Oct 31, 2013

Back on the ground in MO after a short-notice trip back to NY.

Some family things needed attention.

I've done what I can, the rest is up to greater powers.

If you can spare a thought for a strong woman who is not going gentle into that good night, it would be appreciated.

Oct 27, 2013

Preach it, brother Jay

I've been slowly working through the backlog in Feedly and doing a lot of skimming and "mark read". Just too much to get through. Then I came upon this one from Jay, which hit me hard in the gut.
One of the downsides of being apart from your family is that you feel utterly helpless when something happens. Got a call from Mrs. G. yesterday that BabyGirl G. fell in gym class and hit her head - she's fine, but had a possible concussion so they needed her to be picked up.

I've been in Missouri since June 16. Four months plus a bit.

MrsZ came out on the Independence Day weekend with a truckload of our stuff, and flew home the next day.

My parents gifted us a plane ticket for our anniversary, and she was out for a few days last week.

It has been harder than I ever believed to be here without my partner in life. We text daily, call every few days or so (neither of us is much of a phone person), and email constantly. We've been writing real paper snail-mail letters back and forth.

She has had to deal with a whole lot of stuff that just didn't get done in the four weeks between the job offer and my moving date. My folks have stepped up in ways I can't begin to thank them for, and generally helped out with the few things that MrsZ hasn't been able to handle alone.

I hate that I'm not there to help with or just handle these things. Things like the possum tangled in the fence (thanks, Dad), or the house winterizing. Or mowing the lawn, or fixing the lawn tractor when it ate its belt. Just... life. And I'm not there.

Our house is still on the market (almost four months now) with a depressingly low number of showings, and no offers. Our agent has been ... "apathetic" is the most accurate term I can come up with. The contract with him expires at midnight on 12/31. If the house isn't gone by then, we're going to re-evaluate what we want to do. Option one is to re-sign for another four- or six-month term. Another is to take it off the market for 2-3 months and re-list in March or so, to hit the early market season with a "days on market" of 0.

I'm thrilled for Jay - he's got a great new gig, and his house has already got a buyer. I'm also a bit envious, but our real estate market is different from his. It's been a test for us, and one we're doing alright with.

(And if you didn't click through above, BabyGirl G is fine.)

Oct 25, 2013

Power Supply...

I did some ebay digging and have a 30A power supply (Jetstream 31MB) on the way. It's way more than I need for the time being, as the FT-90 I'll be using as a base only draws about 10A when transmitting. Of course, that leaves me room to grow/add.

My co-worker who dumped a box of radios on me found another one in the closet, and I should have a 6m rig shortly. No antenna for that one, and not sure if I'll have one anytime soon - the downside of duplex life.

I'm fully intending to make the core of the "base" radio system 100% grab-and-go - unplug two cords and close the box. Photos of that process will also be posted...

Oct 24, 2013

"Rag chew"

I've been doing plenty of listening on the radios the last few days. It's the anti-social version sitting in a barbershop and half-reading a magazine as the conversations flow around you.

Made a few more contacts today; the mobile at 20W is handily hitting the Raytown repeater as soon as I'm on the highway. If I bumped it to 50W I'm sure it'd reach from the driveway, but no reason to from there.

I've got another mobile waiting to be set up on a desk, just need a power supply for it.

Oct 23, 2013

Project: Truck

I've started to dig in on the truck. I found my extension bar and deep-well sockets, and got three of the four bolts off the "40" on the 60/40 back seat. The fourth one ... proved a bit reticent. It came part way out, and that was the stopping point.

Solution? Impact gun.

A few moments with the air power, and the last bolt came out. The reason it was so difficult? It goes through the body and is exposed to the elements underneath - and thus thoroughly corroded from six and a half years of New York salt. I sprayed it down with a bit of oil and worked it in and out of the threads a few times, and it's still gritty but moving freely.

Most of the stuff I want in my GHB has arrived and it's starting to come together.

The mobile radio in the truck was tested today, and even with the inexpensive Tram Antenna I'm using I made a contact on the K0GQ repeater (~16 miles straight-line) on 20W output. ("You're pretty snowy, but readable," sayeth the call sign on the other end.)

I'm getting excellent reception with the BaoFeng portable and N9TAX SlimJim, although I haven't made any contacts OUT - the 5W it's pushing just isn't enough to reach the nearby repeaters from inside the house.

Next on the list: mounting the remote head for the mobile in the truck. I've got a few locations in mind; I just need to find a piece of aluminum strap to bend as appropriate.

Also received a Bulldog Vaults BD-1100 ($22 at Buds Gun Shop), which is a VERY nice little vault. It is too small for a full-frame 1911, probably too small for a full-size M&P, but is plenty big enough for a J-frame, PM9, or similar. Only negative is the chintzy felted plastic lining; I'm going to pull that out and get some foam egg crate instead. It's a MUCH sturdier safe than the NanoVault boxes (I also have one of these), and once it's secured in the truck it should be both discreet and nigh-impossible to force open.

Stay tuned for pictures in the coming weeks. :-)

Oct 22, 2013

Amazon made a change...

I'm a lover of Amazon. I spend far too much money with them, but I can order things all at once that would take most of day driving around town to locate... and cost more in the brick store to boot.

Seems they changed their free shipping threshold from $25 to $35.

I don't blame them at all - I placed LOTS of orders that were in the $26-28 range, padding small orders with little things from the "it'd be nice" list to get over the limit. Even with the rates I'm sure they have arranged with their carriers, I wondered how they were making any money on shipping a several-pound box halfway across the country.

So ... small change, might slightly change my ordering habits, or it might get me to cough up the money for Prime for a year.

Oct 20, 2013

Callsign assigned

I got my callsign assigned.

No, I won't post it here. It's been put on the book of face, if you know me there - or you can send me an email and ask.


I've CQ'd a local 2m repeater a few times with no answers. I need to find a power supply and set up my second mobile in the house, then see about jumping in one of the nets in the near future. The next two weeks are a bit nuts, so it may not happen right away... but I'll get there.

I also ordered the programming cable for the mobile in the truck - no more entering letters with the knob; just set it up on the laptop and zap the radio. I'm sure that will help, as I only have two of the local repeaters in; there are closer to a hundred to get set up.
Wandered by the ammo rack at the Walmart in the next town this morning.

They had everything in stock... except .22LR.

The racks were loaded full; including bulk packs and ammo cans of 5.56. Good brass stuff is down to $0.35-40/rd again, if you buy bulk.

Now, if some .22LR would show, I'd be thrilled.

Oct 16, 2013

Gear dump!

A coworker found out I was getting into ham, and said, "Hey, I've got a bunch of stuff I don't use anymore - I gave up my license a while ago - you want it?"

Well ... yeah!

He brought in a box o' radios today and handed it to me. It's mostly last-generation stuff, but that doesn't change how well it works!

In the box:
- an iCom IC-T2H portable (2m, I believe?)
- a Kenwood TH-F6 tri-band portable (2m/1.25m/70cm)
- a Kenwood TM-D700 "digital communicator" mobile (2m/70cm, packet radio)
- a Yaesu FT-90 mobile

Some VERY nice gear in this box, and I have plans for some of it already. Stay tuned as that develops...

In a side note, the re-funding of the .gov means that the FCC should be processing applications again - but they'll have a two-week backlog to get through. Still, I'm hoping to have a callsign in the next ten days or so.

I've been playing with the BaoFeng UV-5R portable radio I got, combined with a roll-up J-pole antenna from N9TAX... Nice combo, and a very inexpensive entry into ham. (Radio plus antenna will set you back less than $60.) Reception with the antenna is crystal clear, and I hope to be transmitting soon.

Oct 14, 2013

A few radio thoughts

Now that I've had a few hours sleep (seriously - I got up at 4pm on Friday, worked overnight, took my test at 9am, and wasn't in bed until almost noon Saturday, then up again at 5pm for work stuff...), a few more thoughts.

The tests weren't hard at all. The test material is publicly available, so it's entirely possible to cram and regurgitate. That's roughly what I did, and I'm OK with that. The learning process sent me on a few wiki-wanders as I tried to figure out things like NVIS and Beverage antennas, a bit of electrical engineering, MOSFET, and so forth. There are a lot of folks that won't bother those wiki-wanders, and that's OK too.

The Extra exam definitely got into the hard-science side of radio - antenna radiation patterns, much more complex circuit diagrams, etc. Way over my head for the moment, but I'll pick it up. I'm hoping to have Extra nailed by the end of the year.

Back to the testing... it was at a public library about an hour from the house. The test team was four guys well into retirement. I think one other guy took the Tech exam, and there may have been a few others - I think the exam coordinator said there were four scheduled. I was out of it and didn't look around.

The examiners were a chatty bunch, which was moderately distracting. I found myself reading and re-reading questions a few times as key words in their conversation infiltrated my bubble.

I finished my exams, got my scores and CSCE ("you dun passed" paper), and an attaboy from the examiner. He noted that it's, "Much easier now, since they don't have the code test anymore. Back when I tested, Extra had a 20-wpm [Morse code] test, but I was a CW operator for the Navy so that was nothing." That was the first real-world taste of Ham Snobbery I've gotten.

Tonight in some down time I've done some reading on the demographics of hams. It's mostly anecdotal, but the popular wisdom is that many operators don't pick up a license until they're in their 40s and beyond. I'd believe it. Ham is not necessarily a cheap hobby to get into. Sure, a 2m set can be had for under $200, and with IRLP that'll reach most anywhere - but a good 10m (or longer wavelength) HF rig will easily run over a thousand dollars. Plus space for an antenna, etc... can it be done in an apartment? Sure. Many do. But having the space and financial wherewithal to do Serious Ham means it tends to be a Real Adult thing... or even more common, a Retired Adult thing.

... And then I managed to find this article discussing the fairly static numbers (per-capita-wise) of operators. And lo, the FIRST comment on the page:

I think (opinion, not statistics) that about a third of [new Tech licenses] would be the EmComm Whackers that get tech licenses so they can use ham radio in their jobs. They don't progress to an HF license because all they care about is Saving The World with minimal investment in the hobby.  
Another third are the CBers who get their Techs so they can use their modded CBs on 10 & 12 meters but don't want to invest anything else in the hobby. They're just sitting around and waiting for the sunspots to come back so they can shoot skip on their "extree channels" and in the meantime are still on CB Hamsexy.com.  
The rest are just the usual ones who once they get their license have no interste in ever getting on the air. Those will all go away in about 7 to 10 years. In the meantime they spend their days on Hamsexy or EHam under anonymous logins.
Ouch. The next comment sums up my opinion nicely:
Sometimes I am surprised there is any growth at all in amateur radio. 
With attitudes like the preceding, it should surprise you. Grumbling about the no-code testing, bashing people who get a license because it's a job requirement, or who want to use radios differently from you... This attitude is the Fudd of radio. ("Those Cowboy shooters just want to play dress-up and pretend." "Those Modern Warfare kids don't know what a real rifle is." "Who needs more than a pump gun for anything?" "I'll never carry a plastic pistol.")

(I should note that the comments on that article are long and troll-filled, and come down on both sides of the fence.)

Here's my short piece of advice to long-time hams out there:
If you want to grow ham as a hobby, talking down to the new operators is not likely to help your cause. Belittling the new operator for buying a cheap Chinese portable without all the bells and whistles is not going to encourage him... It's going to get him to throw up his hands in frustration and stick the radio on a closet shelf and forget about it. Teaching him how to get the most from that portable until he can afford something nicer will take the hobby a long ways down the "growth" path, instead of slow death by attrition.

Indeed, I followed the herd in some regards and ordered a Baofeng UV-5R handi-talkie from Amazon. It's a $35 2m/70cm portable, with a fairly small memory bank and slow scan speed... but it's cheap, functional, and did I mention cheap? I added a programming cable for eight bucks, and now have all the local repeaters available in a radio the size of two decks of cards. More on that at a later date...

Oct 12, 2013

Ham update

Tested this morning.

The constant practice exams seem to have sunk in. I passed the Tech exam with a perfect score, and went on to General.

I did not ace General... I got a 33/35.

I took a swing at Extra. My lack of sleep and distractions in the test area caught up with me - along with the fact that I had done NO studying for it. I logicked my way to a 28/50, which was good but not passing.

Maybe in a couple months.

Of course, the FCC isn't processing licenses right now, so instead of being on the air by the end of next week, I'm in limbo until the government decides to start running again. *eyeroll*

But at least that's done.  :-)

Oct 9, 2013

Just another taste of freedom

I made a trade of my M&P for an LCP and some goodies.

The LCP was at the shop today, I stopped in, did the 4473, and walked out with the pistol.

No "purchase permit" or "purchase coupon" ... just ... normal gun purchase.

(I understand this is actually a fairly recent change for Missouri, as they DID require purchase permits until 2007.)

I also rather like this dealer ... he's cutting me deals left and right on transfers. It's a good thing.

Oct 8, 2013

Mostly for myself...

3/4 A-C
carpet + adhesive
1.5" angle
rigrunner block

It shall all make sense eventually.

Oct 7, 2013


No, not liquid X.

Get Home Bag.

Call it a 20-mile radius. What should be in it?


(I have my own thoughts and when I'm done building I'll share.)