my ham ticket (Technician then General). When the mood strikes me, I will also venture into other topics but mostly this blog will be about ham radio.