Dave Richards AA7EE

February 18, 2010

Baby Steps at AA7EE

No major moves forward at the AA7EE shack recently, just a few little ones.

I’ve been eyeing a fairly tall tree (50-60 feet) that is right at the edge of the apartment building next door.  It’s just a few feet over the property line, and overhangs the small back yard of my apartment building.  With the aid of a slingshot, I attempted to get a line over it some months ago, but this is a built-up urban area and I didn’t try too long or too hard with the slingshot.  It was my first time using one (whatever DID I spend my childhood doing?) and I didn’t want to accidentally put a 1oz lead sinker through a neighbor’s window, or worse, hit a passerby. My initial attempts failed, I stashed the slingshot away and continued to use the Buddistick vertical from my first floor balcony.

The thing about tall trees though is that if you’re a radio amateur, unless you own a tower, they’re near impossible to ignore. Yesterday afternoon I gave in.  I grabbed the slingshot, walked out onto my balcony, took aim, and the next thing I knew the lead sinker had arced over a branch and was hanging just a few feet above the ground on the other side of the tree. Bingo!  It wasn’t as high up as I wanted, but if I had aimed it higher it wouldn’t have made it through the dense foliage to the ground, and a heavier sinker wouldn’t have made it as high in the first place.  It’s a regular catch 22.

Long story short – with the aid of a reel of 26 gauge magnet wire, I now have an approximately 65-70 foot longwire antenna about 35 feet off the ground. The magnet wire will keep my antenna relatively stealthy (I hope). It’s still a pretty crummy location for an antenna, but at least I now have frequency agility with the aid of an LDG Z11 tuner and 4:1 balun.

In other news, I finally fitted a KD1JV Digital Dial to my Norcal 2N2:

This is a really worthy upgrade. The only other thing that this rig could use now is a small electronic keyer. Here’s another view in which you can see the 100 ohm resistor and 100uF electrolytic mounted at the power connector that serve to filter out the low level interference from the display multiplexer:

The 2N2 is an absolute pleasure to listen to.  The only commercial rig I have is an FT-817, and when I use that for the other HF bands, I cringe at the high level of noise generated by the receiver. The receiver noise in the 2N2 is much lower.  There is a clarity to signals heard on the 2N2; in comparison the FT-817 sounds noisy and mushy (it is a great jack of all trades radio though and has served me well).

I also started putting the Fort Tuthill 80 into a case.  A KD1JV Digital Dial should be arriving soon and will be fitted, along with decals (probably yellow, to contrast with the black, as inkjet printers won’t print white).  Here’s a view of the Tut80 without it’s top cover.  Imagine this with a digital frequency readout and yellow decals.  I think it’s going to look pretty sweet:

I’ll save the top view until I’ve tidied up the wiring inside a bit so stay tuned.  John AE5X is waiting on a Ten-Tec TPB-41 case to put his in, and I’m keen to see how he does with it in the ARRL International DX Contest this weekend (if the case arrives in time that is – if it doesn’t, how about a bit of bare board operating eh John?) While we’re talking about cases for the Tut80, Steve KB3SII has designed and is manufacturing a custom drilled and painted aluminum case for it.  Target price is under $35. Check the Tut80 Yahoo Group for more details.

I’ve been trying to get a QSO with the Tut80, but the electrical interference in the evening at this location is so bad on 80 that I can’t hear much without a noise blanker. Oh for a nice quiet radio QTH…….

In the meantime I’m searching for a new living situation. There are two main criteria – affordable rent, and the ability to string a longwire antenna to nearby tall trees. It’s time for me to experience the amateur bands with something more than a marginal antenna. I know that I could probably move away from the San Francisco Bay Area and buy (or rent) a little place on a big piece of land but, for the time being at least, I want to stay in this area. So if you know anyone with a cheap room or studio to rent in the Bay Area that would be amenable to a friendly and quiet QRP operator, send ’em my way!

February 1, 2010

Radio Shack Saved My Life Tonight (With Apologies To Elton John)

Radio Shack (I cannot bring myself to call it “The Shack”) has never been my first port of call for electronic components and associated items, but when I was a teenager in the 1970’s and went shopping in Worcester with my Mum (Worcester, England, as opposed to the one in Massachusetts) I’d hit up 2 places for parts for my latest electronic building project.  There was a mom and pop electronics parts store on Foregate Street (I think), and if they didn’t have it, I’d try Tandy (as Radio Shack is called in the UK). Back then they actually had quite a lot of discrete components. It was often possible to find a schematic for some simple project in an electronics magazine (lie detector, light dimmer – that kind of thing) and actually get all the parts for it from Tandy.  Wow – think of that.

As we all know, Radio Shack is carrying less and less stuff of interest to the electronics hobbyist.  I don’t blame them; it’s a shrinking market. I rarely even consider going there for parts now. But this evening I decided to take a look at the KD1JV Digital Dial kit that had arrived from Hendricks QRP Kits a week earlier with a view to putting it together.  The instruction manual recommends .02″ diameter solder to help with soldering the SMT devices instead of the usual .032″ size. I’ve been making do with .032″ diameter solder but knew that I actually wanted to try using some nice thin solder for this kit.  It was 6pm on Sunday evening. Where was I going to get .02″ diameter solder? The instructions mention that Radio Shack carry it, which surprised me, because my local electronics emporium, Al Lasher’s in Berkeley, doesn’t.  A quick phone call to the local RS revealed that they did indeed have a roll of the stuff in stock.

I realized that my bike had a flat rear tire (I don’t own a car), changed the inner tube, and got to the store at around 6:30. Had a quick chat with the employees there and got back home, solder in hand, at 6:51. I didn’t think I’d have occasion to say this nowadays, but a big thumbs up to Radio Shack.  I bet their employees haven’t heard of SMT devices, but their store certainly carried the solder to work with them.

How much longer before RS don’t carry anything I want………maybe not long but they came up trumps this evening.

(Incidentally, Al Lasher’s is a really great place for discrete electronic components with good old-fashioned personal service, if you’re ever in Berkeley, CA. The fact they didn’t have this one item is no big shakes.  There have been so many other times they had exactly what I wanted.)

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