Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is This Thing On???

so many distractions, so little time! the more fall-like/wintry weather here in northern california, combined with the holidays and preparation for the end-of-the-year sacrifice has put a crimp in my 'hammin', but i'm still licensed and still warm up the ionosphere from time to time...

so a few quick updates:

1. a few weeks ago i tuned around the ARRL SweepStakes and managed to tag about 10 QSO's... nothing much, just a chance for me to play around with the rhythm of contesting, mess with some antenna adjustments, and give some of the hard core operators one more station... so imagine my surprise when Scott, W6CT, from the Northern California Contest Club showed up at my home and knocked on my door... at first i assumed he was a local neighbor complaining about some interference but when he identified himself as a ham i assumed he was there to complain about my operating procedure (wink wink splatter splatter wink wink)... turns out he was there, much like Harvey Milk, to recruit me to join the NCCC! so i joined on the spot, because as i figure it, you can never have too many oversize engraved plastic badges with your name and call sign! haven't worked any contests under the club banner, yet, and am not sure if i'm going to be able to make it to the holiday luncheon/dinner/thing, but a well regulated militia being necessary to preservation of the hobby, etc. etc. etc... anyway, i'm glad to be member!

2. if you search a few posts below you'll see some photos and the write-up of my experience in launching a wire into a nearby high tree... as you can tell the highest point of the wire is, in fact, at the peak of the tree, but then it gets kind of caught in the closer tree and this makes the vertical portion shorter and causes the wire to flatten out a bit... from a radiation perspective this probably doesn't matter much (though spending so much time in the second tree may well detune the wire) but i was upset that i wasn't able to get a straight run from the top of the tree to the ground... i did try, multiple times, to untangle the wire from the lower tree, but it was in there good, so i figured i was sunk... then on monday of this past week i had a brain storm... what if i tied a second wire, closer to the ground, and hung a weight at the end of this wire, and then pulled both wires back up towards the top of the tall tree... once the second wire, and weight, cleared the lower tree, it would begin to sink and i could grab it and reroute the wire from the top of the taller tree... and that's exactly what i did!!! i couldn't have been happier at my cleverosity!!! so now i have a beautiful clean run from the top of the tree all the way to the ground... the next step is, i think, to replace the long wire with some kind of G5RV and use the first wire as a suspension with an insulator, so that the entire wire doesn't run through the taller tree... this will give me a nicely sloping G5RV type antenna located on my property about as far from any power lines as possible... the long wire i have up there now runs to a 4:1 balun and it seems to hear better on some bands (20m for example) than my buddipole vertical, but also hears more noise... i've been looking at reviews of the various G5RV's and am going to try and find one that has the best rating with the lowest noise.

3. the other big reason i haven't been on the radio quite as much (notwithstanding work, life, medical stuff, etc.) is that i've started up my podcast again. i am a talk radio host and took my show from KSCO to the internet back in 2006. this is a comedy/pop culture/current events/music kind of show that i would rate a strong PG-13 (sometimes an R) and is definitely not everyone's cup of tea... but we do have a couple of thousand downloads every week, and it fills a need to blather on about my life, the world, and how i see things, while laughing all the way, so if you're a howard stern/opie and anthony kind of fan, or don't mind the occasional raunchy/smart/funny kind of improv humor talk show, feel free to check it out... and if you're not, please don't and we'll all stay good friends!

4. i'm thinking there should be something else, but for the life of me i can't remember what... so that seems like a good place to stop.

enjoy the weekend and the happiest of holiday seasons!
de Robin (W6RDG)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Radio Silence...

hey blog-o-sphere... just wanted to put up a quick post... i'm still here and 'hammin it up' but other than the local VHF Friday Morning Talk Net that my friend Kristen, K6WX runs, and checking in to the local Cupertino CARES HF net last week, i've not been able to get on the air... life and health and work and such... plus, it looks like i'm gonna go back in the studio and start recording my podcast again... so more time for one microphone and less time for another... but i'm determined to get my Extra and may well study and try to get my upgrade before the end of 2009.

in the meanwhile, here's a photo of my original, apparently hand-made, SST-T1 antenna tuner... still have it and it still works... you can read the story about the SST stuff, here, on the web (Greg Ginn who probably built my unit later ran SST Records which is still around, and he was kind enough to write back to me when i sent him some photos)... but this is a golden-oldie (with hand transferred lettering, complete with clear nail polish coating) from all the way back to 1972

enjoy and 73!
de Robin (W6RDG)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Ode to Henry Wadsworth Longwire

I Shot An Arrow In The Air
It Fell To Earth I Know Not Where...

well, not exactly an arrow... more like a glob of cookie dough, wrapped around 200ft of fishing line...

and i didn't exactly shoot it, either... more like slingshotted (slingshat?) it using a HyperDog Ball Launcher (ask for it by name!)

and after a few failed attempts (ok, not exactly a failure since i did manager to launch cookie dough into random yards around my neighborhood), we arrived at this:

and this

which resulted in QSO's w/KH6RC, Randy, from the southern end of the 'Big Island" and KL6LF, Joe, in Fairbanks, where i spent 4 nights in February of 2002...

and now we know why i don't have a "significant other"

The End

de Robin (W6RDG)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CQ WW DX 2009 (it ain't baseball, but...)

sonovista, my friends! (yah, i'll explain it sometime)... well, i'm lifting my head after almost 14 days of non-stop work-type-stuff... but over the weekend i -did- manage to flip on the radios a couple of times to dip my toes into the international waters of the 2009 CQ WW DX contest... this was my first, and i was amazed to hear stations on bands i though my rigs and antenna couldn't receive! (wink). friday night i snuck off to try and find a new hilltopping location in the los gatos mountains and wasn't able to discover much elevation, but did run across (not literally) a coyote skulking across the backwoods road, apparently without regret (i love you joni mitchell... peace out!) i had brought along a new (used) Icom IC-7000 and a new (used) LDG AT-7000 tuner and worked a whole mess of Japanese stations, one Canadian station, and a fellow in Wasilla Alaska! (you betcha!)... i also worked KH6/OH7, which doesn't seem to be a valid call, but does appear to be the part number for the left rear taillight on a 1962 Volkswagen Beetle (US model, right rear in the UK)... so i don't know what i got there! (UPDATE: thanks to Jim, K6VAR, we've identified the mystery callsign as OH7WV operating in Hawaii as KH6/OH7WV - thanks Jim!) then nothing on saturday, but sunday afternoon i turned on the K3 in my kitchen and worked a whole mess more Pacific stations, including a bunch in Japan, Auckland New Zealand, and Queensland Australia,and two NEW countries: P43A in Santa Cruz, Aruba and FY5KE in Tallories, French Guiana. so 21 stations in all... two new countries... and japanese stations are becoming so 'easy' to get i'm starting to get bored (no, not really... but how quickly we forget!)

anyway here's the list... next year in Jerusalem (huh?)
more stuff soon
de Robin (W6RDG)

NK7U, Baker City, Oregon
JA3YBK, Kobe, Japan
N5DX, Harrison, Arizona
JI2ZEY, Shizuoka, Japan
W0AIH, Fall Creek, Wisconsin
K5MR, Gunter, Texas
JA7YRR, Aomori, Japan
VK4KW, Toogoolawah Queensland, Australia
ZL3A, Auckland, New Zealand
N2IC, Hanover, New Mexico
K1TTT, Peru, Maine
K3LR, West Middlesex, Pennsylvania
KL7RA, Kenai, Alaska
P43A, Santa Cruz, Aruba
FY5KE, Talloires, French Guiana
VE7SV, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
K7RL, Camano Island, Washington
AL9A, Wasilla, Alaska
JQ1BVI, Tokyo, Japan
JA8RWU, Chitose, Japan
KH6/OH7WV, Hawaii

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Old Farts (yes, that means me!) Have Lunch

quick update... yesterday i decided to try and cash in on that free slice of pie that comes with membership in the Quarter Century Wireless Association and went to the local/Northern California Chapter 11 meeting over at Harry's Hofbrau Hause (i made that last part up) in Redwood City... now since i've been living in northern i've belonged to 3 or 4 clubs and associations and they -all- have met, at one time or another, at a Harry's Hofbrau... in fact next month the NCDXC meeting is at another Harry's... very interesting...

in any event, not much to say except it was an exceptionally nice experience... i had contacted Al Montoya, WB6IMX, the president, to say i was now a member of QCWA and would like to attend a local meeting... he invited me to join them at Harrys for an 11am ice-breaker, followed by the 11:30 lunch/meeting... so i got there a bit after 11 and asked where the 'radio guys' were? i was pointed to the bar, and sure enough, there they were... at the bar... at 11, some drinking soft drinks, and some other beverages of choice.

these are my people!

hard to chat in the din (the regular meeting room was booked, so we were in the general population) but just a nice bunch of warm, welcoming men and women, many of whom were getting ready for the annual QCWA cruise that took off today (i believe)

anyway i'm not saying that i was the youngest person there (not out loud, anyway) but a couple of the fellows were getting ready to celebrate over 70 years in ham radio.

Right On
Right On
Right On

so i'll be back next month... not sure i'll be able to do mid-day meetings all the time, but nice to kick around some stories with folks who remember tubes and crystals and are still operating... you gotta honor the "Eminence Grise" of the hobby... they were the ones who fought for all the privileges we have today!

(and, as my first 'unofficial' act as a new member, i took the current membership application form, which looks like it might have been printed on an Epson MX-80 and has been copied and recopied to within an inch of its life, and redid it as both a Word document and a fill-in PDF form, either of which can easily be emailed and returned.)

and that's all i got for now.
more later
film at 11

de Robin (W6RDG)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nice Way to End the Weekend - My First RTTY QSO!

just completed my first-every RTTY QSO and it was on 30m with ZL30MDG, Christ Church, New Zealand. wow! the Elecraft K3/100 has a built-in RTTY/PSK31/CW decoder and Elecraft provides a free utility program that has a very simple 'terminal' to let you transmit RTTY/PSK31/CW using a computer keyboard and no audio card. i've been mucking about with this for the last couple of days (with the help of the Elecraft reflector and Iain MacDonnell - N6ML - who provided the key advice about setting the proper data mode on the K3) but haven't been successful. one problem is that i'm using the HPS-1a power supply, which is basically a low-duty-cycle supply with some major capacitors on the output... this works great as a SSB supply (the thing is tiny!) but using it in a data mode, it can easily cause the K3 to crash as the voltage drops below 9 volts with the 100% duty cycle transmission... so i've been reducing the output power and trying again and again and just about 15 minutes ago, with the power set at about 34watts, i was able to snag a 599 with ZL30MDG. i'm sure i was operating like a LID and i'll have to get better software, etc., but what a thrill! and a nice bit of DX to boot!

now i can sleep like a (rather clever) baby!
nite all
de Robin (W6RDG)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Old Fart Update

well, it's official... i just received my membership certificate (#34927) certifying that i now a member of the Quarter Century Wireless Association

i believe this means a free slice of pie, though i may have misread the bylaws...

now i just need to shave my head, grow a white beard, take up smoking a pipe and figure out where to buy those lightning bolt things, and i'll be finally ready to work CW.

(by the way... quarter century still means 25 years, right? not 125 years? i mean, jeebus... if you get your first license at 15, 25 years puts you at 40... and if you don't get your first license until you're 25, 25 years puts you at 50... if you're 50 and you look like the 'old guy' in the association logo, i think you may be sitting too close to the antenna!

anyway, another honor i didn't have to do anything to earn except not die. (woo hoo!)
de Robin (W6RDG)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

California QSO Party (Phase II)

okay... so when last we left our intrepid explorer, she had just decended from her 1700ft perch where she racked up just about 50 QSO's and 25 states in 2 1/2 hours... not bad for a 'newbie' with a gel cell, a superantenna and a dream...

cut to sunday, and i figure i'll try my luck, this time, back on Mt. Umunhum (about 1000ft higher, with a clear shot looking east), and so i load my rig and kit back into the BMW of DEATH and head back to the Santa Cruz mountains... the flies were not biting and i found a nice cut out on the side of the road just below the last gate (SA-08), and so within about 10 minutes i had everything set up, lit up and powered on and spun through 20m where i heard most of the same voices i had heard the day before, this time with QSO counts in the 1000's...


i also heard Alex, YO9HP in romania, and with his beam and patience, was able to score a not-so-quick 5-5 with my first romania contact! (for some reason, DX stations are not able to understand the "D" in RDG and we often go through every other letter in the alphabet... i've stopped saying "Delta" which seems to be a word that's hard to recognize, and often say Denmark or Denver or Dentist or Dog, but this is heard as Renmark or Nenver or Bentist or Log... i dunno...)

but, at heart, i'm more of a DX hound than a contester and the romanian station was like chum, getting my blood all-a-boilin'... so i headed over to 17m, where there was no contest, and found the band with some fine openings and camped out to call CQ and was delighted to have my first-ever DX station return MY call! JE1FQV, Tak, in New Tokyo Japan was getting ready to go to work (monday in tokyo) and heard my call on 17m and was happy to chat with a hilltopping station (i know a bit of japanese and have tried, now, twice to use it in my conversations with japanese stations, but i get the audio equivalent of a stare each time)... i then, in quick succession, worked N5THS, JB, in Arkansas, K6DI, Dan, traveling eastbound on US 80, driving his daughter to her new home in Chicago, VE7FE, Yugin, in British Columbia, W5SAN, Joe, in Salina Texas operating on solar power, N6HI, Norm, in Hawaii (the big island), N6DDD, Arlen, in Missouri, KO5G, Dave, in San Antonio, KE5GVH, Eddy, in Houston, KE5PTU, Harold, in Longview, Texas, W5VOX, Jim, in Oklahoma, AD5XQ, Will, in Iriving, Texas, KL2GT, Joe, in Point Baker, Alaska, KE5QNP, James in Mena, Arkansas, KA2FND/6, John, in Morgan Hill, CA (just on the other side of the mountain), W4DAT, Perry in Roopville, Georgia, K5PUB, Bill, in Athens, Texas and the third and final honest DX contact of the afternoon, F1UJS, Lio, in the Bordeaux region of France!

and then the gel cell decided to call it quits!

so all-in-all an OUTSTANDING weekend of hammin' it up in the heart of the silicon valley... i enjoyed my first taste of real contesting (and now know better what i need to do next time), added two more countries to my DX count (not sure of the exact number, but i'll figure it out and fill it in here, later), and generally just enjoyed sitting outside, on two brisk, northern california autumn days,

so Japan, Romania and France plus about 75 domestic/canadian QSO's in one weekend and about 6 hours using an AGM battery, K3/100 running barefoot and a simple SuperAntenna MP1 with a partly-busted MFJ 10ft whip, all mounted on a video tripod (and using only 4 radial wires) and no sunspots... its tuesday as i type this, and i'm still smiling!

anyway, no anticipated hamming for the next few days... i have a wedding i'm going to attend this weekend and work promises to be all consuming, but the lingering taste of Bordeaux will certainly keep me happy for days to come.

thanks to those who read my blog, and those whose callsigns grace my log...
(there was a young man from Nantucket...)

de Robin (W6RDG)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

California QSO Party (Part Uno)

sonovista, my friends... OK... since i may never actually submit any logs, i figure i should probably post an update here on my blog... i just completed the first leg of my first contest, the California QSO Contest... i' ve been looking forward to this for a while and was determined not to let this stupid cold/flu/thing that my friends insisted on giving me, dissuade me from doing a little hilltopping with my K3 and SuperAntenna... so this morning i threw the K3 (in its wonderful new REI bag) along with some paper log sheets i printed out (no, i'm not automated) into the back of my car along with the 28AH AGM cell (fully charged), the MP1 SuperAntenna with the MFJ 10ft mast, all mounted on a video tripod, and headed up to about 1600ft, just off Rt. 17, past the summit, on the Santa Cruz side of the Santa Cruz Mountains... to be honest, i figured i'd do better up on Mt. Umunhum, but that's technically still in Santa Clara County, and there are a ton of hams around here, so i wanted to maybe help some out of state folks with an additional multiplier (a term i don't know i honestly understood even 3 hours ago, and probably don't really understand now)

my thought was that i'd set up (along with my new REI portable folding camp table and portable folding camp chair, both extremely light!) and start clearing out the pileups...


by the time i powered up the K3 at 1652UTC (9:52am california time), 52 minutes into the contest, 20 meters was already jammed up with nary (nary?) a free slot... so rather than add to the QRM, i started answering some calls and immediately mucked up my log (LOL!), putting info in the wrong columns, skipping lines (and thereby giving the wrong contact number info), and generally futzing things up... right out of the gate!

oh well... nobody's perfect, and some of us aren't even moderately competent!

but i've learned that giving up is like letting life give you the big FU, and i'd rather give a big FU right back to life, so i took a deep breath, spun to a new frequency...

and immediately noticed that i had set up camp on top of an ant hill and the ants were causing much pain to my feet!

on the FU scoreboard - life 2, me 0

so i moved the rig, chair and table (the antenna was fine), dug in, powered up, and started again

and during the next hour and 45 minutes i worked 46 stations (i think) including Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin - so 24 states in under 2 hours, plus 3 Canadian Provinces (Alberta, Ontario and Saskatoon), and 6 California counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Siskiyou)

now i'm gonna take a break and then get ready for a birthday dinner tonight with some old friends, and i hope to pick it up again tomorrow, maybe from Mt. Umunhum... but even with no chance of winning any kind of award, i am SO BLOODY HAPPY and had so much fun sitting there off the side of a mountain road, with all my gear and kit, bright sunshine, floppy hat and the ether at my fingertips.

a morning spent immersed in the domain of -wonder-.

as Ferris Bueller said, "if you have the means, i highly recommend it!"

de Robin (W6RDG)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CQ Birthday, CQ Birthday, CQ Birthday DX

happy birthday to me. i'm old. how do i know i'm old? well, i don't seem to be able to sleep through the night without getting up once or twice to pee (yes, yes... drinking a quart of water before i go to bed probably isn't helping things, but i like to live dangerously!)

so i got up a bit before 3am, california time, and looked at the sunspots/A/K reports and thought, 'hey... maybe i'll be able to snag a bit'o'dx... cranked up the HPS-1a power supply, fired up the K3 and there was PY3PA (Brazil), calling CQ... kind of noisy, i tried replying a few times (and could hear a bunch of other folks replying without success, too), but no luck... damn crappy antenna ain't worth shi....wait... who's that on 7175.0? JO7CVU, Sendai City, Japan... hell, my Japanese is better than my Portuguese... JO7CVU, robin desu... Hajimemashte... yah, back when i was a kid i was the first in-house Chief Intellectual Property Counsel for Sony and spent a lot of time in Japan... 私はピザを買いたいです (I would like to buy a pizza - very handy phrase - no charge!)

so i began the celebration of my 52nd trip around the sun reaching out with a brief contact with the land of the rising sun on a day when trans-pacific communication was made possible (using my damn crappy antenna) through the magic of sunspots.

all auspicious omens for the coming year (or perhaps just a reminder to wear sunscreen!)

Happy Birthday to Me and Happy DX to All!
de Robin (W6RDG)

(oh yeah... here's a pano of my 'crappy antenna' - lol - a buddipole vertical with a 10ft telescopic mast, single coil, and two extensions mounted to a VersaTee attached to the top of a 16ft fiberglass and aluminum painter's pole, and a single sloping horizontal elevated 'counterpoise'... its too near the power lines in the backyard for real quiet, but apparently its good enough to order a pizza in japan!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cool Case for my K3

i've been looking for a padded case (something soft, not a hard-shell case) i can use to carry around my K3+mic+log book+etc when i go hilltopping and stumbled across what i think is a winner! the $49.50 REI Stratocruiser Carry-On (in "Mallard" or "Sagebrush", ole!). for those who aren't aware of them, REI is a camping/sporting goods store that has some very nice store-brand kit.

the challenge of finding a case for the K3 (for me) has been the physical length of the radio and trying to protect the knobs when its in a case, without having it slide around... when placed in the REI Stratocruiser, the K3 extends forward about 1/2" more than i'd like, but i've found that you can easily zip the whole thing closed and the soft case is pliable enough to fit without putting pressure on the chassis.

here' my K3 in the case, unzipped

here's the same shot with case zipped closed

and here's the case in its upright position

as you can see in the last shot, the main tuner knob pushes slightly against the top flap when the radio is on a hard surface, but actually drops down a bit when you're carrying the rig using either then handle or strap, since gravity helps the K3 to sit a bit lower in the case.

if you look at the second photo above you can see there's a zipped pocket on the top flap... i'm going to put a thin sheet of foam (microcell memory foam) inside the pocket to provide a bit of extra protection to the front panel. i'm also thinking of putting some kind of padding (or perhaps replacing the pulls) of the inside zippers... right now i have the rig "upside down" so that the zippers can't scratch the top of the case, but i'd like to turn it around if possible.

i've been using this case with my K3 for about a week now and i love it... small, lightweight, very sturdy, it goes easily over my shoulder and keeps everything i need to operate well at hand!

you can get more info and purchase the case here:

hoping someone else finds this helpful as well!

de Robin (W6RDG)

A Pano from Mt. Umunhum

this is a pano assembly of 10 shots taken with my Canon XSi and a 60mm Canon Macro lens, assembled using DoubleTake for Mac. the shot was taken at about 5:05pm PST on September 15, 2009, and is looking SE-SW

(yah, i know... if you look very closely you can see that the DoubleTake software did some 'interesting' things with the mountain range... lol!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Further Evidence I'm Slowly Losing My Mind...

My home QTH is located in a residential area in a 'bowl' at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with no real ability to put up a tower or any kind of significant antenna system. Even the backyard has a a set of utility lines running parallel to the property, bringing power to those who live one street over. (A 'fancy' street where you can't see the power lines, because they run through my backyard!) I do have a Buddipole Vertical mounted on top of a 16ft painter's pole with a single, elevated, extended sloping horizontal radial/counterpoise, and that works okay when there are band openings (I worked RU1A on 20m last weekend out of St. Petersberg, Russia with just 100w)... But there's a ton of QRM and QRN and I like to go tailgating with my K3 (one of the main reasons I got this particular rig was so I could shlep it around easily.)

So yesterday I decide I'll go sniffing around the different mountain roads in the area and see if I can find some good places where I can set up my antenna and do some hilltopping... I throw the K3 in the car and my new 28AH gell cell and my log and mic and coax and take off. I drive around the Los Gatos hills for a while, but can't find any turnouts where I can safely park. I then pull up some maps I found using Google Earth and spot a few paces in the Santa Cruz mountains/Azul Reserve, but while these seem like decent mountain biking/hiking spaces, no real places up high where i can pull off and set up. After a couple of hours I figure, 'what the hell, I'll just head back to Mt. Umunhum road (where I set up Sunday night)...

Now I remember that the Sheriff Deputy and Park Rangers both told me I was parked on the wrong side of the road in a 'Fire Lane', so I figure I'll park on the other side (legit) and then set up a small camp on the opposite side in the open. I take out my MP1 and coil and mast, my tripod and coax and counterpoise cable and then grab my K3 and mic and 28AH gel cell, back and forth across this little road in the middle of nowhere (where the flies are buzzing around like crazy, but its SOOOOO quiet) and I get everything set up and go to plug the Gel Cell into the back of the K3 and that's when I realize I left the power cable back on the kitchen counter.

I -did- try the Penn and Teller materialization trick of opening the trunk to show there was no cable inside, then closing the trunk and then saying the magic words, Klaatu barada nikto, then opening the trunk and Voila!


but I try this a few dozen times, convinced I couldn't have been so 'thick' as to leave the most important piece at home, but yes, thickness was my middle name and i was left with nothing to do but reverse the process, tear down the antenna and drag everything back to the car. and it was at that point I realized the flies weren't buzzing as much as laughing.

C'est la vie

Fortunately I had brought my Canon XTi and a couple of lenses, so I decided I might as well take some photos of the mountains and valley and here's what San Jose looks like from about 2600 ft up Mt. Umunhum

hard to look at this view and think of the trip as any kind of 'waste'. just an excuse to go back and try again.

(maybe tomorrow)

de Robin (W6RDG)

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Paddle is Not a Key (even if you turn it on its side)

a quick post-script to my post of earlier this afternoon...  i walked past my K3 and turned it on and spun down to the CW end of the 40m band and heard NI1I calling CQ fairly slowly and thought, "oh heck... i can probably carry on a QSO for the first time in over 30 years with no preparation...  its just like falling off a bicycle"...  and it was...  skinned knees and bloody elbows and all...  and multitudinous blessings on the head of Jim, NI1I from Fairchance, PA (the only parts of the actual QSO i was actually able to put on paper), for his patience.

(did you know that under 'pressure' the brain can forget which of only -two- fingers controls the dit's and which controls the dah's and, instead, simply and convulsively squeeze both paddles at the same time, something not possible with a straight key, sending out random groups of tones that sound like letters but don't actually form any words?...  neither did i!)

anyway, i now have a complete CW QSO under my belt.  things can only dit better! (ha ha ha ha ha)


de Robin (W6RDG)

One of the Good Guys...

i've only been back on the air a few months, but i've already had more than my fair-share of interaction with other hams off the air... here's a tribute to one of the truly good guys, Jerry Pittenger, K8RA.

here's the deal...

having started out as a novice, unable to get over the 10wpm hump, i was always envious of all those ops who had phone privileged in the HF bands... when we got the TenTec TX-100 rig, my dad went over to an Army/Navy surplus store (do those even exist any more?) and picked up a Navy surplus 'flameproof' signal key, complete with the admonition "do not hold down more than 2min" engraved around the edge of the thumb rest. i was an "OK" cw operator (i'm a reasonable musician with a good sense of rhythm, so my code, though slow, was always pretty tight)... but once the FCC approved the Tech+ license, with phone privileges on 10m, i picked up a used Radio Shack HTX-10, cut down a 1/4 wave mag mount CB antenna, and never looked back.

flash forward to the present, the code requirement is gone, my General ticket is in hand, i've got my K3 and Buddipole, and that, as they say, should be that... except that Kristen (K6RX) who's an old friend and unwitting Elmer keeps asking me when i'm gonna work CW... and with propagation crap and my QTH fairly noisy (electrically speaking) i realize that a little CW might get me some DX contacts faster than waiting for the phone pileups to clear...

now there's a long distance between there and here, and last time i checked VibroPlex keyers were all the rage... so i sniff around and decide that a simple iambic paddle is the best way to go and what should show up on but a used (never used) K8RA P-2 paddle... the reviews are all great and the price is right, so i make the deal and a few days later what arrives is a used (never used) K8RA P-2 paddle... except even though its clearly never been used (the contacts are unmarked), it doesn't work smoothly like the reviews say it should, and it doesn't look exactly like the paddle on the K8RA site. there's stiction in the movement and some kind of tarnish under the coating.

so i send a note to K8RA, acknowledging that i purchased the paddle, used and out of warranty, and asking for advice on cleaning the tarnish and adjusting the contacts, and this is the note i get back:

Robin... that key is a really really old model. I have come a long way since making that version of the P2. I would guess I made it 4 or 5 years ago. It is actually fun for me to look at. It uses the sleeve bearings as opposed to the miniature ball bearings and smaller contact posts without the knurled rods. To make a long story short, I think you need to send it back to me and I will update it to the new design along with taking it all apart and repolishing it. Also, on that model I sprayed it with a clear acrylic and have since switched to a lacquer coating that lasts a whole lot longer. Trust me, it will be worth your time to send it back. I will turn it around very quickly for you. Take care and send it back...please please

wow... i mean, really... and as a side note, the original seller happened to see a note i posted on eham about the response i received from Jerry and wrote to me to apologize for my having to incur the expense of sending the key back to Jerry in the first place... another good guy...

so i try to make one fractured CW QSO, just to whet my whistle (and in the process, shut down the rig in a panic when someone actually responds to me!), pack up the key and send it back to its maker, only to have a package arrive today (less than 1 week later) with the following note:

Robin -
I reserved serial #'s 1-10 and started (production) at 11. Since yours did not have a serial #, I gave it #00009. This was one of the fi
rst 25 or 30 paddles that I made. Jerry K8RA

and here's what i got back, at no charge, from a true 'mensch'

cleaned, polished, new bearings, new adjustment screws, new contacts, new feet... Jerry says its the same key, though you couldn't get me to swear to it in a court of law!

so now i have to practice my code, work on my speed, and become worthy of Jerry and his lovely polished piece of brass. seems like a worthy endeavour, indeed!

de Robin (W6RDG)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First Things, First...

when i started to work at apple, back in 1995, i remember the engineers joking, "first you come up with a code name, then you make the t-shirts, then you figure out what the project is actually all about."

so this blog feels a little bit like that... like i'm doing things a bit backwards... but i just got back mountain topping at Mt. Unumhum in Los Gatos, California, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where my car's GPS says i was at 2260 ft (37° 09' 33" N, 121° 52' 32" W, if you feel like looking it up on google) and where spent about an hour and a half working 20m from my car, with my K3/100 sitting on the front seat plugged into a gell cell kristen (K6WX) lent me, and an MP1 SuperAntenna c-clamped to a heavy duty video tripod, with four thin radials splayed out on the side of the road, and a MFJ telescoping 10ft whip screwed into the MP1 coil. and i'm total crap at keeping a log, so instead i have this beautiful french bloc rhodia #16 quadrule pad that i used to scribble calls and names like mad (i know i spoke with KI6JD, Jim, in San Jose, and WA0IIH, Shawn, in St. Louis and KL7SB, Steve, in Anchorage and i'm pretty sure it was KE5ZWD, Mark, in Mississippi and maybe a few others... i should have been a doctor, my handwriting is so poor!)

anyway, after a couple of park rangers and a santa clara county sheriff deputy very kindly let me know they were getting ready to start closing things up for the night, i packed up all my 'every day is field day' kit and headed back down into Los Gatos to pick up some dinner, and was talking with the young girl at the checkout, who i recognize and we tend to chat, and i told her i had just come down from Mt. Unumhum and had talked on my 'short wave' radio to a fellow in Alaska and one in Mississippi and one in St. Louis and she was all like "really... wow..." and her eyes got wide and i recognized the wonder that i feel every time i shout into my microphone and a voice comes out of the ether.


so i hopped over to to snag a cheap domain (code 'gdr0837x' snagged me a the domain and free private registration for about $8.00) and then over here to blogger to set up a blog ('cause i don't feel like having to deal with hosting a blog on my own site) and voila! i now have a place to write about my QSO's and crashing antennas with the help of Budd "Buddipole" Drummond at 6 o'clock in the morning and barking into the mic when XE2JA couldn't understand the "D" in RDG, and i started shouting, "DOG... DOG... WOOF... WOOF..." and when he keyed his mic i could hear him still laughing and realized i had little future as an international diplomat and on and on and on...

so there you go... a repository for all thing amateur radio...

and when i parked the car and was unloading the groceries i realized that i had just had a of fun, and that after almost 38 years (on and off) of being a 'ham', i still liked doing it.

ignore the jerks
be kind to the newbies
and listen, with great attention, to other people's stories.

that's a good hobby (and a pretty decent philosophy of life!)

de Robin (W6RDG)