Apr 10, 2014

Random thought of the morning...

I wonder what kind of reach I could get with a portable Yagi and my storm radio?

It punched out a full 50W on battery the other night, although I don't think I could do it for too awful long... but then again, with a decent Yagi I shouldn't need to punch out max power for solid range.

The closest SOTA region is down around Springfield, so not exactly a day trip.

Something to consider... and I may acquire a Yagi for storm stuff anyways.

Apr 8, 2014

Stamp time

I have the clear to start a trust and get a can. Planning on a .22 because... Well, .22. 

All my digging thus far says Silencerco Sparrow. Any opposing thoughts?

Mar 29, 2014

Ice cream machine got unplugged this week - I spent the whole week in a federally-designed training class. Death By Powerpoint section 437.

It was mostly good material, though. I survived and passed, and now have a rather thick booklet of tasks to get signed off in order to move from "trained" to "qualified".

There is a "tech" parallel to this class ("leader") which looks far more interesting. If I can find one to attend.

Mar 21, 2014

Ham grab-box

At least part of the attraction of ham radio for me is the "shit done gone sideways" resilience of it. It's a (relatively) grid-independent way to communicate over a variety of distances when all else fails. I haven't looked into the longer-distance stuff yet - 10m and lower bands - but it will happen as time, funding, and space allow.

There are plenty of hams out there who build elaborate (and large) emergency communications boxes, that take up half the volume of their van and allow them to talk to God on simplex. Bully for them, but it's not something I'm interested in just yet.

A co-worker is a weather geek and goes stormchasing every spring and summer - without radio communications. While it's certainly possible to get a lot of the info via scanner, weather radio, and now smart phones, being able to tap directly into and participate in the SKYWarn 'nets is huge - especially if a storm starts taking down cell towers.

I'm planning to go chasing with him this year when our schedules line up, and wanted a VHF/UHF kit I could easily move from car to car. Beyond that, I wanted to be able to operate (at least briefly) without an external power source.

I already had a Yaesu FT-90R, Tram 1185 magnetic mount antenna, and a Vault VC-12 dry box. The next step? Adding a battery, some kind of external power, and shoehorning it all together. The VC-12 has internal dimensions of 11.75"W x 8.5"L x 4"D.

I did some digging for batteries, and ended up buying a 10Ah SLA via Gruber Power Services. It should be enough to run the radio for a couple hours of receive with minimal transmitting, can be installed in any direction, and most importantly will fit in the case.

But how to charge the battery? There is a West Mountain PG40 Powergate, which is a UPS circuit for 12V applications. It is, unfortunately, quite expensive ($140ish) and large. Reading through some forum posts, I found mention of the KI0BK Low-loss Powergate, which is much less expensive ($50), about half the size, and generally simpler. Done. Ordered. Add a cigar-plug cord and... steady power plus auto-swap to the battery if power is lost.

A fair number of hams will insist that an emergency box needs to be able to take power from an AC outlet... and I don't entirely disagree. But it wasn't in the cards for this particular setup; it would have added weight and complexity to the situation and seen very little use.

Next, how to connect the antenna? The radio is small but still cozy in the box. Much easier if the antenna just plugs in to the side of the case... so add a short patch cord and a bulkhead fitting, a bit of work with a 5/8" drill, and voila!

But that heavy battery ... that'll slide around if I'm not careful. So... I'll add a small L-bracket or two and some velcro, and I think that'll be set.

And the obligatory pictures:

 I've got a bit of work left to do - I need to fab a bracket for the radio, a mic hanger, and get the battery strapped down. I'm sort of considering swapping the FT-90 for the FT-7800 I also have, which has a detachable faceplate and is a bit easier to navigate through (and program), but is slightly larger. We shall see.

Mar 20, 2014

Base antenna: installed

Stopped at Home Despot this morning and picked up a few needfuls to finish the antenna:
- a 1-1/4" flexible coupler (1-1/4x1 would have been preferable, but none were to be found at HD)
- a 1x36" black iron nipple
- a bag of zip ties

This afternoon I climbed my ass back up on the roof, and checked fit. The coupler is a darn-near perfect fit for the Dish mast, requiring only a few turns on the pipe clamp to be solid. I wrapped a dozen turns of duct tape around the base of the iron pipe and slipped that into the mast, then tightened down the coupler as much as possible. There is a little play but it's in no danger of coming out.

With that done, I slipped the antenna clamp over the top and cranked it down... then looked at orientation and realized I'd put KC directly in the shadow of the iron pipe. It might not matter, but then again, it might - so I loosened the clamp up and spun the antenna around 90 degrees to put the 70cm stub facing roughly north, hopefully giving me good coverage of the metro area repeaters. (Yes, I can slide the antenna up a few inches to the very end of the mast, and may need to - but I'll test this first.)

I tossed the coil of coax over the side and started zip-tying things together...

and together ...

and together ...

I put in a pair of drip loops at the bottom, tucked it through the top corner of the garage door, and made it in to the basement... then ran out of time and had to get ready for work.

But the antenna? That's up. I should be done on the roof for the foreseeable future.

I did consider a longer piece of pipe, but this was heavy enough and got the ground radials well clear of the roof. When I'm no longer renting, I'll look at a true mast.