Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Domain!

I've decided it's time to add a little flexibility. I've got a new domain and you can find me at I'm still working on integrating the new blog so for now you can follow the continued ramblings at Hope you enjoy the new look.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's Aliiiiive...Pt 2 (or so)

On Thursday I ordered an OpenTracker+ from Argent Data System. I couldn't believe it with yesterday being Good Friday but it arrived in the mail today. From CA no less!

It took me about an hour to assemble. I realized after I'd already connected it to my FT-8800 that I hadn't done a power check of the IC socket. Whoops. Oh well. I didn't let any smoke out.

Seems to be working like a champ. I only configured it for a quick smoke test. As you can see below I have a mixed status. This image actually shows the last update from my TinyTrak. However, it's added the comment I put in to indicate it's coming from the OT+. I guess it just appended it to an existing entry. That sort of surprised me but it does seem to be working.

OpenTracker Initial Update

I'll put the radio in the unit in the truck tomorrow to see if it tracks like it's supposed to. I really hope this unit works with the M120 since I still haven't been able to get the TinyTrak to work with it.

One thing about soldering so close to bedtime is that I think I'll sleep good. :-P

I also did a little work on the rotator issue. I pulled the Hy-Gain Ham IV rotator that I have and put connectors on the cable coming out of the rotator and a small section of cable to the controller. I powered it on and it buzzes when I hit the break release but nothing seems to move when I try to turn it either direction. I'll have to play with it more tomorrow. I was too anxious to put the OT together so I didn't troubleshoot it any.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cookin' with Fire!

There are a few repeaters in town that I have a difficult time hitting with any consistency. I've had good success for the most part with my Diamond X300 vertical but for repeaters in other counties I struggle. I decided it was time to make a change.

On the way home from work today I stopped by a friend's and bought a Cushcraft 4-element 2M beam from him. I threw it up on a 20' portable mast and actually guessed the right bearing for the main repeater I was after. I was surprised when I put the compass on it and realized I was right on the money.

Cushcraft  124WB

I dropped the power on my FT-8800 to low power (5W) and called another buddy that lives closer to the repeater to give me a radio check. On 5W both transmit and receive were pegging the meters! I'm thrilled. Such a simple solution and the problem is solved.

The next step is to affix the mast so it's not just bungie corded to the eaves. :-) I also need to put a rotator on it to get the full use of it. Of course both of these mean getting in the attic to run cable and it's already too hot for that. Not sure when I'm going to get around to it now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cruising Along

I've made some more headway on the Linux/Amateur Radio front. Now I have Xastir running on the desktop and I'm picking up stations. Well, I'm sort of cheating I suppose. I don't have a TNC so I'm using internet feeds. At least it's a step in the right direction though. Once I get either the TinyTrak4 or perhaps an OpenTracker+ running I'll have true APRS capabilities.

Xastir Image

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Think I Got It

I had a moment of lucidity this afternoon over lunch. I think I realized why the placement of the nylon washer had such an effect on the Arrow antenna. I believe that fact that when it's placed on the bottom where I had it the isolation between the feedpoint and the rest of the bracket throws things out of whack. At least that's what I'm going with. :-P

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Sweet Smell of Success

I haven't been able to use Echolink since I made the switch from Windows to Linux. I've been bummed out about it since I used to be on Echolink running a weekly net for about two years and then I got in this huge dry spell. I downloaded Echolinux but never really got around to trying it out. The more I read about it the less appealing it became.

Well, today I'm working on a presentation on radio direction finding and wanted to take a break. It's raining so I can't do the things in the yard I need to (like move the VHF beam antennas on the ground so our new puppy doesn't hurt himself on them). Instead I decided to see if Echolink works under WINE.

I'm happy to report that it DOES! I not only successfully connected to the test server to configure my audio but also had my first Linux-based Echolink QSO. I connected to our local node and chatted briefly with our District Emergency Coordinator and got a good signal report. I guess I did a good job of setting up my headset. He was a little weak, though, so I need to see about increasing my receive audio. I'm very happy to have it working again.

Echolink in Linux

The previous screenshot shows Echolink running with the Ubuntu 9.10 desktop behind it. You can see there is a station list on the right and the audio is active at the bottom.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

River Cleanup & A New Antenna

Today we (Duval County ARES) did another special event with the City of Jacksonville. It was the 2010 St Johns River Celebration Cleanup. There were about 20 sites around the city where volunteers gathered to collect trash and debris from the parks and waterways. It's a fun event and gives our radio operators the chance to get out and about.

I was net control with a new operator assisting me. Things got off to sort of a rocky start. We weren't sure where to setup first off. I'm usually at one of the cleanup sites and not net control. The event coordinator hadn't communicate where I was to setup so I went with what the park foreman told me when I arrived. We set everything up and started doing initial checkins. Many people were still en route so I decided to wait about 15 minutes.

During the waiting period the event coordinator arrived and said I was in the wrong place. No big deal. I just announced to everyone on frequency that I'd be offline while we relocated. Since the event covers the entire city I decided to use two repeaters to give everyone the best chance of making contact. The secondary repeater was UHF. This posed a problem to me as most of our work is done on 2M and I didn't have a dual-band antenna.

This wasn't really a big deal as I was withing spitting distance of both and could've easily used my HT but I wanted to use my FT-8800 go-box since it's more geared to net control usage. I'd been wanting to build a knock off of the Arrow Antennas j-pole but haven't had time. The materials are in the garage but the opportunity hasn't presented itself. Instead I took advantage of HRO's close location and ordered one that arrived the next day. I assembled it last night but couldn't check it out because my MFJ analyzer batteries were dead.

On location I put the new Arrow on the 14' telescoping pool handle that serves as my portable mast I always keep it in the toolbox of my truck. I mounted it to a railing away from any metal and ran a 50' section of RG-8 to the room we moved to. I couldn't get the SWR below 3.5. I tried a different piece of coax (RG-8X) and it was worse. Keep in mind that I still hadn't gotten back to the net checkins and time was wasting. Well, as it turns out our UHF repeater was offline. Now what? Well, I picked another VHF repeater and put out the word via my HT to use that.

The good news is that I had my standard deployment antenna, the EE-3, with me. I put that on the same mast, in the same location, with the same coax, and read 1.5! Once we were back on the air the event flowed very smoothly.

EE-3 Antenna

Over the course of the event the volunteers collected over 1200 bags of trash and all sorts of items that shouldn't be disposed of around our lakes and parks such as couches, TVs, used motor oil, etc. After the event everyone was invited to Metro Park to enjoy a free lunch and entertainment.

Net Control Station

When I got home I decided to investigate the high SWR issue and was surprised with what I found. As I reviewed the assembly instructions again I noticed that the nylon washer that was supposed to be on top of the feedpoint connection was on the bottom.

Incorrect Washer Placement

I really didn't see how how the location could matter. Top or bottom it seems to me that the measurements would still be the same. However, the SWR was definitely showing a problem. (Sorry for some of the blurry shots. The macro feature on my camera quit working for some reason.)

High SWR

I disassembled and reassembled per the instructions and was shocked.

Proper Washer Placement

That fixed the problem! I still can't figure out why but I can't argue with the meter.

Perfect SWR!

I guess I'll just accept that the placement of the washer is critical and move on. Here's a close-up of the antenna after the proper assembly.

Arrow J-Pole

And the total deployment on the bed of my truck.

J-Pole deployed in truck

All in all not a bad day. Had a great event and figured out the source of my problem. If only every day were like this one!