Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Antenna Pictures

As mentioned in my last post, I constructed a short mast to support the end of my Ultimax 100 antenna so that it's not lying directly on my shingles. I got it up on the roof this morning.


As you can see, I scraped the base a little when I hoisted it up onto the roof. The Plasti Dip coating came off easily. I’m hoping that as long as it doesn’t get any more scrapes it’ll hold up to the weather.

I tied a piece of 550 cord between the insulator on the end of the antenna, and a loop of insulated copper wire wrapped around the iron pipe serving as the mast. The wire is a piece of the black conductor from some Romex I had leftover from a previous project.

The matching network at the other end of the antenna is attached with cable ties to the mast supporting my Comet GP3 2M/70cm antenna.


You can see the feed lines going over the peak of my roof. They go down to the front left corner of the house, are cable tied to a downspout, and then come into my shack on the ground flood.

As a side note, make sure you use outdoor-rated cable ties if you are exposing them to the weather. When a friend and I installed the Comet GP3 several years ago we used white cable ties, which are for indoor use only. When I put the HF antenna up there I replaced all the white ties with black ones that are UV-resistant. I didn’t need to cut the white ties – they snapped with only finger pressure.

Anyway, elevating the antenna and orienting so that it runs as close to North/South as I could get seems to have improved my reception on 20M. I had a QSO this morning with a ham in Georgia and both Tx and Rx seemed much stronger.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Been Working More HF

Since getting my Icom IC-7200 setup and my last post I've been working more HF, mostly on 20M and 40M PSK31. Aside from more contacts here in the US I've managed to bag QSOs with Greece, France, and Venezuela.

I think my antenna will perform better, though it I elevate it so it's not in contact with my roof. Wood rafters and asphalt shingles are largely transparent to RF, but they have different dielectric properties than air. So, yesterday I went to Lowe's and bought some supplied to support the end of the antenna. I'll post a pic when it's done, but essentially it's a cross-shaped based made from a pressure treated 2x4, with an upright made from a piece of 1/2" (7/8" OD) black iron pipe. I cut the 2x4 into three pieces. One is four feet long and the others two feet long. I fastened the shorter pieces to the long piece with flat mending braces and Titebond 3 glue. I then took a 10" long piece of scrap 2x4 and laid it across the joints, gluing and screwing it in place.

Before beginning  construction of the antenna support, I measured the pitch of my roof using Theodolite on my iPhone. It came to 15 degrees. Before attaching the 10" long piece of wood to the base, I put it in my vise at the same angle. This allowed me to hold my drill approximately vertical when I made the angled hole for the pipe. This way the pipe will be more or less vertical when the base sits on the roof.

I've covered the entire thing with a coat of black Plasti Dip rubber coating. I'd bought a can a while ago to use on some tool handles but never got around to doing anything with it. I figured that coating the antenna support black will make it less visible, and the coat will help to preserve it from the weather. It'll be interesting to see how well it holds up.

Tomorrow after the Plasti Dip is fully dry I plan to epoxy the pipe into the base. We got some light snow so I doubt I'll be able to get it on the roof. I don't like heights, doubly so when they are slippery.

I'll post a follow up once I have the antenna support in place.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Had my first QSO on HF last night

My Icom IC-7200 arrive last Tuesday, and the Ultimax-100 antenna came on Friday.

Yesterday afternoon I put the antenna up on my roof, fed with 50’ of LMR-400 coax. The antenna is attached to the base of the mast supporting my Comet GP-3 2m/70cm antenna, which is near the peak of the roof. The Ultimax is stretched out so it slopes down along my roof, and was secured in place by tying a piece of 550 cord to the end insulator, with the other end tied to my gutter. I do plan on making some PVC supports to hold the antenna up above my roof by a foot or two.

Being a computer geek I am largely interested in digital modes. The IC-7200’s USB port for connection to a computer without having to use an interface like a RIGrunner or Signalink USB was one of the main reasons I chose it. So, I installed a Windows 7 64-bit driver from here, and installed both fldigi and Ham Radio Deluxe.

After some tinkering I was still having difficulties getting the DM780 part of  HRD to transmit so I changed over to fldigi. I got it working and coordinated with a couple guys on Arfcom, and we got a QSO going using Olivia 16/500. Olivia is a slow mode for transferring text but is very tolerant of poor propagation conditions, and low transmitting power.

I’m looking forward to working with this more.

Monday, December 10, 2012

USMC Antenna Handbook

I ran across this today. USMC Antenna Handbook, MCRP 3-40.3C. It's a 193 page PDF, about 2.5 megs.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Book Review: A Distant Eden

As a longtime fan of the SHTF/post-apocalyptic fiction genre I decided to give the book A Distant Eden by Lloyd Tackett a try when I saw that I could get the Kindle edition for $0.99.

I wasted a buck.

The author attempted to write a survival manual in the guise of a novel, and to his credit, states this in the forward. Unfortunately for a survival manual, it is full of inaccuracies, bad advice, and warped ethics.

To begin with, the book offers poor advice about firearms, tactics, nutrition, and water purification. E.g.:

  • Some of the gun-related content sounds like ad copy from Gunz & Blammo.
  • What the author refers to as complete foodstuffs will result in a variety of deficiency diseases. E.g., pellagra
  • After a short training period by a handful of special ops soldiers, the good guys go attack a fortified encampment held by superior numbers of armed men. Did I mention that one of the uber-elite special ops types kills the Numba One Bad Guy in a planned duel? Or that the good guys take no casualties?
  • The water purification methods in the book are better than nothing but depending on the locale may not be enough to prevent infection by various parasites.

The effects of a solar electromagnetic pulse (EMP) aren't portrayed accurately. Without getting into detail here, I recommend that you start reading about EMP here. (Make sure to follow the links at the bottom of the linked page.)

The almost immediate descent into savagery as portrayed in the book doesn't mirror how people have responded to massive regional disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy. Certainly, plenty of people will take advantage of the situation (e.g., looting during the 1977 New York City black out) but it will take a lot longer for societal breakdown on the scale described in the book. Take for example the aftermaths of the EMP-induced power failure in Quebec in 1989, the 2003 Northeast US power outage, or various ice storms through the American South in recent years.

But perhaps the worst part of the book is the ethical system embraced by the protagonists and apparently endorsed by the author. At one point in the book, the "good guys" ambush and kill a poacher because he's taken a deer on private property to feed his wife and child. The justification for this is that by killing the deer, the poacher has taken food from the protagonists' childrens' mouths. He then goes on to kill the poacher's wife and kid because they are now without a protector, and portrays killing them as a mercy.


Shortly thereafter, the same protagonist spares a different poacher, but only does so after determining that he's a Christian. Because, you know, only Christian people are worth sparing.

To repeat myself, REALLY?!?

How 13th Century.

There is some good, independently published survival fiction out there like David Crawford's Light's Out or Thomas Sherry's Deep Winter. That A Distant Eden received a bunch of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon is a testament to how ignorant many people are.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Ordered an Icom IC-7200

After a ton of online research, this morning I pulled the trigger on an Icom IC-7200 from Ham Radio Outlet.  HRO had an open box unit that I ordered. The discount for this on top of seasonal discounts brought the price down to about $890, the cheapest I found it anywhere.

One of the things that I find especially appealing about the IC-7200 is that it was designed from the outset for use with a computer. It has an USB port on the back, allowing you to control the radio with your PC, including the use of digital modes like PSK-31, without requiring a sound card connection.

I didn't order any other accessories as I've been able to find them cheaper elsewhere online. E.g., I need to get an external antenna tuner, an antenna, a patch cord to run between the radio and the tuner, and an antenna feed line.

Edit: Got a call from HRO that the open box unit I ordered was defective when they tested it. They're going to send me a different one, still at a discount but not as much. Should have it Monday.

All Comments Now Moderated

Due to increasing amounts of spam I am now moderating all comments.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


After getting my No-Code Technician's amateur radio license back in 2005 I was active on 2M for a couple years, but haven't done much with it lately. The FCC finally eliminated all Morse Code requirements in 2007 but I never got around to upgrading.  Recently, I came to the conclusion after the bout of storms we've had ove the past year and a half or so that I should get back into it, and upgrade my license.

So, last Thursday I took the FCC's Element 3 exam and upgraded my license to General Class. The update hasn't shown up yet in the FCC's Universal Licensing System database, but I have my CSCE.

To prepare for the exam I used three resources:

Although and contain the same pool of questions, they present the questions differently. When you take a practice test at QRZ they are shown to you one question per page, and immediately graded. However, when you take a practice test at Hamexam all 35 questions are presented on one page, and not graded until you click a button after finishing all of them. I found Hamexam's format to render better on my iPad, but I found QRZ's format better for learning.

With my newly acquired HF privileges I need to get a new radio. The modes I'm interested in operating on HF are SSB, PSK-31, and Olivia MFSK, on 10M to 40M. 60M and 80M would be cool, too, but I don't know yet if I'll be able to setup an antenna suitable for them.

After seeking input on Arfcom and doing a lot of online research, I am leaning heavily to the Icom IC-718. It's been out for awhile and gets good reviews on Plus, compared with radios like the Yaesu FT-857 of -897, or similar Icom and Kenwood HF/VHF/UHF capable units, it's less menu driven, which should make it easier to use. The IC-718 does 160M to 10M, lacking 6M, VHF, and UHF. For the latter two I have a Yaesu FT-7800R and VX-5RS. While 6M might be nice to have I don't think I'll really miss it that much.

Along with the new radio I'll need a new antenna and an antenna tuner. Due to space constraints I'm leaning towards an Ultimax 100 strung between the roof of my house and a short mast near my back fence. (At least I don't need to deal with a homeowner's association.)

For mobile use I'll also pick up some sort of portable vertical antenna and/or a multiband dipole that I can string up between a couple of trees.

This should be fun.