Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fay...The Aftermath

Well, we staffed the shelters for the third day yesterday. I was busy as the Acting Emergency Coordinator so I didn't spend a lot of time trying to jot stuff down for the blog. Friday was definitely the worst for us as the storm headed west right on top of us. It dumped a lot of rain and we had some really crazy flooding. I don't know why people insist on driving through heavily flooded areas. There were several cars completely covered by water.

We did pretty good as an ARES group. The Red Cross kept us hopping as they would close shelters and not necessarily tell us. We started with 10 shelters and dropped to 7. Out of those we kept 5 staffed with radio operators almost for the duration. In all honesty, though, I'm disappointed that out of over 80 members it was the same handful of folks staffing for all three days. Nobody offered to provide relief. On Wed and Thur we had 40 and 38 net check-ins respectively. Out of that many people you would think somebody would be willing to step up and lend a hand so someone else could have a break.

We also lost some operators due to their own issues at home, work, etc. I'm very proud to say that we even had a non-ham friend of one of our operators take her place when she had to leave. He just monitored the radio she left behind and would get on the phone to make his reports to the EOC.

I had two great net controllers operating from the EOC. All of the radio operators did a fine and professional job. I was proud of everyone.

I'll post some pics from our neighborhood and our own backyard when I get them off the camera. I did have a large limb come down from the pine tree that hit the feedline to my dipole. I think it's still connected but I haven't checked it out yet. I also lost one small piece from my Hustler vertical.

This is the weather over and around Jacksonville at 10:34 Friday.


This is a few hours later at 2:44.


I guess we fared ok. I did learn some things for the next activation, though. I need to have a dedicated go bag/box to hold all of my ham gear. It takes too much time gathering everything up and packing it. I need duplicates of things that I would use for home and emergencies so I don't have to take things from home and try to get them back after the event is over. For example, I need FRS radios that are only used for activations instead of the ones I use around the house. The same for coax, test equipment, battery chargers, phone chargers, etc. I spent too much time grabbing things from the house, from the truck, from here, from there.

Hopefully I'll have time before the next activation comes. We'll see. There was already another storm brewing on the heels of Fay.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Emergency Configuration

I decided it would be prudent to test my emergency antenna setup in the event that I lose the dual-band off the chimney due to high winds. The more I use it the more I'm in love with the EE-3 antenna from Evans Engineering. This thing is so simple and it works like an absolute dream.

Here's an image of my dual-purpose radio. It's configured as a go-box but is also used as my home installation. If the need arises I simply unplug the coax, put the lid on, and run out the door. I'm using a Yaesu FT-8800 with a 10AH 12V battery and MFJ ClearTone speaker. I rigged it with a switch so I can disable the speaker if I'm in a busy environment and just want to use phones. The phone jack is always enabled so I can use phones if I need to hear and cut the background noise but those around me also want to hear what's being passed.

You can see I've got the antenna sitting atop about a 2 1/2' piece of schedule 40 PVC. I cut a notch in the bottom to allow the cable to come out and the pipe can sit flush. I'm using my trusty ol' wood clamp to hold it in place. SWR is down at 1.2 and I can't ask for better than that. I did a radio check with the EOC and was full-quieting through the repeater but didn't make it even on 50W simplex. I guess I'll have to run the long cable outside if the antenna comes down.

TS Fay

After long last there's finally been some activity on the radio front. We're facing Tropical Storm Fay now and the Red Cross opened ten shelters yesterday.

It was a crazy day for me. I had received a report from a former Assistant Emergency Coordinator telling me that the antenna at one of our shelters had a high SWR. I talked to the Assistant Principal (our shelters are mostly schools) and she said they'd done some roof work and she couldn't see the antenna anymore. Well, I braved the rain and drove all the way across town only to read a 1.8. However, the operator that actually staffed the shelter got worse and worse. It turns out they moved the antenna and I'm figuring they didn't weather seal it as it changed the more it rained. I guess I'll have to get on the roof when this passes.

I finally made it to my own shelter about 2pm. I was pleased to see a 1.3. I was pretty much like a chicken with it's head cut off the whole day. The RC decided to staff 5 shelters with radio operators earlier than anticipated so I was left trying to find bodies. I still hadn't heard back from anyone from my previous email to get ready. It sure was crazy. I had the EOC on one freq, RC on another, admin contacts on another, and my phone all keeping me busy. Of course I was also dealing with the folks at the shelter.

I was quite happy when the RC decided to secure comms and sent all the operators home. It was nice to be in my own bed. :-D So today I'm just listening to the net waiting to see if they decide they need our assistance. We'll see. Maybe I'll have more info later. Stay safe!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Molasses in the Winter

That's how slow it's been on the radio front. It just seems like so much other stuff keeps cropping up. I still haven't begun work on my SoftRock SDR and that's bummed me out.

I was really looking forward to the ARES meeting tonight and making some 2M antennas. We like to give the folks some practical exercises to keep them learning and involved. Unfortunately I've been sick the past few days. I stayed out of work again today but other than some stuffiness felt well enough to make it to the meeting. As luck would have it, though, I'd lost all track of time since I'm not in my normal routine and I was sitting on the couch when I realized the meeting was starting. :-(

Exciting, isn't it? That's about all I have to offer today. But I felt the blog needed an updated.

Monday, July 7, 2008

July 4th Wrap-Up

Thought I'd post more than I did from the campsite but it just didn't work out.

So far portable radio communication isn't working out too well for me. I did setup the go-box using my EE-3 antenna on the 12' pool pole about 6' off the ground. I was able to hit two repeaters but didn't hear any traffic.

I was disappointed again with the P1. No matter what I did I couldn't get the SWR down below 16. I tried adding another base rod but that had no effect. I got disgusted and pulled it down and replaced it with the Buddistick. Within minutes I was on the air at 1.6 SWR. Unfortunately the wife and kid got back from the shower and dinner was ready before I could make some contacts. I did hear some QSOs but that's about it.

I'd hoped to make some late evening contacts but the thunder and lightning was threatening so I pulled down the antennas. Of course as luck would have it we didn't get any rain. :-(

So far I'm feeling more confident about the Buddistick than I am the P1. I still have to give it some more tests but I don't feel I can take the P1 out w/o an analyzer. I think if I get the taps set on the Buddistick I should be good to go. I'm looking for something to take hiking so I don't want to lug more than I have to.

Of course, this also means I need to pick up the 817 or 857. I don't see carrying my 718 out into the woods.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Camp set at Gold Head SP

As expected I got off work early but we left for camp late. We hit a little (hard) rain on the way down but the tarp protected stuff pretty well.

I had my first tick within 10 minutes and the chiggers are out. Should be fun. :-)

We got here too late to setup the radio. I'll do that in the morning and hopefully will be able to check in to SouthCARS. That'll be a good thing so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Well, we'll be hitting the FL Trail tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed that the wee lad manages ok.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Birthday Update

Well, things went well yesterday. Da boy kicked things off by calling me (with Mommy's help) and wishing me Happy Birthday. He's a sweet little bugger. When I got home the family went to dinner and back to our house for cake and gifts.

My wife took a cake decorating class and surprised me with a camping themed cake. I'll post a pic later but for now I'll just describe it: chocolate icing with green grass; graham cracker tent; pretzel/icing campfire; and two big pretzels and a fruit roll-up making the hammock. :-D It was pretty cool.

So how about the loot? I did pretty good.

Light My Fire Meal Kit (Red)
Light My Fire Spork XM (Lime Green)
GSI Telescoping Spatula
Basic Illustrated Camping
SAS Survival Handbook
Jetboil Pot Support
Jetboil Coffee Press
White 32oz Nalgene Bottle
1 can stove fuel
And $70 in Dick's gift cards!
I also got a cool little keychain flashlight that's actually a wind-up!

Of course I got the Katadyn the day before.

Time to go camping!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Birthday!

w00t! That's right, it's my birthday!

I don't have much to add that's radio-related, but I did get a nice gift in the mail yesterday. I opened it early because I thought it was something I'd ordered myself. When I cracked the tape, though, I saw that it was a Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter that my brother had sent me. This is going to be perfect (and very needed) when I make my end-of-summer hike through the Ocala National Forest in Sept. It's going to be hot and humid and water will be critical. This will ensure I'll be able to resupply the hydration bladder and water bottles when they run low.

I was so excited when I opened it I went right to work putting it together. I have to say it was very simple and went together quickly. However, there is a foam piece with a hole through it that I can't find any info about. I'm assuming it's another prefilter but I'll have to read some more. I don't recall seeing any mention of it in the documentation. The instructions do say to pump the handle a few times to wash out the carbon dust. Holy cow that was nasty. Oddly enough it was a milky white color instead of the black I expected.

Once assembled I went over to the retention pond behind my neighbor's house. Sure, I suppose there could be fertilizer runoff or whatever that the filter wouldn't protect me from, but I was anxious to give it a shot. The water was kind of brownish and I had to shoo a mallard away from my watering hole. :-) As I pumped the intake was stirring up the silt on the bottom. When I got back to the kitchen and checked the glass, it was crystal clear water that smelled fine. I drank a liter and I'm still here today so I guess it worked. I checked the filter and pre-filter and there was fine dirt/silt on it so it did it's job.

So my first impression is a good one. Looking forward to trying it out in a more natural setting this weekend. Thanks brother!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Field Day Revisited

Ok, so yesterday I decided to tackle Field Day again. I had the data cable problem resolved and figured I'd try the antenna test I'd planned for Saturday. First up was the Blue Star P1. I tuned up for 40M and spun the dial several times to no avail. The antenna was about 8' off the ground but this means it was still being blocked by the house to a good extent I'm sure. I retuned for 20M and got busy. I actually managed to make about 5 contacts. It was hard work, though. I should've had at least one more contact but we lost each other. I could him him calling for me but I was gone I guess.

After a bit of success with the P1 I switched over to the Buddistick. I was feeling lazy and wanted to be able to swap antennas so this wasn't really an apples to apples comparison. I put the Buddistick on the handle of my grill so it was much lower than the P1. I could hear stations but I didn't log a single contact on either band.

The jury is still out on which antenna is the better performer. The advantage of the P1 over the Buddistick is that it's got a coil for 60 and 80. However, my SWR on 80 yesterday was >25 no matter what I did. I'm going to drop them an email to see if they have any ideas. If I can't do 80M (this is pretty big for me since that's where our FL Phone Net is) I'll have to come up with another solution.

I hope to do a better test later this week as we head out camping again.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Field Day Fiasco

Well, where do I begin with what went wrong today? It all started when I got the our site and went to unload the generator. Having loaded it into the truck last night, I'd used my security cable to lock it to the bed. Apparently I left the key sitting on the aquarium by the door when I left this morning. I had to move the truck and ran the genny from the bed the whole day. At lease she cranked up easy and ran like a dream.

I won't even get into all of the various issues I had today swapping between different coax and antennas. I made a whopping one contact with my friend's Buddistick. Didn't make a single one on the P1. The rig was also seriously wigging out. My Z11 tuner would get a mind of its own every once in a while. The thing would tune, all the LEDs would light. It was insane. I damn near went crazy trying to get PSK31 working. Never did. It was the damndest thing. I connected the RIGBlaster PnP like I always do but I couldn't get a waterfall. Disconnect the input and there's the waterfall. I finally got it receiving (no idea what I did at that point) but while the PTT LED would light the rig never keyed. I gave up on digital after about an hour and decided to make it a voice station.

Ok, it's about time for some good news. We didn't have many kids show up. Regardless, the three that were there had a good time with our mini foxhunt. Unfortunately I didn't get to spend much time with them doing instruction since I was so focused on all of my own problems. I think it went off well enough that I'll try to have it again next year.

Back to the misery. Through all the mishaps I swear I had to look like a Keystone cop. I guess I just kept getting flustered and was making dumb mistake after dumb mistake. I swear that before Field Day even officially kicked off I was more than ready to throw in the towel and say "Screw it, I'm outa here." There was only one flaw with that logic. Go back to the first thing I mentioned. I had the generator and couldn't very well leave it and pick it up later. So I stayed.

At least we had a good time. The burgers and dogs were good. We even met a new friend from SC who was down visiting family and looked us up since he was missing his home club's event. Bob stayed with us all day and it was a pleasure to meet and get to know him ... even if he did give me a hard time like the rest of the gang. I won't hold it against him for long. :-)

I discovered one problem with my Z11. I believe I read where this is actually a common problem. The ground nut was very loose so I had to open it up and tighten it down from the inside. I also noticed my audio would go away at times. Turns out I might have a bad phone jack. Plugging phones into the 718 and removing it would whack it out. Tap the jack or insert/remove the phone jack again and the audio would return. Figures.

Summers in Florida usually have one thing in common year after year: thunderstorms. Today was no exception. About 3:30 or so the rumbles started and we decided to break down. We had the monster V to drop, the 20M rotating dipole, G5RV, Buddipole, and Buddistick along with 5 radios and all the paraphernalia that goes with Field Day. We hadn't quite finished wrapping everything up when the rain hit. As we huddled under the pavilion it hit hard. Then it got harder. The loudest, closet bolt of lightning I've ever experienced seemed to have hit right over our heads. It's not something I'd say I'd like to be in again. I wish I could've gotten a shot of the radar while this was going on but this after-shot will have to suffice. You can see it was still looking pretty nasty after I got home. We were stuck under the pavilion for at least an hour.

Alright, so maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I really wanted to figure out why I'd had so many problems with a configuration I've used before. I pulled everything out of the boxes and mounted things back in the shack. That's when I discovered what I believe is the source of all my woes today ... the data cable.

It would appear upon close examination that the data jack from the RIGBlaster to the 718 will fit both ways. There's an arrow on the jack which I put in the top position so I could see it. The jack fit fine. However, this would appear to be wrong. Comparing the pin layout with the rig jack, I had it upside down the whole time. I don't think I caused any problems or damaged the rig, but it sure as hell screwed me up. Tonight I've heard all the traffic I should've heard earlier. The rig is keying up with PSK31 as expected as well. The world seems to be right again.

I'll have to put the P1 and Buddistick back into service tomorrow to confirm my suspicions but for the moment I'm thinking that was it. I'm sick that I blew the entire day for such a simple, stupid problem. I guess that's what Field Day is for, though, right? I learned a valuable lesson if that has, indeed, fixed the issue.

And that's my Field Day '08. I was up late getting ready for the fiasco and I'm up later than I'd planned tonight. I'm going to bed.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Field Day Preps

Well, tonight I'll be putting the finishing touches on my preps for tomorrow. I need to top off the batteries and put new ones in the analyzer (can't find my stinkin' charger). I ran the generator a little bit the other night and she started on the 2nd pull. I'm looking forward to it.

We should be operating as 5A with the K4D special event call. Some of the guys are out at the park right now putting up some antennas but here I am at my stinkin' desk. Of course I don't have any work to do so I'm just twiddling my thumbs. And I just realized I didn't hand off the two 40M dipoles I have in my truck. Dagnabit.

Oh well, I'll be there early so we should be able to get them up w/o too much difficulty. Should be an interesting time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Go Box

Well, we had a go-box contest at last night's ARES meeting. I have to say I was impressed with my buddy Scott's setup. He rightfully deserved 1st place. I was happy to take 2nd, though. I was going to post pics but I realized they aren't current. I've made a nice mod that I need to get new pics of.

Other than that, not too much going on. I was surprised to see that Scott has the Buddistick which is what I was looking at buying instead of the P1. I'm hoping to try them both out this Saturday so I can do a comparison.

Looking forward to Field Day!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

P1 Success!!

Well, after long last I've finally managed to make contact with the new P1 antenna. I'm a bit disappointed that the 1.5 SWR I experienced when I set it up indoors climbed to about 5 outside. I'm not really sure why. I had the tuning sleeve all the way to the bottom, even added a third base rod, and still couldn't bring the SWR down. Oh well, the LDG Z-11 Pro tuner handled it without any problem.

I just barely missed the 9pm net with my buddies but got relayed in at the end. I have yet to be able to say (with any antenna) if I can hear it I can work it. I was hearing most of net control in TX but he never heard me. Fortunately, my buddy GT in South Carolina relayed me. I had good copy on him but lost him before I could get a signal report. Oh well. 40M wasn't so hot last night. Net control did come back and say that he had good copy on most of my last transmission to GT. I'll chalk it up as a success given that band conditions sucked.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get the SWR down with the 80M trap installed. I was really hoping to be able to check into the phone net but it didn't happen. I have an ARES meeting tonight so no radio fun for me on the air. I tried using both the 50' counterpoise that comes with the antenna as well as my #14 40M counterpoise but the SWR was high (20+). I'll have to monkey with it some more. I sure don't understand the reviews of people being on the air within 10 min. I must be slow or something. :-D

Regardless, I've got to get all the kinks worked out before Sat. I'd hate to show up for Field Day only to have problems. Well, at least I know I can work 40 and I can live with that. I do want to try it on 20M also.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Post Camping Follow-Up

Well, we survived. I meant to post an update last night but I guess after cleaning off the dirt and grime, unpacking, and everything else it slipped my mind. I have to say that even with the minor difficulties we experienced we had a great time and are already looking forward to our next adventure. It might be as soon as the 4th since it's a long weekend.

I got the tent cleaned up a little (at least it's dried out) but I need to go back and get the rest of the dirt off. I thought it was going to rain last night so I packed it up once it was dry. I also need to hit the rain fly and just go through everything to clean it up. The Coleman stove did a great job and I'm very impressed with how my GSI cookset worked. I do wish I'd been able to find a larger set locally but I just had to cut everything up. Even after fixing pancakes, two batches of eggs, and bacon one after the other it cleaned up mighty fine.

I don't know why but the antenna analyzer was back up to 12.2V when we got home so I was able to tune the P1 to 40M with as good as 1.5 SWR. I haven't swept the band yet to get a good idea of the bandwidth but I'm confident now that I'll be able to tune the entire band with a tuner. I'm going to throw the 80M trap on tonight to see if I can check in to the phone net this time. I also cut a radial to the right length instead of dealing with the very small gauge wire that came with it. It was a pain in the rump to lay out and the #14 stranded I have should be better and more durable.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Storm She Is A Brewin'

We had a difficult night last night. The air mattress has a leak, the pad is worthless, and the self-inflating pad needed to be exercised before we needed it, not in the field. Oh well. At least that should be good for tonight.

We didn't do much today. Mainly just walked around. No fishing as I'd hoped. We got back and ate lunch just before the bottom dropped out. We had very heavy, steady rain for a good 2 hours. I realized we picked the wrong place for the tent as the lake formed. All in all, though, aside from a little water in the tent (not enough to worry me) the tent held up very well. It was nice to just listen to the rain.

On the radio front, my antenna analyzer batteries died before I could get the new P1 tuned. I could hear the phone net but they weren't hearing me. I also tried answering a CQ on 40 to no avail. The lesson? Always test new gear before you try using it in the field.

Dinner had to change a little. The rain soaked all out firewood and kindling. The charcoal survived for the most part but I did the chicken on the camp stove. The potatoes and corn on the cob were grilled. I think I did a great job. Sadly I couldn't get a good wood fire going so we had to turn back to the stove for roasting marshmallows.

Oh well. My hands hurt from all this typing on the tiny keyboard. That's all for now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Finally Setup

Well, we got off much later than planned. Then we hit heavy rain on the way down and had to stop to put the tarp on.

There are a lot of people here but after the ranger got onto our neighbor it's been quiet. As it turns out I actually know the ranger. We've already met some of the locals. A racoon welcomed us as we set up the tent and brought a friend back later. Junior Armadillo just came by to say hi. Oh, I've already started finding ticks.

Dinner was sausage, mixed veggies, and sweet potato patties. Sadly I don't have the antenna up. Might have to wait for morning. So will gps coords as my batteries died. :-(

Oh well. That's it for now.

Cary Beuershausen/N4CDB
Duval County ARES AEC

Sent via BlackBerry

Camping Weekend is Here!

Ok, I really don't have a whole lot to add today but my buddy is on me to keep this thing updated daily.

I'm really keeping my fingers crossed for this weekend's weather. We've had severe wx warnings the past few afternoon/evenings and the last thing I want to do is make camp in a downpour. High temp tomorrow is 92 and it's supposed to feel like 103. Gads.

Looks like there may be another opportunity for a hike/camp in the Ocala Natl Forest next month. I'm really hoping it doesn't fall on the weekend I'm on call but others are putting it together so we'll have to wait and see.

Next update from the campsite. :-)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's here! But now I have no time.

Well, yesterday was disappointing. My new P1 antenna from Blue Star Antennas arrived as expected. Unfortunately, after dinner we went grocery shopping for the camping trip and by the time my son was in bed and I had stuff for the trip laid out it was too late and I was too tired to do anything with it other than unpack it and look at it. We have a wedding tonight (Thursday??) so it looks like it's first use will actually be from the campsite.

My initial impression is that it's well made. The instructions are a bit lacking, though. There's a bulleted list that says, "Assemble antenna as shown". Sadly, the drawings on the next page don't make a damned bit of sense. Oh well. Hopefully I'll have an update Fri or Sat.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Well, I guess I'm not such a good blogger just as I suspected. Things have been busy though. I spent Father's Day weekend shooting a softball tournament and I've spent this week so far playing catch up with other things.

I did finally do some radio stuff. I've been looking for a good portable HF antenna for use with Field Day, emergency deployment, and just plain whatever. I wanted a Buddistick but decided on the P1 system from Blue Star Antennas. This antenna gets good reviews at eHam and for the same price as the Buddistick I was able to add the 80M coil. Having 80M capability is really a big deal for me. The North Florida Phone Net is run on 80M and that's where I'd be looking to pass health/welfare traffic through NTS.

Blue Star is only a couple of hours south of my QTH and I already have a shipping notification and tracking number. I don't see why I wouldn't have it by tomorrow. That's good since I have a wedding Thur and won't be able to try it out. Its first field trial will be this weekend from the campsite. Really looking forward to heading out.

My dilemna now is power. I have a 65AH Optima that's a beast to haul around and a meager 10AH that wont give my much operating time with the 718. I'm thinking of picking up another 10AH and running them in parallel but I've already spent a good bit on pre-camping goodies and that's another $30. I may cheat and throw the one 10AH on the charger since we'll have AC. Of course, I'm really trying to do this w/o using such luxuries. We'll see how it works out.

Well, that's it for now. Next update will probably be from the campsite ... if I have cell service. :D

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blackberry Test

Ok, this is just a post to test the functionality of mobile blogging. :-D

Cary Beuershausen/N4CDB
Duval County ARES AEC

Sent via BlackBerry

Wx Update

Well, we've been having an interesting time lately weather-wise. The past couple of weeks have been filled with severe hail storms producing up to golf ball-sized hail. Today the skies are rumbling again. Looks like some weather is headed our way if it keeps on the north-easterly track. We even have a couple of mesocyclones (ie rotations) out there (the red circles).

Monday, June 9, 2008


Well, it's 2008. I decided maybe it's time to try this blogging thing. So what can you expect? Good question.

My main purpose for this blog is to share what I've been up to with my hobby de jour. :-D Since the end of 2006 I've thrown myself into amateur radio and I'm loving every minute of it. So expect to see articles about antenna projects, homebrew projects, etc.

I'm also heavily involved in emergency communications. Along with this is an interest in weather. So you'll probably see updates about various sever weather occurrences or just anything that interests me.

All in all you may see a variety of stuff here but I'll try to keep it as radio-centric as possible.