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Still Alive

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Here’s a quick update from my phone just to let you know that I’m still here. I’ve been unusually busy trying to fix one last bug in the CC-40 that has been extremely challenging. Between that and taking care of Noah, there’s been little to write about here. With any luck, the beta test will be going soon and things will be moving forward again. Check back for updates!

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A Housekeeping Note

Thanks to some feedback from John AE5X, I’ve disabled the requirement that you sign up for an account on my blog just to be able to post a comment. Honestly, I had forgotten that my blog was setup that way, and didn’t realize what a pain that barrier was imposing upon potential commenters. From now on, I’ll have to approve your first comment to the blog, then any comments after that should be immediately posted.

I’d like to thank all of my readers and I hope that the new commenting setup will encourage you to participate more actively in the blog. I would love to hear from you!

Cool Stuff, Meta

Shack Mk. II

Here’s a cheap & cheerful (or in the American vernacular, crappy) panorama that I just did with the open source Hugin software package. Yes, there are some obviously bad stitches, but it gives you an idea of what my newly updated shack looks like. I added the KADA 852D+ rework station, upgraded the shack PC, and got a shiny new 24″ TV/monitor. Wish I had more free time to play with Hugin, as I love panorama images.

On the “Project X” front, progress is continuing. The firmware is just getting going, but as soon as I have a barebones firmware, I’m going to send out for my first PCBs for beta testing. Hopefully that will be within about two weeks. Please feel free to send along any questions or suggestions in the comments below!

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Bittersweet

Friday, 1 October will mark a very significant change for our family. That will be my last day of employment at Tektronix (actually now Danaher). I’ve submitted my resignation so that we can do what’s necessary for us to avoid having to send Noah to daycare. Due to some other, less drastic shuffling of schedules, Jennifer will be able to be home with Noah one workday, while her mom will also be able to watch him one day a week. The remaining days are now mine. With the high price of daycare, it’s getting close to the point where one of us is working the majority of our work days just to pay the daycare provider. As a family, we decided that we are willing to take the hit to our income in order to have the wonderful opportunity to spend time raising our awesome son. I know that this is a decision that grates against societal norms a bit, but frankly I don’t care. One thing in life I’ve realized is that we only get one shot at it and we better enjoy it while we have the opportunity. I don’t intend to be one of those men who dies full of regrets about missing my son growing up.

I’m going to miss some aspects of Tektronix an awful lot. I work with some amazingly talented, smart, and capable people. It was not an easy decision to make, and surprisingly it was very hard to tell my manager the news. Management has cut staffing levels to the bone, so my manager is going to have a difficult time finding a replacement RF technician. For more than four years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with an incredible lab full of very expensive RF equipment and troubleshoot microwave circuits down to the component level. There are not many jobs like this left in the US. On the other hand, there are some extremely aggravating aspects of the workplace that I won’t miss. Most of them relate to Danaher’s purchase of Tek and the way that they have gutted and “rewired” the place. I won’t get into that rant online; you’ll have to ask me about it over a beer.

So what am I going to do for work? Glad you asked. How does the words “open source ham radio” sound? I will be dipping into some of my meager savings to capitalize a new kit company. It’s a daunting task, but I’ve already done most of major components of this kind of work before, I’ve just never put it all together into an actual business. I’ve got a notebook full of cool ideas that I feel that I can execute, and the first one is already in the development hopper. I don’t want to promise anything yet, but I can tell you at this point that it looks like it will be a series of simple yet fully featured single band QRP transceivers optimized for portable/trail operation (low current consumption, lots of handy features). I’ll have a bit more time to blog very soon, so keep watching the blog for more details. Hopefully, the first prototype will be done by mid-October and I can get a beta test rolling shortly after that.

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Where Did Summer Go?

It’s hard to believe that the summer is pretty much over. Here in Oregon, it felt like we only had about 6 weeks of summer due to the very late winter and spring. We didn’t even get a chance to go camping once this year, which was a real bummer, but we sacrificed it for a very good cause. You can believe that we’ll be dragging Noah out to the woods for plenty of camping and other outdoor activities by next summer.

I’m a bit regretful that things have been so slow on the blog lately. As you can imagine, my spare time has been reduced pretty drastically. Now that Noah is a month old, we are all starting to settle into some semblance of a routine, so life is slowly getting to a new “normal”. The radio hasn’t even been on since we brought Noah home, but it looks like there’s a chance I’ll be back on the air soon. I actually do have a pretty big ham radio project bubbling on the back burner right now. I can’t quite tell you about it yet, but it will be forthcoming when the time is right. I have a feeling that I will need some assistance with this one, so stay tuned for it. I’m also trying to clear up some time for the OpenQRP project, which is supposed to be shipping pretty soon. I’m excited to see this one get off the ground.

The Amp Hour

I did add a new podcast to the sidebar today. This one is called The Amp Hour (get it?) and it’s hosted by Dave Jones of EEV Blog fame and Chris Gammell. It’s quite entertaining, especially Dave’s no-BS approach to the topics. They really had me hooked in the latest episode when they gave a shout-out to SolderSmoke. Give them a try, I think most of you will like it.

Ham Culture, Meta, Operating

Last Chance Hammin’

Perhaps that’s a bit melodramatic, but my time for operating and homebrewing is going to be severely curtailed very soon. Baby Boy Milldrum will be arriving any day now (the estimated due date is July 22) and we’re in full-blown panic mode as we finish the last minute preparations to get the baby’s room ready, make sure we have all of the assorted baby stuff that’s needed, and take care of those homeowner chores that need to be done for the summer. So I figured that I should take some free moments to enjoy the hobby while I can. Sometimes I feel like every blog post here should have some really meaty and meaningful content, but perhaps that inhibits me from posting more than a few times a month. So prepare for this post and many of my future posts to cater a bit more to the short attention span crowd. I’ll have to get my ham radio in small doses whenever I can, so expect a bit of ADD to set into the blog for a while.

Anyway, my inbox has been blowing up with DX Sherlock alerts telling me that 6 meters has been open most evenings over the last few weeks. I finally broke down and dug out the Buddipole components on Friday so I could try to snag a few QSOs on 50 MHz. I managed to grab a few SSB QRP QSOs with the FT-817 into VE4 and VE6-land on Friday night using the Buddipole in a simple dipole configuration. The band was in great shape that night, as I could hear a lot of East Coast stations coming in quite strong via multihop Es. On Saturday, I tried to work CW QRP on 50.096 MHz but had zero success even after calling CQ many, many times. The band was open and there was still plenty of activity on the SSB portion of the band, but CW was a bust. Come on CW ops, we’ve got to do better than this.

I still managed to make it a interesting ham radio night. After packing in the gear from the back deck, I went into the shack, flipped on the HF rig, and checked 20 meters (just around sunset local time). Very soon I stumbled upon the legendary Martti, OH2BH calling US West Coast stations. After a quick tune-up, I was able to snag him within about 4 calls. He was absolutely booming into Beaverton (by the sounds of it, he was booming into the entire western portion of the US). This was my first QSO with Martti and was memorable to be sure.

Moving on to a more unpleasant topic, am I the only one who things that most of the ham mailing lists are dying of a creeping mediocrity and groupthink mentality? The big two QRP-Ls are mostly a joke as far as getting an interesting, topical discussion going. On the other hand, start bitching about computers or some other off-topic old fart rant, and you’ll get 30 messages a day. The SKCC group made me sick with its virtual pitchforks-and-torches assault on the new owner of Vibroplex because he had the audacity to replace the stamped brass identification plates with a silkscreened version. The way that a few prominent members of that group (including one who is affiliated with a competing key manufacturer I might add) character assassinated the owner was quite disgusting.

This provides a nice segue into another topic people love to hate: Twitter. I quit tweeting a few months ago due to the large jackass/decent person ratio that I was experiencing. I thought I would miss it quite a bit, but once I got over the DTs in a few days I didn’t really miss it much at all. I still debate whether I should go active on Twitter again, because I see some utility in it; but even when you remove the jerk factor, it still feels like drinking from a firehose most of the time. Not to mention that huge time sink that results from checking your account all of the time make sure you are up-to-the-minute on the latest crap. What to do?

Finally, a plea. Some of you may know of qrpedia.com, which I tried (and failed miserably) to turn into a QRP/homebrewer aggregated blog and knowledge repository. It’s already in sad shape, but with the new kid coming, I know I’ll have no time to devote to it, so I need to let it go. I don’t want to nuke the site because there are a handful of people who put a lot of hard work into posting content there. I would like to sell the site for a nominal price and have it go to someone who could give it another chance. Please contact me if this interests you at all. Prices and terms are very negotiable.

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A Brief Update

Family commitments and issues have kept me from doing much radio related stuff lately, which is why I haven’t blogged much recently. When I have had some spare time, I’ve been using it to complete the documentation for my FDIM 2010 QRP Challenge entry, which I finally finished and submitted last night. After attending a marathon childbirth class last weekend with Jennifer, I did get a chance to operate for a few hours in 7QP, which was a nice bit of time away from “real life”. I stuck to phone only because I still don’t feel like I have the mental acumen to tackle CW contesting for more than a few QSOs. Even though I only got to operate sporadically, I did double my score from last year, so that was kind of cool. I think I got QSOs with all of the New England states because their QSO party was running concurrently with ours.

Now I have to get ready to fly out of here next week for Dayton. I don’t know if I’ll be able to liveblog from Dayton, but I’ll do my best to get some photos and initial impressions up on the blog while I’m still there. I hope to get at least one post up each day I’m there. I can’t wait to meet all you QRPers at FDIM!

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Fresh Meat on the Blogroll

I’ve added quite a few new blogs on my blogroll over to the right in the last few months. Please take a few moments to check out these fine blogs and if you like what you see, don’t be afraid let the owner know (something that I’m guilty of neglecting all too often myself). I didn’t get to everyone new on the blogroll, so please click through to all of the entries on the blogroll that are new to you.

Hoaglun’s Rant & Useless Info

Now here’s a blog that feels like it’s written by my twin. NG0R does an excellent job in documenting his homebrewing experiments and showing us his process in developing and measuring his circuits. He also recently made the leap to Ubuntu Linux; something I did a little while ago and haven’t regretted for one moment. FB blog John!

KB9BVN

My Flying Pig buddy Brian recently started his own blog to talk about his own QRP adventures and other personal topics. Brian is the editor of the QRP Quarterly and has been plugged into the QRP community for a long time.

WB8ICN’s Blog

Here’s a blog from Mikey, another one of my friends from the Flying Pigs QRP Club. Mikey updates it somewhat infrequently (probably because he’s retired and out on the road a lot, lucky guy), but he always has some interesting posts about his homebrew experiments.

Dave Richards AA7EE

Dave is a Bay Area ham that I had the pleasure of “meeting” on Twitter. He always posts really insightful and smart articles on his blog about ham radio operating, QRP, kit building and other topics. He’s on a bit of a hiatus right now as he is in the process of moving, but I’m sure he will pick up the blogging again when he’s settled in.

K4UPG.COM – Adventures in QRP Portable Ops!

A really fun blog from Kelly K4UPG. He enjoys portable QRP operations and posts tons of neat articles about his adventures, along with a lot of photos to show off the great time that he’s having. Makes me want to get outside more often (if I lived in Florida, I probably would!)

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On Politics

A quick note on a change to the site. If you’ve been paying attention to the events of the last year in American politics, you have probably noticed that there has been a highly contentious atmosphere. I’m someone who follows news, politics, and current events quite closely, and I have strong opinions about nearly every subject. However, I don’t want any of that to bleed into this blog, which is supposed to be primarily about radio. I’ve dropped a handful of ham bloggers out of my Google Reader in the last few months because I can’t take the blatant political content that appears regularly. A tiny bit of it on occasion does not bother me, but when the majority of the content is about politics or puts a political spin on ham radio, I don’t want to read it any more. I enjoy radio because it’s time away from bitter, divisive topics such as these.

Therefore, in order to enforce a more strict firewall between my personal political feelings and this blog, I’m removing the Twitter sidebar. I do have a bit of a loud political mouth on Twitter, and I don’t want to completely take that outlet away from myself. I’m sure that some of my strongly worded opinions can be a turn-off to those who come to the blog for technical content. I’ll still use Twitter to chat about whatever topics interest me, but I’m going to do my best to keep Ripples in the Ether as apolitical as I possibly can.

For those of you who have stuck around, thank you sincerely for being a regular reader of the blog. Lately, the content has been light because much of what I have been working on are things that I can’t currently discuss. As Dayton approaches, I expect the content level to pick up again. I’m excited to blog about my FDIM 2010 QRP Challenge entry, which is shaping up to be a neat little rig. Stay tuned…

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Website Overhaul

I finally got fed up with my lousy custom coded main website (at www.nt7s.com), so I’ve decided to rip it down and install a CMS. Don’t be surprised to see some strange things going on there over the next days/weeks. I’m going to get all of the important content back up there. It may take me longer to get the visual design of the site in line with what I want.