Friday, December 18, 2009

A dream come true?








I can just dream of driving this think to the grass airfield in Marcellus and take off to a search, land, drive to search base and then either work my dog, do some air searching, then fly back home!

And can you see it as toad behind our RV, get to some place, drive to stores, do a fly-by on the campground?

OK, it is a toy, a big one, and definitely not in the budget, but can one have a dream? I don't even have a pilot's license...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SWR Exposed

This is really for hams, not so interesting to others, I'd say but one never knows for sure

Friday, December 11, 2009

Too good to pass!

This is a 8+ min movie about ham radio in a past, kind of far away by now...


Monday, November 23, 2009

Glace Bay Nova Scotia

Last summer, my wife and I and our six dogs took our first long trip with the RV.We went to Canada via VT, NH, ME, NB, NS, QC and ON. While we made good preparations for the trip, we managed to keep our pland flexible enough to allow for changes as we discovered new things to do and places to visit.

After the thrills of driving the Cabot Trail with a 30' RV, certainly one of my high points of the trip, not Kathy's though...







Well, I was cheating a bit, as the Oregon GPS was showing a topo map and I knew what was expecting me well before I reached the next curve...

It was while we were driving that Kathy discovered on her Blackberry that Marconi had a station in Nova Scotia. Once we arrived to our cmground, I investigated a little further and decided I really wanted to see the place. We made sure it would be open when we expected to get there, made a few changes in our plans, and we went to Glace Bay. Here is what we found.



 

A modest but nice museum commemorating Gulielmo Marconi's work and especially the establishment of his second station from where he communicates across the Atalantic Ocean with his station in Poldhu. While there now is controversy whether Marconi actually heard the letter "S" sent across the Atlantic in Morse code dit-dit-dit, and I won't touch that any further, there is no question that transatlantic transmissions emanated from this station at Glace Bay. The towers were wooden so the only thing that is left from 1901 are the foundations as you can see in the pictures below.

 




The museum has a nice station and the local ham that was operating it offered to let me use it. I opted to use my own portable station in the RV with my TransWorld antenna. Making contacts was not easy as I was so close to the VE1VAS's yagi antenna, which was transmitting CW at 1KW, but eventually I made a contact with a European station, LY20A from Lithuania. There was an Italian station I really wanted to talk to, as I'm sure an Italian ham would have loved being contacted from that location but unfortunately he went QRT. Here I am, in Glace Bay, with my little portable station in the RV, and with Kenna my yellow lab and Stryder my working SAR dog, a chocolate lab (you can barely see his head at the bottom).




Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another DXpedition Rapa Nui Easter Island 2009



It is not easy to break in the pile-up that a DXpedition has, especially form a very desirable location. It takes time and patience, especially with a modest station and antenna. I had time to check the island out on Google Earth and boy, it is nice over there.

Today was the first time I heard the signals from XR0Y in Easter Island at a level where I knew I had a chance to make it through. Still, I'm battling big gun stations with mega antennas and amplifiers. The operator was first calling for European stations and giving a time later on for US ones. When they switched to US stations, there was a large pile up. I tried quite a few times to get through but was not lucky. The operator was working split,  transmitting on one frequency, listening on another five kH up on the scale. But when the pile-up grew too much he asked to spread the calls on 10kH and I happened to pick 8kH up for my Tx frequency. My call was answered very quickly and I sure hope I am in their log. I guess that knowing how to operate my rig, doing it fast and with a bit of luck, 100 watts made it through!

These guys are GOOD! Not only do they update their log quite often, they also use Twitter to announce it! Hats off! They really use every bit of technology at their hands to get information through. They definitively deserve some support!


Saturday, October 31, 2009

CQ-WW-SSB 2009 Contest




I had lots of fun with this contest. It did not start well for me though. First, I had intended to give a trial run to the N1MM contesting logging software a week before that at teh NY QSO Party, but I was too tired aftera train ride and  a long day in Old Forge NY to operate my station let alone with new software. So when thsi contest came, I had not even prepared its logging file. So it took me a few minutes to do that and then things seemed to work out OK but I noticed some problems, with the software, including it not staying connected to my radio and thus not logging the frequencies correctly and a few more minor glitches. So I decided to revert to my trusted regular logging software, Ham Radio Deluxe and again it took me a few more minutes to set a new log up but then I was up and hopefully running. That first evening was disappointing, conditions were awful and I soon called it quits for the night, as I saw not reason to stay awake just for a few QSOs that I might be able to make. Things remained slow early in the next morning but started getting better as suddenly the 15 meters band opened, while the 20 meters was so crowded it was difficult to make calls there, unless you had am amplifier. I'm operating at low power, 100 watts maximum, single operator, non-assisted. So I made quite a lot of contacts on 15m. Things quieted down in the evening, again I saw no reason to stay awake overnight. I had 117 QSOs so far, not bad, kind of opening the possibility to beat my own 181 QSOs record. On Sunday, things got really busy on 20m and almost as busy on 15m. I got busy and in the afternoon I had beaten my own recors and now was forging ahead, setting a 200 goal, reaching it, setting a 225 goal and reaching it too. I finally set my sights on 250 QSOs and reached that goal with 15 minutes to spare in the contest. I decided to quit there, claimnig a score of 89206 points. Some calls are multipliers and the math is too cumbersome for me to figure it out, that's why I have a computer!

I ran into troubles with the Cabrillo formatted log I am to use to report my activity. Saving my ADIF file from Ham Radio Deluxe, and using adif2cabr to get the Cabrillo file, I lost a colums of data. Using the HRD ADOF file and importing it into N1MM, then exporting a Cabrillo file from N1MM, I got a file where the frequencies were not right, there were some mistakes in the file mainly in Canadian calls (15) but I had the missing column. So I Took the Cabrillo file I got from adif2cabr, imported it as text file to Excel, imported teh N1MM cabrillo file into a different sheet in Excel, copied the missing column from the N1MM cabrillo file and pasted it into the adif2cabr file in Excel. Saved that Excel file as a text file, used Note Tab Lite to check it, reformatted it a bit, just added some tabs for clarity (although the file would have read correctly, but I like my columns well aligned and send the file in. It was accepted quite easily by the robot.

Why did I write all this? Simply, so I'll remember next time, if I bump into similar problems and if someone else needs that information, I got it here.

Do I expect to win? Heck no! Some of the big gun stations amass millions of points. But I already have accomplished my goal, my score is yet higher than ever before, I've also found some ways to improve on my operation. I started controlling my transmission via computer, instead of the foot switch. Takes a lot less coordination and my dog can sleep at my feet without being distrubed. I also used VOX, voice activated transmission, but I have to be careful as whatever I say may be trransmitted, including what I say to my dogs oand/or wife...

I ran into enough problems with N1MM to scrub it and revert to HRD. N1MM is supposed to be a very good contesting software. I'll give it another trial at a more minor contest and see if I can use it efficiently. I know that some of the problems I had were due to user error. The 400+ pages manual doesn't help much, too much information when you need quick answers but I've found a few shorter versions that may just put me on the right track. I already found some answers to problems I had so it may be worth another look. Also, if I get it to log right, then the Cabriullo file export will be a breeze, something I really like, especially since now, I tend to ahve a log that is getting longer and more problematic to edit, even if just for formatting.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Topofusion and kmz files for the Oregon/Colorado/Dakota

I happen to be one of the beta testers for Topofusion and a few days ago, I had requested  from Scott Morris, the brain behind Topofusion to check out is kmz file export would be possible in Topofusion (TF). I got my answer yesterday night with a new beta version ot TF Pro that can do exactly that. Topofusion offers you WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get on your Oregon/Colorado/Dakota.

Anything on TF's screen can be sent to the Oregon, topo map, aerial, color aerial etc. Even custom maps, and TF really shines here as the georeferencing is simpler and much faster than Google Earth and if you downloaded the mapping tiles ahead of time, you don't even need internet access to georeference a user map.


What more, I made these maps using a 6-megapixel picture taken with a camera I use for SAR. When on a search, I hate having to play with cameras settings or with jpg file that need to be shrinked etc. It is all easy to do but these are details that distract me from my main task. Once the user map is georeferenced in TF, the screen display is 1274 pixels wide by 853 in height sending out a kmz files of 106-140KB.

Also, I enlarge the screen display on TF and made three kmz files, the UTM grid helped tremendously in making sure I don't have huge overlapping areas or worse, holes in my coverage.


Once on my Oregon, the three files are there on screen, and I can scroll seamlessly from one area to the other.

Thank you Scott, for coming up with so far the best and easiest way of sending maps to the Oregon!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On GPS and sense of direction.

Please read the article mentioned in the link.
http://www.walrusmagazine.com/print/2009.11-health-global-impositioning-systems/
It is quite interesting.



Online Exclusive: Does My Sense of Direction Suck? from The Walrus Magazine on Vimeo.


I have been a GPS user since the early nineties. As units became better, the system matured, I have relied more and more on GPS navigation. I now use GPS as my main navigation tools.

I've also been blessed by a very good sense of orientation, ever since I was a kid. My mother used to tell a story that when I was about 7 years old, she was shopping in Naples Italy and it was time to return to our ship. Only my mother was walking uphill... My mother said I constantly told her to go downhill but she never listened util she took a cab and dow the hill it went... I've always been very aware of my surroundings and I navigate by terrain features, topography, land cover and man-made objects.

Has the use of GPS lessened my sense of orientation? Well, I don't know what's going inside my head, but I don't think I lost any of my natural abilities. Why? Well, most of my outdoors activities are related to canine search and rescue. I have to interpret what the dog is tellng me and how the scent might propagate. So navigation while important, is not the only factor I am using. In order to help put my dog in a position of success, I still have to look at the wind, the topography, the terrain cover, well, see the common points with navigation? So I think that I kept using the same skills for a different purpose and thus, they never dulled.

And I can certainly understand that even a skilled navigator might lose their skill when relying solely on instruments such as the GPS. But then, aren't maps and compasses also instruments? Maybe they deserve the same caveat as the GPS? As I see it from the article, Inuits navigate a lot like I do, using natural elements to guide them. And the secret of preserving the skill lies in using them, trust your GPS but verify its findings, using the traditional methods.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Raster pictures on my Oregon

A couple of days ago, we had a search in Highland Forest Park, NY. Stryder, my dog never got out of the truck, as the victim was found by the Sheriff's department trailing bloodhound, but since I had the time, I started making a raster map of the park fr my Oregon. I quickly took a couple of digital pictures of the park's trail map, two maps, one for snowshoeing trails and the other for x-country ski trails (they are getting ready for winter fun).

I did not change the camera's settings (6 megapixel camera) when I took the pictures. That gave me files of about +/-2.5Mb. Georeferencing with Google Earth was ok, but I really prefer the quick method that Topofusion has, just click on 3 points on the layer and the base map/aerial. Much simpler, quick and easy. I talked to Scott of Topofusion about making kmz layers with TF, especially as if I download the maps prior to leaving home, I can then use TF even without internet access.

The screen dump below is of the 2.5 Mb file


This screen dump is with a jpg taken at 2 megapixels resolution giving a kmz file of +/-950Kb. The map is a 24K topo map in both these pictures.

This last picture is the same as above the only change being the map, this time it is the Garmin Topo 2008.

I noticed that the re-draw of the screen is faster with the smaller kmz files, but still the 2.5 Mb files were quite usable. That means that if I have to do some hasty work and don't reset the camera back to 2 megapixels, the results are not going to bite me back. Actually the lesser trails show better on the larger files and since I would be moving at pedestrian speed, screen redraw speed is of lesser importance and it is more important to me to better see the secondary trails too. I also have ample room on my 8GB uSD card.

Another lesson learned is that when you have two kmz files of the same area, only one shows on screen. I have not managed to find out the reason why  one has precedence. The only solutions I see for now are either move one file off my uSD card (needing a computer -which I have in my truck) or putting them on two different uSD cards (and try not to lose/misplace those - good luck).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oregon vs Garmin 60CSx track precision revisited

If you look down my blog to the February7, 2009 entry, you will see some older results which are no longer valid, as there have been major software changes in the Oregon and even one in the 60CSx. Just 8 months, but such a difference!

Below are yesterday's tracks:



Well, you probably like the aerial picture better, that's an improvement too, but looking at the tracks, what can we see? Remember, clicking on the picture will enlarge it nicely.
I started by going clockwise, on the right side of the street, following traffic laws, as I was on my electric bike.  Both units were in the waiste pockets of my jacket and that means they were switched around when I turned around for the second go around the block.

My conclusions: frankly, both results are very good. I think the Oregon is a triffle more true in a few places, but really does it matter? We are talking single feet in distance and look how much I had to blow the picture up in order to even see it. It is well beyond the precision expectations of either instrument.

I'm really happy with both of these GPS units.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Unprepared

Sometimes it is good to know that even totally unprepared, a well trained SAR K9 will work things out and perform 100%.

Well, things did not start too well this morning and Stryder, my working SAR dog regurgitated his breakfast and the gobs of water only Labrador retriever can guzzle down. OK, major clean-up time so I managed to lock up the 5 other dogs in the living room and got Stryder downstairs to the basement and the fenced in back yard.

Once the clean-up done, I decided to pick up the back yard, as it was Monday, meaning also trash day. So here I was, busy with the pooper-scoopers and Stryder was just hanging lose. Now I needed to get out of the yard and get my heavy laden plastic bag to the end of the driveway. Stryder wanted to come along. I then remembered that I had planted a training aid for him, the previous day, not too far from where we were about to go. Well, I knew Stryder was not ready to work and didn't even have that in mind, but what the heck, let's see what might happen. I opened the gate, got my bag out, closed the gate and from the corner of my eye, I saw Stryder heading towards some bushes, blessing them in his canine way and suddenly his nostrils flared, his tail started wagging and he followed the scent stuck to the wet leaves to the side of the house and to the location of the training aid. Not only that, he performed a perfect refind, hitting my right hand and showing me the way to the target. I didn't even have his reward toy but I praised him lavishly and we ran to my truck where his toy was stashed behind the back seat, and ended the session in a lot of play and rough-housing.

I was really happy to see my dog working it out like that, totally unprepared. I think that I gave him as little cues as I could, walking uphill with the contents of my poop bucket... Not exactly the picture I normally try to project in training or searches. And no other cues were given, such as the reward toy or search vest etc. And in addition, the training aid was the lightest I have, so the problem was not easy to begin with. He's a good search dog, that Stryder pup of mine!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

GPS

I got my first GPS in 1994 or so. Since,I've always had one around me... I just hope I'm not as geeky as the guy below:


Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 CQ World Wide RTTY Contest



2009 CQ World Wide RTTY Contest


RTTY: September 26-27, 2009
Starts 0000 GMT Saturday   Ends 2400 GMT Sunday


What is RTTY? It stands for radioteletype, nowadays a modernized way of communication utilizing a computer to digitize the message and to then send it to the radio for transmission and vice-versa for reception. I can see each signal on my screen, appearing like a waterfall, two lines with separation. In busy times there can be many such lines on my screen and I use the mouse to cursor to the one I want to have decoded. I can also peek at the others simultaneously.  I can also hear each signal, as they each have a distinctive sound and between the visual and the auditory signals, I can time my transmission so it comes out when the other station is not transmitting and hopefully listening. The purpose of the contest is to make as many contacts as possible with stations in other continents, other countries and even other states or provinces. These are called multipliers and they are used to multiply your score by the factor they are given. While it "pays" more to have as many contacts as possible with other countries, it takes more time and amassing more local calls is just as important, as they are easier to make. Well, I hope I did not distort things too much here.

I was mostly at home this weekend and and could spend quite a lot of time contesting.  I did take quite a few breaks, had dinner both on Friday and Saturday night with family, slept well at night, so it certainly was not an all-out effort. Just having fun there. I did not even look at my few previous contesting scores, I just did what I could and was happy with the results. I talked to a few Canadian provinces I've never talked to before on HF, such as Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I talked to many states, including several QSOs to Alaska and one to Hawaii. I also talked to about 32 different countries among then two new ones, Latvia and Andorra. I was lucky enough to get through to the C37URE DXpedition there and they very graciously took my call. Thank you, this is a rare gem! I also want to thank JJ1ZEJ for taking my call. This is the fist time since May of 2007 that I manage to have a QSO with Japan. Thank you also  to all 181 station that took my calls and/or responded to mine. You all made it fun anad I hope you had fun too. And finally, thank you too to the CQ organization for making this contest possible.

This is my second RTTY contest. When I checked this morning, last year I had 39 calls I logged. So I did much better this year. More experience, better utilization of my logging program, Ham Radio Deluxe v.5.0. This time, I learned to use a separate log for the contest and I also set the other logs I had so there won't be a lookup there, and this way any duplicate call that showed up was from the contest only. By now, I also had good macros pre-programmed and I did modify them a bit to even make them better. As the contest went along, I also used good macros I saw from others to set my own CQ calls and replies. This made things so much simpler. I also started calling CQ several times. I may not have been patient enough as I got only a few calls back, but hopefully next contest, I'll do better in this department too. So now, I already have a new good reason to want participate in next year's contest!

Actually, I had set my goal to achieve at least 150 calls logged in the contest. I ended up with 181, so that by itself is rewarding. But when I checked my contest entries, it turns out that 181 beats my best score which was 165 with was in the 2009 CQ WPX SSB contest. These scores are raw scores, my log entry, not what was formally accepted. Am I earning awards, certificates or plaques? No, not yet, but placing well and doing better each time is what I'm after. I can't complain about my station, but I'm certainly not a "Big Gun", just utilizing my 100 watts as well as my antennas allow me to. So I'm competing against myself mostly, and I'm happy with the progress.

RVing and hamming in Canada.


My wife and I decided to spend our summer vacation RVing in Canada. We did a lot of planning, got books and maps and decided on an itinerary. Our motor home is a 30' Winnebago Sightseer and can comfortably transport both of us and our doggie family, six dogs, 3 Labrador retrievers, a German shepherd malamute cross, a super sized beagle and a border terrier.

I installed a Kenwood D-700A with a Larsen through the glass antenna (I hate making holes in something that expensive and mag mounted antennas don't work too well on fiberglass…). That antenna performed very well for me. At some point, on a Canadian highway, the antenna started hitting the side of the RV, something it had never done before and a quick glance showed it was getting unscrewed from its on-glass base. Fortunately I found a place to stop relatively safely. I could not reach the antenna from the ground, but with my tall step stool, I finally did manage to retighten it with a multi tool. That evening, I took care of the problem, as I set the threads with my wife's crazy glue and that seemed to have solved the problem permanently. I had a Garmin 60CSx GPS attached to the Kenwood and both worked APRS quite happily. Our family could then follow our progress on www.aprs.fi, that is, if our signals reached an I-gate.

The 60CSx was also my back-up navigation GPS. I used a more advanced Garmin Oregon for daily navigation, as it had a better display and the touch screen was easier to program, or re-program when we made last minute changes in our plans.

Our trip took us from Syracuse NY to Vermont, New Hampshire, where I had planned to stop at Ham Radio Outlet in Salem, but I realized then that it was a Sunday and they were closed! So we did stop at Cabelas, an outdoors equipment store that dwarfs anything in Central NY including Bass Pro Shop or Gander Mountain and we also stopped at LL Bean in Freeport Maine. From there, we entered Canada via Calais ME. We continued through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.

My wife, who does not drive the RV is a wonderful co-pilot. While I did the navigation, as I was very familiar with the GPS (from my SAR experience), she worked her magic on the Blackberry and found many answers to all kind of trivia questions that we had about the places we saw or passed through, their history, etc. And since our plan had some flexibility built-in, we managed to make changes along the way, as we discovered new interesting places to go, see and do.

I had packed my portable HF station, an Icom 706MKIIG and a TransWorld Backpacker antenna. That antenna came just a couple of days before our trip and I only had a single opportunity to make sure it worked at all, right from our front lawn and not for very long as I was busy with preparations for the trip. But the single trial convinced me to take that antenna and leave my Buddipole at home, not even take it as a spare.

To do justice to the Buddipole, it is not a bad antenna, it does perform quite well but I found it tedious to set up and tune and I knew I would not have much time to play around with my radios and wanted to maximize the fun. The Transworld antenna is so easy to setup even a caveman can do it (thank you, Geico). Actually, with a little practice, I can set up my entire station in 5-7 minutes or less, as I now no longer need to use an antenna analyzer or a tuner. I took both with me and never used them!

I had fun making contacts from every Province we visited, each time with a different call sign, K9CHP/VE9 (New Brunswick), K9CHP/VE1 (Nova Scotia), K9CHP/VE2 (Quebec) and K9CHP/VY2 (Prince Edward Island).

My wife found out about one jewel that really made this trip worth while ham-wise. Kathy discovered, via her Blackberry, that Marconi had built his second trans-Atlantic transmitting station in Glace Bay NS. Having just toured Cape Breton and the Cabot Trail, we made a little detour that got us to Glace Bay and the Marconi National Historic Site. It has a small museum and is located right where Marconi erected his station after having been ejected from Newfoundland by the local power company who claimed excusive rights. Anyhow, while this station was never perfect and Marconi later on built yet another one south of Glace Bay, it still was working for quite some time. All that is left today is the masonry base of the wooden antenna towers. That is where I planted my TransWorld Antenna, well close enough but not on the very base and tried working my own station. There is a ham station on location and I was invited to use their station, but I preferred trying with my own. Perhaps it was a mistake, as I got a lot of QRM from that station operating on CW with a large Yagi and amplifier, but I nevertheless made a single contact with a station in Lithuania. I heard an Italian station too, but he went QRT, too bad as I'm sure he would have appreciated that call, but I made it from there to Europe, with my tiny station, using the built-in generator of the RV as power source.

I made more contacts, one to Greenland from Prince Edward Island as K9CHP/VY2. Too bad I can't use that one for my DXCC count as it is a new one and not a very common one either.

And it was all made possible due to the TransWorld Backpacker antenna, as its setup is simple and easy and it performs quite well, for standing a mere 8 feet off the ground at its highest point.

From Nova Scotia, we went back through New Brunswick to Quebec. The latter is a wonderful province, and they were extra friendly to us, as for once they dealt with an American that spoke fluent French. We finally made it home through Ottawa and Ontario.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rosh Hashanah

I know my father would have liked to see this video. He managed to escape from France to Spain through the Pyrenees mountains and from there ended up in Palestine where he joined the British Army and served in the Jewish Brigade. He ended the war in Belgium, actually not that far from Metz, his home town, and not very far from where the service mentioned in the video took place either.

So here we go:


Rosh Hashanah and the Shofar

This is how is ought to sound, always!






Unfortunately I can now understand where the dog is coming from!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

HPM/140 Birthday Celebration Event

HPM/140 Birthday Celebration Event

While this was a week-long event, I only found time to participate in the last two days. I first set up my portable station in our screened porch as the weather was just fine for that, my Icom 706MKIIG and the TransWorld Backpacker antenna. The setup of that portable station is quite easy and takes me about 5-7 minutes from antenna to radio and up on the air! No tuning, no tuner, no analyzer, just put the 8 antenna pieces together, chose the band and place the two connectors, run the coax, connect it to the radio, connect the radio to the power source, either power supply or battery booster and battery, connect the mike and earphones and that is it!

Yes, I can get fancier and have the computer control my radio and log my calls. That takes a few more minutes. And If I want to operate on digital modes, that too takes another minute or two.

I love to keep it simple and as efficient as I can. So I made a few /140 contacts from this station but then went to the shack to log them as it is easier to get the log printed there, so I worked a few more from the main station and antenna.

Here is a screen dump of my log (click on it to see a good sharp picture):


I want to thank the ARRL for making this celebration possible. It was lots of fun!

As you can see, perhaps not too clearly as the screen dump may be a little fuzzy but if you click on it, as suggested, , the real picture will appear by miracle, propagation was interesting, with lots of stations fron CA and even HI and two from AK, but very few from the Mid-West (other than later on on 40m) and none from the NE or the east coast other than FL. I even tried RTTY and had one contact, but I was really not setup for that, did not have my macros ready like I do in contests, so it was a little tedious and there were not many station on that mode anyhow.

Friday, July 24, 2009

DXCC


Well here it is, and this is also a good opportunity to thank the ARRL for offering the award, the LoTW for making is so much easier and cheaper than dealing with cards, which I still like, but they are slow coming in.

Of course I'd like to thank all the stations that answered my call. I do not have a huge big gun station, but use a rather modest 100w at the low end of the solar cycle. My antenna pales next to a SteppIR but evidently it is adequate enough for now.

I will continue chasing the DX as I'm not done with it and would like to get as high up as I can, maybe now being the right time to add some power to the station.

Thanks to all that made it possible!

Me thinks I'm King Kong!

Yesterday I was in NYC on some business. I opted to walk down 34th Street, window shopping and it was good exercise. I had my Oregon 400i with me and decided to save a partial track. Satellite reception was OK, not stellar (I should have saved screen dumps but thought about it only now), about 35ft accuracy. WAAS was off. I was receiving about 8 satellites 4 of which were not full bars.

New Yorkers need not worry, I was walking on the north side of the street, did not cross it till I got to 9th avenue (the B&H stoire, a shrine for gadget freaks like me). I did NOT, repeat NOT climb up any building, or swing wildly from skyscraper to skyscraper...

So why did the GPS show that? I guess the signal was bouncing between those buildings just like King Kong in the movie. Thus the reception was degraded and so was the result.

What is interesting though is that the most of the inaccuracy was on the N-S axis not on the E-W one.

In any case that would have made things quite difficult if I had been in a vehicle.
Before I'm asked, the GPS was on lock on road, so that is not why I had these errors. Sampling was either on 10yards or 5 yards, not that it is relevant.

I like testing my equipment and finding its limitations. The urban canyon certainly showed it struggled there.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Field Day 2009

Well I planned on camping with the motorhome at the Ontario County Park at Gannett Hill, some 2000 feet up, operating my Iconm 706MKIIG with a Buddipole, either on battery power or on regular power.

We arrived there, I set the motorhome up, we had lunch, my wife was comfy, reading her book then taking a nap and I was setting up the Buddipole when I saw water leaking out to the motorhome. The site did not have water, so I was depending on the water tank and it was leaking. I decided that the safest think for us to do, was to return home. Which we did.

By then, it was past dinner time and I was tired and hungry. We fed our seven dogs (who were with us in the motorhome) and had dinner. I was too tired to do anything with radios, so it was up to bed.

Turned out that this was Radar's (my 9-11 SAR dog) last camping trip with us too. I did not know it at the time, but I'm glad he managed to be again at a place he really liked. And Chip, my first SAR dog also had his last camping trip at Ontario County Park, a place he loved too, so while not planned, these two dogs really followed each other's footsteps.


On Sunday, I decided to just operate my home station, I was really not in the mood to do much of anything, so I worked some stations on RTTY, BPSK-31 and phone, 40m, 20m and even 15m. Nothing to howl about. I was just trying to take it easy and have some fun, no pressure to compete or get any major results. I took many breaks, my wife and I also did some planning for our coming summer trip, so it was not a total wash of a day, but that leak sure put a damper on my Field Day.

I also finally made the decision that the Buddipole antenna is not for me. I learned a lot using it and it was fun. It is a very well made product but I need something that is easier to set up and just as efficient if not more. So I ordered a TransWorld Backpacker antenna and will give it a try as soon as it gets here. I hope to be using it on our trip. Since we'll be staying in some places just overnight, a quick setup time is of utter importance and so is the changing of bands. It seems that the TransWorld Backpacker will do just that for me. I can't wait till its here. And next year, I hope to use it on Field Day!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DXCC progress

May 20th, 2009

The mail just came and with it a QSL card from Niger, my 39th DX QSL card. Adding to that 61 other LoTW DX entities, I now qualify for the DXCC award! All I have to do is sort the cards, fill-in the paperwork and mail it and the cards to the ARRL and wait for their approval etc. I hope the wait will not be too long.

Guess what, I could not wait any further and applied on line to have the 61 LoTW credited, sorted my cards, printed out my application and mailed the whole kit and kaboodle via Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation to the ARRL.


May 22nd, 2009

I just saw that my letter with the DXCC application and 39 cards has arrived this morning at the ARRL offices in Newington CT. Delivery Confirmation is a great service for such matters. Now I have to hope I sorted the cards right and that everything else will be ok.

June 10th, 2009

Checking on the ARRL's website it looks as if I have an 8 weeks wait at least. As of now, they are working on the applications received by April 10th. Nothing else to do but wait patiently. Meanwhile more LoTW came in and they are more than welcomed of course. The DXCC is just one goal almost achieved, but eventually, I have my sights on the Honor Roll.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Birds visiting our feeders

Thanks Kim, Olivia and Steve for the new bird feeders that have attracted so many beautiful birds to our deck!



Downy woodpecker (male)



Rose-breasted grossbeak (male)



Hairy woodpecker (male)



Brown-headed cowbird (female)



Red-bellied woodpecker (male)



Yellow finch (male)



Brown-headed cowbird (male)



Downy woodpecker (male)



Purple finch (male)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Some interesting ham videos

Herman Munster Calling CQ


This is not exactly me but at least he's using phone, and a radio far more advanced than the one below:


Spark Gap Transmitter - Ham Radio


Holy smokes, you could very well say that as the fumes of ozone can be quite overbearing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cushcraft MA5B back up

Well, it took some time, for the weather to break and for me to get all the parts I needed, have a plan on how to get the antenna back up, prepared all I thought I needed to do then have Steve up here to give me a hand, well I think he did most and I gave him a hand. Anyhow. it all went according to plan till one small part snapped... But between both of us, we overcame that difficulty and even strengthened the mast by inserting parts of the old one into the new one. The mast went up and then the antenna. By then winds had picked up. Well I live near the top of a hill... Finally all got done and off the roof we went.

Back down there, I took out my trusty Brunton SAR compass and checked the antenna alignment. I could not do that accurately from the garage roof as I was too close. Well on the lawn I found that we were off by about 2 degrees on a +/- 2 degrees compass. I believe that this will not be a problem at all. Heck, my rotator program is not that accurate either...

Well, down to my shack where I tried the Cushcraft. Well, it works just as good as before. Even got a new one, Cyprus, almost immediately.

What makes a ham very happy? A good antenna working up there sure does!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

QSO with LU4GW from Trelew Argentina

Sometimes a short QSO in a contest becomes much more meaningful than a few more points or a multiplier. This happened to me with the short contest QSO with LU4GW, Jorge Omar Gallego from Trelew, Argentina. This was not my first QSO with Argentina, but it rang a bell. Trelew, I remember the name of that town! Why? As a child, been raised in France, I read books by Antoine de Saint Exupery and especially my favorite, Vol de Nuit or Night Flight in English. And Saint Ex wrote about Trelew in this book, a wonderful passage that I believe inspired me in becoming an amateur radio operator, years later, many years later. It is just after that LU4GW QSO that it all came into perspective. I found this passage on the web, did not like the English translation they had so I translated it on my own.


==================

Commodorio Rivadavia doesn't hear a thing anymore, but a thousand kilometers from there and twenty minutes later, Bahia Blanca catches a second message.
"-descending... Entering clouds".
followed by two words in an undecipherable text arriving at the post of Trelew:
"-Seeing nothing..."
That's shortwave. You hear it over there, but here we remain deaf. And then, for no reason, everything changes.
This crew whose location is unknown, already appears to the living as out space and time and the blank sheets of the radios logs seem to have already been written by ghosts.
Have they run out of fuel or does the pilot play his last hand to the breakdown: finding the ground without crashing?
The voice from Bahia Blanca orders Trelew:
"-Ask him"

The wireless radio listening post looks like a laboratory with nickel, copper, gauges and a network of wires. The night watch operators in white shirts are silently bend like over a simple experiment. With their dainty fingers they touch the controls and search the magnetic sky like dowsers of a gold-lode.
-"No answer?"
-"No answer!"
Perhaps they are going to pick up a sound that might be a sign of life. If the aircraft and its running lights climbed towards the stars they could possibly hear the chant of that star. Seconds pass, really flowing like blood. Are they still flying? Every second reduces the chance. The flow of of time seems to becomes destructive. Just as twenty centuries, affect a temple, make its mark in the granite and transform the temple into dust and here, centuries of usage conglomerate in each second to threaten the crew.
Every second takes something away. Fabien's voice, Fabien's laughter, his smile. The silence is gaining ground. An increasingly deep silence, falling on this crew like the weight of a sea. Then somebody notices: "One hour forty. Last drop of fuel; it's impossible that they are still flying".

And peace sets...

A taste of bitterness and insipidity surges to the lips, like the end of a journey. Something comes to an end, of which we know nothing, something rather distasteful. And the same gloominess that hangs in closed factories can be felt among the nickel and copper veins. All this equipment seems heavy, useless and abandoned: the weight of dead branches.
All that's left is waiting for dawn.
In several hours all of Argentina will emerge in daylight and these people remain here like on a shore with a net that is pulled, ... slowly pulled, and nobody knows what the catch will be.


===================

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

K9 work and visual mantracking assignment

We had a local search yesterday, about 2.3 miles from my home. It all started with an MVA early in the morning and the driver and passenger missing. The passenger was soon found near-by, the driver eluded LE. I got called at 0545 and was on the road at 0615. My first two assignments were K9 assignments, working Stryder, who did his regular thorough job. My first assignment was to check the south boundary of the local golf course, to see whether that perimeter had been breached. While not in the immediate PLS area, I like to know the subject is still contained in the search area so checking the golf course made sense to me, especially since I would have been able to see tracks on the frosty short lawn and Stryder was nosing the woods in the perimeter. I worked alone with Stryder,but safety was not a major concern as I had good communications and was within sight of houses, one of which was our son's...

My next assignment was to check an area close to the PLS. This time I worked with two firefighters and Stryder. Again, the area was empty but we found one house on the Seneca Turnpike that had a truck, keys in the ignition, in the driveway and the house and barn were open. Stryder did not indicate any more than he would in a normally inhabited area, so I had no reason to work inside a place that is actually lived-in, but the owners were not on location. I did report it to command and the decision was to have the house checked by LE.


I got the next assignment before I could debrief from the second one. A grid team found a track that they believed could be relevant to the search. It was urgent for me to see the track as it was in or on ice and the ice was melting fast. So off I went to see the find.

The team did a good job preserving the sign and once discovered, made as little damage as possible to facilitate my work. I saw the print, agreed that time-wise it fit the picture as it had been made while the ice was thick, overnight, and not during the day when it melted to almost nothing or nothing. That track did not contain any sole information to be drawn, but I could make my measurements and it fit what we had been told the missing person might be wearing. I then proceeded to find more tracks and found sign, setting my tracking stick to both shoe size and stride, then step-by-step, tying the first visible track to another one the grid team had found and flagged. Here too, the heel shape was visible but not the sole pattern. Simply, at night the ground surface had a hard freeze and patterns would not be left for me. Even what now was muddy and a beautiful track trap showed little, no patterns but breaking of twigs, coloration changes on sticks, soil transfer etc. were my friends.

Now I was working the ONLY clue that we had all day. No other trained mantrackers were present. The question of whether to work with others, untrained firefighters or by myself. Well, safety was not a concern I was close to houses and other teams. I also train for mantracking by myself and only occasionally do it with a team, so I decided that I would search as I train and not have the added burden of managing a team and teaching them on-the-job. I thought about Joel and how he did that in Australia, but first, I'm no Joel and second, in Oz Joel needed any help he could muster. At this time, I felt I was doing well by myself. I took quick but frequent eye-breaks to let my eyes last longer. When working in a team of three, you kind of do that on your own, while the two others are working, but here, I had only my two eyes and needed to make them last. Funny, every time I had trouble locating the next step, I could hear Joel's voice telling me the track has to be at the end of my stick, and there evidently it was! After working this sign for over an hour, the sheriff's helo decided to check me out, and hovered over me for a while. I took a break and thought that I'm not advancing the line of sight fast enough and could do better. Well, I flagged the last sign I had worked step-by-step (marked a waypoint on my GPS too) and now started looking a little farther ahead, three to five steps, hoping to see the sign. Having worked step-by-step for over an hour, I had now an idea of the rhythm the footsteps fell, the kind of sign to expect on wet areas as well as on drier ones etc. I could now relatively easily see the sign ahead and so I advanced to that sign and started all over again. This worked like sending a cutting team a little and at an angle, ahead of the team working the sign and I always could go back to where I had sure, step-by-step sign and do it over. I never strayed out of sight of the last known track. That method worked well for me and I worked 800 feet to 1000 feet, perhaps more as the track was quite a serpentine but the GPS did not show it as such. I may need to increase my setting for visual mantracking from a point every 5 yards to a point every yard.

The one problem with that track was that while I could say it was made by the same person, at the right time frame, I could not say it was our guy, as I had no way to tie the track to the footwear the missing person might be wearing (other than size, but that is not enough). Help was on the way though, in the form of a well trained trailing K9 Maya and her handler Kyle.

Kyle has collected a scent article and now Maya would be able to tell us whether the track I followed was the right one. Maya said no, wrong person, so I ended my assignment there. I believe the track lead to a near-by cabin, but since it is on private property, I probably will never know for sure.

Stryder, my air-scenting dog was with me for this entire assignment, as I did not want to leave him in the truck for that long. He adapted so well, waiting until I got almost out of sight, then I called him, stopped him before my last known track where he waited for me to call him again.

We also deployed an air scenting dog team ahead of my location, as I told command I would be able to discern between the fresh tracks and the older ones, ones made when the ground was frozen solid and one ons the fresh meltdown.

Monday, March 23, 2009

More maps for my Garmin GPS units

I have lately been experimenting with a slew of new maps for Garmin GPS units. The first one I added was the NY State Snowmobile trail map layer http://www.gpssledmaps.com/maps/ny.php . Here are two examples:




The layer is completely transparent and can be seen on top of any map. Snowmobile trails are very twisty and windy and in the field, you never know where they will lead you. Now with this layer, I know and this may be a real factor in some search in the future. Good to have and if distracting, the layer can always be turned off on the GPS.

Topo maps, 1:24ooo were not, so far available as Garmin GPS maps for NY State. No longert true. http://www.gpsfiledepot.com/maps/view/111 Here is a sample and comparison:



While the contour lines are better than ever, and the road data is much more up-to-date, wetlands are missing. But then they are available on Topo 2008, so now I have both layers on my GPS. But you can only access one at a time. So I use whatever gives me what I need most where I currently am walking.

Road maps: Till now you had to shell a good sum for a mapset that was good for use only on a single GPS unit. Well go here http://www.gpsfiledepot.com/maps/view/19/ and get yourself a road map set that is quite good. Some areas are not covered and do not expect turn-by-turn directions, but you can have quite a large area on your 2GB card.

Finally, if you want or need topo maps for Canada, here is a free source: http://www.ibycus.com/ibycustopo/






Not all sets are complete and some are updated every so often, so check each site again from time to time. There are more free maps available for various purposes and locations. But this is just a sample of what is available and what might be useful if you are in NY State or the north east part of the US.

Here are directions on how to switch between maps on your Garmin 60CSx GPS
http://www.miscjunk.org/mj/mp_mapset.html

Here are directions on how to load maps on your GPS:
http://www.gpsfiledepot.com/tutorials/how-to-load-maps-on-my-garmin-gps-unit/

If you don't have a copy of Mapsource, go here:
http://www.gpsfiledepot.com/tutorials/how-to-install-mapsource-if-it-didnt-come-with-your-gps/



Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cushcraft MA5B down

Well, yesterday as I was about to go out with some family members, I looked at my Cushcraft MA5B and noticed it was about 20-30 degrees off the vertical. The damage must have been very recent as I did look at the antyenna the day before and it was fine. I went in the back of the house to have a better look at the problem and it was the mast that had suffered wind damage: metal fatigue somewhere above the last anchoring point. Luckily I had Steve, our son-in law around and we both climbed up on the garage roof and took the antenna down. It was also lucky that we had almost no snow on the roof, but for one corner, of course near the antenna. It was a windy day though and we could hear the wind gusts coming up our way. So between gusts, and with a good dose of luck we took the antenna down. No damage was caused to the antenna, but the mast will need to be replaced with a stronger thus heavier one. I will also need another anchoring point to make the entire system even stiffer. My anchoring points to the house showed no sighns of wear though and that is good. I do live near the top of the hill, by a gully where wind is coming up and is gusting so I'll need to take that into account.

I still have my Cobra-Ultra lite which I was using for 40-160 so now it will get used on all bands. It is not as good an antenna as the Cushcraft MA5B so I'll be looking for materials for the mast and putting it back up as soon as the weather allows. See you on the bands!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SAR K9 Training with Eagle Valley

Training with Eagle Valley is always interesting. Many different problems are offered. In this instance Stryder, coming back after a bout with an enlarged prostate and thus getting neutered, started working on three simple human remain problems and did an excellent job. Remarks that I got were that Stryder seemed in very good shape and was ever so happy to work. He had good finds and refind and was ready for more, which he soon got, as in a slightly larger area and again he excelled in all parts of the exercise. The last hide was cut short as I needed to go back to the classroom to get ready for my presentation on GPS, this time mostly forcussed on the Garmin 60CSx.

Later on Stryder had a building problem. We used the dorm building and trailers, all used and heated so the scent picture was quite complex and there was a lot of residual scent from a previous hide spreading around. Stryder showed some frustration but I could still read him as he did not have a strong source of scent, and in the trailer where I figured by his behavior the person was hiding, he even showed more frustration, as he could not find the exact location of the person hiding, so I took him out of the direct scent cone, then he went back and indicated, but he never saw Jana, the subject behind the shower curtain, the scent coming down along the wall, yet trusted his nose and he was right as it brought him within inches of the unseen subject. It was interesting for me to watch and see him work the problem out. Actually I now realize that Stryder has had very little previous building search experience and none in lived-in buildings, so for a first experience, it was indeed a very good performance.

While all that was going on, I also deployed my APRS system consisting of the Yaesu VX-8 and the Kenwood TH-D7ag and Garmin 60CSx GPS. THis was the first time this system was depolyed not at home and it worked well, although I was never too far from base. I did not activate my Kenwood TM-D700 to repeat the signals as there was no APRS digi within range. Hopefully one of these days I'll be in range of such a digi.

We ended the day by following an urban trail in the village of Hanckock. Long trail, with many curve balls thrown by the fickle nature of scent and conditions.

I skipped dinner with the team as I had to drive home and did not want to drive tired and late at night.

DXCC progress

Well, it was time to have a look at my logs as I noticed that I have 55 confirmed entities with ARRL's Log of the World (LoTW). In addition, I have QSL cards for another 20 entities, so I'm three quarters of the way there in confirmed entities.

Checking my logs, I found another 28 entities so now I'm busy printing envelopes and filling-in the cards so hopefully, I will get replies and will be able to submit my claim for the DXCC, award for contacts with one hundred different entities and/or countries in the world.

The ARRL DX Century Club Program

Once I get enough cards back to complete 100 entities, I will have to take them to a Field Checker to continue the application process.

UPDATE

Well the cards are slowly coming in. Seven were waiting for me upon returning from the trip to Panama. Then three more came on different days, and today three came together. One of the card I got was a return, addressee not known, but upon checking with QRZ, it appeared there was a problem with the PO.Box, so this card is back on its way to San Marino.

So for April 2nd, I have now 56 entities on LoTW, and 31 cards in hand for a total of 87 entities. Thirteen more to go and seventeen cards sent out that have not come back yet.

Well we are now May 10th and the score has improved but not yet there. I currently have 59 LoTW entities and 38 cards in hand, for a total of 97 confirmed entities. Three more to go...

May 14th, I'm getting closer yet with one more LoTW entity, so now it is 60 LoTW and 38 cards in hand... I worked a Grenada station on RTTY and this one is a LoTW user so I was really hoping to get a QSL. Well, it worked and now whether the card I sent for a previous contact in Grenada ever comes back is more academic, although I'd like to have it anyhow.

Well, I'll be giving preference to LoTW users by using programs such as LUQ which identify them and they will become just as attractive as rare DX stations. While the DXCC is a goal I'm about to achieve, I see it now only as a stepping stone to things bigger and better.

May 20th. I just got another LoTW confirmation, this time for Kenya so now I stand at 61 LoTW and 38 cards in hand for a total of 99 confirmed DXCC entities. Oh the wait for number 100 is going to be long...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Made contact with K5D, DX expedition on Desecheo Island


February 13. 2009
Made contact with the K5D DX expedition over there.



Desecheo Island is located off Puerto Rico. It is a nature preserve and the Fish and Wildlife authorities don't allow people in there, so this DX expedition is a rare occasion to make contact with that particular location. It also gives me another entity towards my DXCC award given for confirmed contacts with at least 100 overseas entities and countries. Desecheo is the 6th most-needed DXCC entity world-wide! The 3rd most-needed DXCC entity in Europe! And the 2nd most-needed DXCC entity in Asia! So although it is not a very long distance call, 1,777 miles, it is an important contact for me. If you want to learn more about this DX expedition check out their webpage: http://www.kp5.us/

I worked my Icom 756ProIII, which is my main HF radio.


And here is a close up of the display.

Now the operator of the Desecheo Island station K5D was operating on a split frequency, meaning he was transmitting on 18.145 MHz but listening anywhere between 18.150 to18.160, or 5 to 10 up in the ham lingo. The trick is to find what frequency K5D is actually listening to so you can tranmit on that particular frequency and make the call. Of course you need to also listen to his transmit frequency. Most HF radios allow you to do that but the Icom 756ProIII not only has a split mode, it has a dual watch which allows me to listen to two frequencies at a time. Yes, it takes some getting used to figure it out in your head, but it is like fishing , you need patience and slowly move the dial to where the large mountain is, where there is a lot of transmissions. Then you need to find the match between the station calling and K5D answering to that station. Now all you can do is hope a stronger station with n amplifier and a huge antenna is not going to walk over your own transmission. Patience and luck do it! I was very lucky and got through almost immediately after I found the listening frequency.

On the display, the white line by the "m" in spectrum indicates the frequency K5D is transmitting one and the red line the frequency I am transmitting on. Each hump indicates activity on that part of the band.

And below is the log excerpt of K5D showing the contact that I made. Now I'll try to make additional contacts in different bands.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kenwood TM-D700 digipeating my Yaesu VX-8

While I'm very happy with my new Yaesu VX-8, I have noticed that even with an antenna better than the OEM, I rarely get my APRS signal into the local digipeaters. Well, today, that problem got solved. I set my truck's Kenwood TM-D700 to digipeat the VX-8 and it worked perfectly. Yes, I had a little path duplication that is now taken care of, but now the signal flow nicely. Of course, the purists will see a runner going quite faster than humans can, but with today's weather (rain and wet snow), I simply used it from inside the truck.

I now have a working system for SAR or other purposes where my VX-8 signal is digipeated by my truck and can be picked up by my Kenwood TH-D7ag/Garmin CSx at base etc. I can even leave the D7 on its charging stand and not worry about batteries going down.

The next step? Connecting the D7 to my laptop.






I've also noticed that I prefer having the GPS affixed to my radio and not use the remote mike. The package is much more compact without the dangling mike, with the GPS in a place where sooner or later it will get banged hard. In addition, APRS needs to be supervised to look for messages, etc., so I have to look at the display anyhow. For now my VX-8 is configured as in the second picture.


So what can you learn about me through APRS? Well below is a Google map you can access through the links of this blog. It will not always be the same map, depending on where I went and if I turned the system on. But here it is. You may notice that the lines do not do right on the roads. This is simply because they join points taken at two minutes interval, if there was reception and do not show exactly where my truck went. Being a Google map, you can also flick it to the satellite picture, well the real think, not the screen dump I put here.

And finally, you can see the data, mainly the last coordinates, the date and time, first and last heard and the location details.

Try it, either on this blog or on my website.

Saturday, February 7, 2009







The red track was taken with my Garmin 60CSx and the blue one with my Garmin Oregon 400i. I was walking my dog. He was off lead and stopped a few times, well, he's a boy and needs to leave his business cards around... So I did have to make a few about faces in motion, just to check on him. I think those about faces show better in the Oregon track, but while I walked at night without a light, I don't think I was as jittery as the blue track shows me to have been. OTOH, I don't think I was as smooth as the red track. I tried walking in the middle of the road. As you can see, both tracks show me a little to the side, both being equally wrong, but by how much? The scale bar shows 300 feet! This is a narrow road where two vehicles can pass, but with care. So we are talking about a few feet, maybe ten or so. To me, both tracks are acceptable. Both GPS units were tracking with the same setup, by distance, a point every

Friday, January 23, 2009

Antenna connectors and creme brulee

And when is a solder joint on a coax cable going to fail? Of course in the harshest period of winter, with at least a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures in single digits at mid-day!

And how do you solder a connector that can't be taken off the antenna without taking the entire antenna down? Well, I waited for a day that was not windy and no snow was in the forecast for that day either. I got my lightweight aluminum stepladder out on the deck, set after having cleared most of the snow climebed up but the connector was still out of reach. Luckily my mast is set so I can lower it, at least to some degree by just releasing a few clamps. Easier said than done in those temperatures. Well, now I can reach the connector, but how can I solder it? My soldering iron is 25w at most, and that certainly won't cut it in a single digits environment. And bringing it up with an extension cord, on an aluminum ladder set on snow remnants? Not too smart, electrically speaking.

Then came the idea! A few years ago, my wife made creme brulee and all that was needed was to caramelize the topping. Much to my wife's horror, I brought my blowtorch and did my deed, without putting the kitchen on fire, which was what my wife had feared then. Later on we were given a mini-blowtorch, to be used uniquely for creme brulee...

Soldering with a blowtorch is something I reserve for plumbing jobs, not for coax connectors. But the mini blow torch might perhaps do the job. I gave it a try and within seconds, I had a nice shiny solder connection made, SWR was back to normal and all was for the best! No apparent damage was done to the plastic shield. I guess the air temperature was working for me at that point.

So here it is, without the sweet smell of the creme brulee and without the acrid smell of burnt plastic too!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Comparing sensors in a Garmin Oregon 400i, a Garmin 60CSx and the Yaesu VX-8

My house temperature was 65-66 degrees when I turned on my VX-8 and the sensor registered 77 degrees. Later on it got to 82 degrees. Well, that's the temperature inside the VX-8 so I guess some energy is converted to heat, and I was not transmitting. So all I can say, the VX-8 would make a dismal rectal thermometer... But if you want to know how hot it is in the unit, well I guess the number is in the ballpark.

Altitude:
I compared three instruments, a Garmin 60CSx GPS, a Garmin Oregon 400i and the VX-8. I looked at both GPS and barometric altitudes.


Barometric altitude
GPS altitude
Garmin 60CSx 1072
1069
Oregon 400i
1081
1079
Yeasu VX-8
1092
1030

Measurements were taken in a single location (my living room) at about the same time, meaning very little change in the GPS constellation. The Garmin units show consistency and a difference of 9-10 feet. The VX-8 is in the ballpark but the GPS altitude is not as good. According the the topo map the altitude is 1055. Since I was not in the basement, maybe I need to add 8-10 feet or so and the map contour lines definitely predate the house...

My conclusion is not to try to land a plane using any of these three instruments only... Otherwise, gosh, it is good enough for me.

I also checked the GPS' precision in location and here the news are excellent! The table below shows the decimal part of the minutes in both longitude and latitude numbers, all in WGS 84 datum.

Garmin Oregon 400i and 60CSx
Yaesu VX-8
,758
.765
.878
.874

Now, this is only anecdotal data, a single measurement in the comfort of my living room, not taken in any extreme type of weather and conditions. But for me it is good enough.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Balloons, balloons!

Balloons are fun! Fun to blow with the pump and fun to release!

Drew takes the lead!



Geoff, balloonist par excellence!



Olivia, the balloonist's apprentice!