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)