Operating, QRP, SOTA

SOTA After Action Report – Sheridan Peak

Thanks to the efforts of Etienne Scott, K7ATN, we who live in the Pacific Northwest have a couple of nice SOTA summit-to-summit activity days each year. One that happens in early spring and if I remember correctly the other which occurs later in the summer. I participated in the spring S2S Party two years ago, but haven’t had a SOTA activation since.

As mentioned in a previous post, things have been kind of crazy here lately, and Jennifer has been encouraging me to get out to do something I enjoy, so I decided to take this Saturday to participate in the S2S Party. I was considering Bald Peak, which is just on the outskirts of the Beaverton-Hillsboro area, and makes for a quick and easy trip, but by the time that I went to Sotawatch to claim it, I noticed that K7ATN had already done so. Thanks to SOTA Maps, I was able to easily browse some other peaks relatively close, and settled on Sheridan Peak, especially since a previous trip report tagged it as a fairly easy drive and hike.

I needed a travelling companion, so I asked my 5-year-old son Noah if he wanted to go, and he eagerly agreed. I wasn’t sure if that enthusiasm would hold up during the trip, but at least because of the short hike to the summit, it would be easy to bail out if necessary. So we departed the house at around 9 AM, stopped by McDonalds for a light breakfast and a large coffee for me, then took the backroads of Washington and Yamhill Counties out to Sheridan Peak.

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The drive was uneventful, other than my phone’s GPS getting a bit lost at the very end of the trip. However, the driving directions from the two previous write-ups of this peak on pnwsota.org were great and got me right to the parking lot. Actually, the gate to the parking lot was closed, but that was OK because there is a nice big turnout on the road immediately below it, so we just parked there and walked around the closed gate.

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The hike up to the summit was quite easy, and Noah did well for one of his first actual hikes. Unsurprisingly for a peak in the Oregon Coast Range, the weather was damp and showery. Although we didn’t have much of a view from the top due to the forest, one big advantage of that was the canopy over our heads providing a bit of a break from the rain.

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Fortunately, I was prepared for the rain, and I quickly erected a tarp shelter for us to use to take cover from the elements. It was actually fairly cozy under the shelter, as another advantage of the tree cover was that it was acting as a nice wind break from the usual chilly blast you get on a peak.

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I don’t currently own any HF portable gear, but thanks to the generosity of W8NF, I was able to borrow a Yaesu FT-817 and Elecraft T1 tuner. A few days prior to the activation, I cut a random wire and counterpoise that would at least work on 40 and 20 meters, and tested it in my backyard. That turned out to be a good thing, as I was able to get my wire in the tree and get the 817 QRV with no problems at all. I also brought along my Baofeng UV-5R with rubber duck/tiger tail combo for 2 meter FM ops, with the 817 as the designated backup if that didn’t work.

At the designated time of noon local, I heard K7ATN full quieting on 2 meters (which wasn’t a huge shock, as his peak was only about 20 miles away from mine). There wasn’t a huge turnout for this activity day like there was a few years ago when I did it on Cooper Mountain, but I did manage to make four S2S QSOs on 2 meter FM with the UV-5R in order to officially activate the peak. Woo! After that, I switched to 40 meters LSB on the 817 and made a couple of S2S QSOs with stations that I had already talked to on 2 meters and one with a local chaser. Finally, I had K7ATN spot me on 20 meters and managed to squeak out a couple more SSB QRP QSOs, both with stations in Arizona. By then, Noah was getting a bit cold and wanted to get going, but I was pretty happy with the results. From the sounds of things on 2 meters, a few of the other activators had some pretty crummy weather conditions to deal with, especially NS7P on Mary’s Peak.

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So after about an hour on the peak, Noah and I packed everything up and headed back down the half mile or so to the pickup. I was very proud of Noah, as he did great for a 5-year-old; never really complaining and obviously really enjoying being out in nature, plus I think he liked the radio activity as well.

I’m really happy to have made this activation, especially since I was able to get Noah involved in both an activity out in nature plus radio fun! Thanks again to K7ATN for all of the hard work that you put into the PNW SOTA community and the rest of the activators for getting out there in this wet spring Oregon day. Stay tuned for hopefully one or two more SOTA activations this year, hopefully with more family members coming along on future trips.

Edit: Here’s a recap of the event from K7ATN.

Operating

2014 Ten Meter Contest

Since moving to the current QTH, it has now become something of a tradition for me to operate in the ARRL 10 Meter Contest. The last few years of the contest have been enjoyable since we’re on the peak of the solar cycle, and I don’t have to stay up all night to catch stations, meaning I can still sleep and have some family time. I think Radiosport is fun, but I just don’t have time for much of it with my other obligations. This is one of the few times I get to indulge and spend a significant portion of a weekend sequestered in the ham shack, clutching a mug of coffee.

I always enter the SO SSB QRP category of the 10 Meter Contest, which is a pretty lonely category, presumably because of the relative difficulty. One nice thing about entering the category is that there may only be one or two entrants from your section (or even division!), so the chances of scoring some wallpaper is pretty good, even if you put in a fairly minimal effort.

Since I have no illusions about competing with the LP and HP entrants, my main goal each year is to beat my previous best score. Since my score from last year was 7,490, I figured with a bit of effort, I should be able to get to at least 10,000. So that was my goal for 2014.

Over the last few years, I’ve just used my stock station equipment for the contest, which means an Icom IC-718 (turned down to 5 W PEP of course) and a ZS6BKW doublet up about 30 feet (probably not the best pattern on 10 meters). I figured that I was going to have to up my game a bit in the equipment department in order to make a big jump in scoring, especially since we are now past the peak of Cycle 24. So I decided on a two-pronged attack to the problem: I needed a directional antenna and a way to process my speech to give me more readability for the same RF output power.

I’m on a limited budget, so purchasing a brand new commercial beam wasn’t in the cards, but fortunately it’s fairly easy to homebrew a decent 10 meter antenna. After putting out the #lazyweb call on Twitter for some antenna plans, Robin G7VKQ pointed me to some simple plans for a 10 meter Moxon.

These plans looked like they would be just about perfect for me, since I already had a lot of 3/4″ Sch 40 PVC pipe and fittings. A Moxon doesn’t have quite the raw gain of a 3-element (or more) Yagi, but it does have a very nice front/back ratio, which means a lot of my 5 watts should be only going where I want it to.

So a trip to Lowe’s a few days before the contest secured me the remaining supplies that I needed (mostly the 1-1/4″ PVC pipe and fittings) and I was able to construct most of the antenna in my garage in one afternoon. I had to extrapolate the PVC measurements from the plans on WB5CXC’s web page a bit, since the fittings I purchased no doubt had different dimensions from the ones he used. I also ended up using some spare stiff steel wire that I had left over from a previous project and some Lexan as the spacers between the driven element and reflector.

Here’s the completed Moxon up on my 6 foot ladder for testing and tuning. Using the DSA815-TG and my HFRLB return loss bridge, I was able to see that the initial resonance was around 27 MHz, and quickly got it trimmed up to a center frequency of about 28.7 MHz.

Once tuning was complete, I put the antenna up on 15 feet of 1-1/2″ Sch 40 PVC mast, secured to a 2×4″ support screwed into the eaves of the house and another one on the ground held down with a sandbag.

Some quick checking of the efficacy of the antenna by tuning in a JA station, then moving the antenna off-axis with my Armstrong rotor, indicated that the front/back ratio of the Moxon was indeed very impressive.

WIth the antenna situation well in hand, I just needed to get my speech processing in place. For that, I went to my Elmer, Dave W8NF, in order to borrow one of his LogiKlipper LK-1 prototypes. The LK-1 provides an adjustable amount of RF clipping (not audio processing) and the ability to interface with just about any commercial amateur radio imaginable. With the addition of a headset and footswitch, I was able to confirm on a second receiver that the LogiKlipper was working and that the adjustable clipping settings had an effect on my readability.

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By the time that 13 December 0000Z rolled around, I was still attending to some family business, but I was able to get into the shack at around 0030Z to try to pick off a few stations before the band closed here at dark at around 0100Z. I pointed the Moxon to about 300 degrees and worked a KH6 right off the bat, but then something awful happened. A horrible, very bad, no good bit of wideband QRM popped up on the entirety of 10 meters. There seemed to be two components to it: a wide rushing noise at a constant S8 or S9, then a pulsing buzz (at about maybe 0.5 Hz) peaking at about 20 dB over S9.

I whinged about this on Twitter and some suggested that I go DFing for the QRM. That’s a worthy suggestion, but I’ve never done that before, and I probably would have spent the entire contest trying to figure out the how to do it, which didn’t seem like a trade-off I wanted. I could still hear the strongest stations (although the pulsing would sometimes even wipe them out on peaks), and I was really only interested in working the strongest stations any way, as a SSB QRP station. So I decided to just grit my teeth and press on.

I woke up at daybreak on Saturday and was able to get in the shack right away. Usually if there’s propagation to Europe, I’ll hear them on 10 meters first thing in the morning, but there was almost nothing I could hear, and certainly nothing I could work.  However, there was good propagation to New England, so I was able to make quite a few QSOs there; usually able to make a contact with anyone who was loud with a call or two. Later in the day, propagation opened up to the Midwest, followed by the South (and a bit of the Caribbean), then the Plains and Mountain West states (but no Dakotas!). In the early evening, I wrapped up with a run of JAs.

The first full day ended with a score of 8282 and 101 QSOs, which was already better than my previous best score. It didn’t seem like it would take much effort to beat my 10,000 point goal at this point, barring something catastrophic like an equipment failure or solar blackout.

Up again at dawn on Sunday (one of the “benefits” of having young kids), the bands seemed to start off a bit slower. I did manage a few QSOs to the islands off the western edge of Europe, but still nothing in Europe proper. But by about 10 AM local, things seemed to pick up significantly, at least for North American propagation. Since I was hearing a lot of the same big contest stations as the previous day, my strategy was to spend a bit more time calling new mults. The entire time, I was still dealing with that terrible QRM, which was not that much of an impediment to hearing most of the time, but was awfully fatiguing.

There was also a bit of assistance and moral support from my two sons, which was much appreciated.

The second day of contesting went much like the first, at least as far as propagation went. I was able to get more DX mults on Sunday, as the pileups for those stations died off and my small signal was able to compete a bit better in the smaller piles.

When all was said and done, I ended up with just a bit over 20,000 points; more than double my initial goal!

My QSO total was 182, which indicates that I didn’t quite get as many QSOs on day 2 as I did on day 1, probably because I spent more time chasing mults. I think that was a good strategy overall, but I probably could have chased non-mult QSOs a bit harder on the 2nd day had I been super-motivated.

This is obviously a subjective view, but propagation for this contest didn’t seem quite as good as last year. I didn’t hear nearly the amount of EU stations that I did in 2013. However, domestic propagation was still pretty great, and I was able to make plentiful QSOs from stateside stations. Those mults are just as valuable as DX mults, so it wasn’t terrible that I didn’t get much in the way of EU QSOs. I did manage to work almost every state except for the states immediately surrounding Oregon, with the exception of Rhode Island and North Dakota. I didn’t hear as many Canadian stations as I would have expected, but I did seem to have a pipeline into Manitoba. I posted my score to 3830, but that’s just a condensed version of what is here.

I believe it’s safe to say that equipment upgrades played a significant role in my much-improved score. How much credit goes to each is probably impossible to precisely define, but I’m content to call it 50/50. As always, the contest was a ton of fun, and allowed me to hone my station equipment and operating skills. I’ve set the bar pretty high if I plan on beating this score next year. As the solar cycle continues to decline, I’m going to have to do even more on the antenna front to give me a fighting chance to beat 20k. But for now, I’m content to have done so well and had such a good time.

CC-Series, Etherkit, Operating

Field Day 2012

OTVARC Field Day 2012 at Stub Stewart State Park

Even though I’ve been insanely busy with home life and running Etherkit, I felt like I needed to get out and do a bit of operating to get back in touch with that aspect of amateur radio. In the past few years, Dave W8NF has invited me to come up to the OTVARC Field Day site at Stub Stewart State Park, but I’ve avoided it due to the fact that late June is usually the time of year when my grass allergies peak here in western Oregon. Fortunately, this year has been a bit of a La Niña year, so it has been unusually wet and mild, which means that the pollen is under good control after a nice rain. A few days before Field Day this year, and my allergies had been pretty mild, so I decided to invite myself up to the public site to check it out and maybe do a little bit of operating.

I arrived at the park at about 4 PM on Saturday. As you can see from the photo above, the weather probably wasn’t to the liking of most people, but it was perfect for me: dry, having just previously rained. OTVARC had four operating positions set up: one CW/digital tent (two K3s), one phone tent (two IC-756IIIs), one VHF (where the above photo was taken), and the GOTA station in the RV you can see in the center of the photo. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the antenna farm ran in a straight line from where I was standing down towards the pavilion in the background. There were 40 foot masts roughly equally spaced out with fixed beams on them, then wire antennas for the lower bands strung between the masts.

After a bit of chatting with W8NF and some introductions to club officers and members, I partook in the grilled hamburgers which were offered (wasn’t going to eat OTVARCs food, but thanks for the invite!) and then Dave and I sat down in the phone tent to try to work some 20 meter SSB. I was at the logging PC and Dave was manning the mic (each phone station was equipped with Dave’s brilliant Logiklipper, natch). We didn’t have much success for some reason on 20 phone, probably due to the antenna we were stuck with (the G5RV, if I remember correctly). I ended up moving over to the other phone station, which was on 15 meters. I actually had a decent run of search & pounce operation, for a non-contester like myself. I wanted to try to park on a frequency and CQ, but I noticed it was 8 PM by this time, so I needed to get back home.

Prototype SSB Rig

Both before I left for Stub Stewart and after I returned, I also used Field Day as an opportunity to test out the “mainframe” of a new SSB transceiver design I’ve been working on (meaning the RF stages, minus the microcontroller/DDS/LED frequency display). A breadboarded DDS-60 was used as the temporary VFO for the radio, and I connected the whole works up to battery power to work as 1E OR from my own station. This iteration of the radio is monoband (20 meters on this unit) and QRP (power output is about 7 watts max with a IRFIZ16G final), so I knew I would be a little guppy in a big pond, but figured it was worth a try just to see that it was working properly. I actually ended up doing better than I expected. In about 1.5 hours of casual search & pounce operation, I was able to make 11 QSOs with stations in the sections NE, ID, AK, PAC (x3!), KS, AZ, and NM. The PAC stations were all in Hawaii and were booming in easily 20 to 60 dB over S9. Two of those three PAC QSOs were snagged on first call. It’s a little spooky having such an easy QSO only using 6-7 watts SSB over such a long distance. Yes, all of the heavy lifting credit goes to the other station, but QRP SSB can work if you take care to know your propagation and try to work the stations which are loudest. Given a QTH from a peak (such as a SOTA activation) and a decent antenna, I don’t doubt that it could be quite effective.

So the rig seems to work, and I don’t even have a name for it yet, but it’s shaping up quite nicely. The microcontroller/DDS/LED module is nearly complete, then I’m going to package the rig in a WA4MNT-style copper clad chassis so that I can take the rig with me to Salmoncon in a few weeks. With any luck, beta testing will begin in no more than two months, and hopefully a quick entry to the market after that. On a side note, as much as it pained me to set aside the CC-Series to develop something else, I think it was vitally important for me to do so. I was too stuck in a rut with the CC-Series design and needed a mental breakout to something different. I’ve learned some good circuit design ideas from this radio, which should translate into vast improvements in the next iteration of the CC-Series. I do intend to give my CC-Series beta testers a worthy radio in this next round of testing.

CC-Series, Operating, SOTA

SOTA Fail on Clatskanie Mountain

PC030148.JPG This post is a bit late, but I wanted to be sure to document my first attempt at a SOTA activation and what I learned from it. The title is probably a bit harsh, but the eternal pessimist in me couldn’t help it. I decided to attempt a SOTA activation after seeing a lot of increased activity from my esteemed ham colleagues such as KK7DS, KD0BIK, and of course the guy who probably introduced most of us Americans to the activity: WG0AT. I’ve always loved outdoor hikes and have done my share of outdoor operating from parks and campgrounds, so the idea of packing a portable station up to the top of a local peak has been sounding appealing for quite a while now.

The plan was put together with much haste, as I wanted to get up in the mountains before any bad storms hit. I used the tools at SOTAWatch to find some candidate peaks that were within reasonable driving distance and not very high, then digitally scouted them using Google Earth. The initial research yielded a list of about 5 candidate peaks which fit my criteria. After more studying, I decided to try for Clatskanie Moutain W7/NC-039. It’s roughly 60 miles from my house, which translates to a one-way drive time of about 1.5 hours. The logging road from the highway to the peak was only about 3 miles, and it looked like I could drive all the way to the peak if I wanted to. The plan that I had in mind was to park at the cutoff to the little spur road that branched off to the peak. The distance from this intersection to the peak is only about 500 meters, an easy hike, but one that would fit within the spirit of the SOTA rules.

After deciding on a peak, I managed to rope Dave W8NF into going on the trip with me, a decision that I would be very grateful for later. Since I recently sold my FT-817, the only portable radio that I currently have is my CC-20 beta unit, and it was in a bit of a torn-up state since I’ve been making corrections that will be implemented in the final version. I also wanted to do some 10 meter operation, so I thought it would be fun to slap together a VXO-tuned DSB rig that might allow me to snag a few voice QSOs. Without getting into the painful details, I worked furiously to build the DSB rig and get the CC-20 back into working condition (without a proper enclosure!). In a homage to my school days, I didn’t finish until late night just before the day we were to go on our little expedition, and even then I wasn’t sure that my 10 meter DSB rig was working correctly.

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So the designated day, Saturday, 3 December came around and I was running on about four hours of sleep, but still excited to get up around 8 AM to get going. By 9:30 AM, I was out the door, able to grab my coffee, and get to Dave’s house. We quickly made way to the peak, and had little difficulty finding the logging road off of the highway that would take us up to the peak. There was only one small problem. The gate was locked. I should have done better due diligence (such as experienced SOTA expeditioner KK7DS explains here) and picked up a proper topo map from the local forestry office. I was planning on a short hike to the peak, but I really didn’t want to turn around and drive back 1.5 hours having not even tried. I knew we were about 3 miles from the peak, which was a bit of a hike for some one as out of conditioning as me, but I felt I could probably hack it. Graciously, Dave agreed to hike it, so we grabbed our packs and I lugged the bulky, oversized sack with the Buddipole and we made way for Clatskanie Mountain. Fortunately for us, the weather couldn’t be any better for a December trek in the Oregon Coastal Range. The skies were mostly clear, with just a bit of high clouds and some patches of fog below us.

PC030160.JPGWe had a pleasant hike up to the peak, and while I (the guy who is mostly sedentary and fat) had to stop for frequent breathers, Dave (the guy who runs half-marathons) didn’t seem to have too much difficulty with the 3 mile hike and 700 foot elevation gain. When we reached the peak at sometime around 1:30 PM, we were greeted with a very spiffy microwave tower and wonderful view of the Columbia River below us to the north. The temperature was chilly (I’m guessing around 35° F) but the wind was slight.

There was a large earthen berm behind the microwave facility that gave us a point to operate with the mountain sloping away west, north, and east. I brought along my EFHW antennas, but decided not to deploy them at first since there weren’t any trees at this location. I deployed the Buddipole in L-configuration with Dave’s help and he broke out his FT-817 and started listening on 10 meters. As expected, the bands were ultra quiet up here far away from any big RF noise generators (save that big microwave tower right behind us!).

PC030156.JPG While Dave sent out some CQs on 28.060 MHz, I unpacked my DSB radio and the CC-20 beta. Dave didn’t have any luck getting responses, which struck me as a bit odd. We could hear plenty of signals, and we had his Elecraft T-1 in-line and tuned-up. So I decided to try the DSB radio. A few quick cable changes and it was ready to go. Only one small problem. It was completely deaf. Well, that’s what I get for trying to get a radio on the air in such a hasty fashion. I felt bad because I knew that there were people listening for me on my pre-spotted frequency of 28.650 MHz, but somewhat surprisingly I was wasn’t successful in getting cell service on the peak, so I couldn’t spot a new notification. Sometime around these events, the wind started picking up, making the temperature feel wicked cold with the wind chill factor.

So next up was the CC-20. Again, dead as a doornail (I later found out that it was a bad solder joint in the VFO circuitry that popped loose on the hike). Dave was kind enough to let me use his FT-817 to try to get my four required QSOs to count for a proper SOTA activation. The 10 meter QRP watering hole was awfully quiet, but I figured that some CQing should bring people out. Turns out that I didn’t have much luck. I managed to work a weak WA8REI, then a booming JA1KGW (this guy is an awesome QRPer). By this time, both Dave and I were getting awfully cold. The wind seemed to be getting stronger and the temperature felt like it kept dropping. My further CQs were going unanswered, so I thought that 10 meters might be starting to close up and that we should move to 20.

We quickly re-resonated the Buddipole for 20 meters and re-tuned the T-1. I tried calling CQ on a few different frequencies near the QRP watering hole, but never did get any calls on 20 meters. I’m not sure how long I tried calling, but I didn’t have a memory keyer to use, so I was manually sending the CQ each time, and it was getting sloppier and sloppier due to my numb hands. Poor Dave was pacing around to keep warm by this point. As much as it killed me to leave before activating the summit, we we both very uncomfortable and needed to leave soon regardless, because we only had about 1.5 hours of sunlight left at this point.

PC030146.JPGAll of our stuff got packed up in record time and we started downhill at a brisk pace. But only a few hundred meters from the peak, my leg started cramping up bad from the cold weather. A bit of stretching worked it out, but then it kept recurring every few hundred meters! We both wanted to get back to the warmth of my pickup as fast as possible, but my leg was not cooperating very well. Dave patiently waited as I stopped each time to try to work out the leg cramps. Although it took longer than expected, we did reach the gate right when the dark was really starting to set in. Getting back in the truck and heating up my body mercifully ended the awful leg cramps.

I’m a perfectionist by nature, so it still bothers me that I didn’t get my activation of Clataskanie Mountain. And it’s tough to try to demonstrate the fun and effectiveness of QRP to a non-QRPer like  Dave when you have such a lousy radio day as I did. I am very glad that Dave was there, as I might have stayed on the peak too late to get back before dark if I was only thinking of myself and of trying to complete my activation. I also realized that a nearly 7 mile round trip hike for a unconditioned hiker such as myself would have been incredibly foolish. If my leg cramps had been worse, I could have been stuck up there in the dark over night. I used to hike like this with no problems, but I have to remind myself that this was 10+ years ago and that I was in much better shape then.

It’s a cliché, but I did learn a lot from the trip, regardless of the radio results. I do intend to try it again in the spring, once the bad winter storms have passed and I have my radios really ready to go. Stay tuned for further adventures!

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Homebrewing

A Nice Labeling Technique

LogiKlipper Prototype
LogiKlipper Prototype

I recently received a very interesting e-mail from Dave W8NF regarding a very spiffy looking labeling technique that he successfully used for his latest LogiKlipper prototype (BTW, LogiKlipper is going to kick the butt of the RF clipper manufactured by that other company in the South…). Here’s the details on how he did it:

I printed out what I proposed as the “final” lettering artwork on the transparency film.  I included four alignment marks for the corners.  I laid the panel down on newspaper and sprayed the panel with “Elmer’s Multi-Purpose Spray Adhesive” – I got it from Home Depot a year or so ago for another project.

I moved the panel to on top of a magazine that had not been sprayed, and carefully positioned the transparency film over it.  The fact that the film is transparent helped a lot…this would be difficult with an opaque film.

I was worried about bubbles or smudges in the adhesive, and they do indeed exist.  They don’t look as visible as I worried about, though.  They provide a bit of texture, even.

The film is pulling up at the edges…since this was more of an alignment test than a finished piece, I didn’t really work hard to press the film into the panel.  Also, I used a pair of scissors to trim the edges, and that pulled the film up…an X-Acto, bearing against the panel edge, would have avoided this problem.

I X-Acto’d through all the holes, bearing the blade against the metalwork to form scissors.  The only problem points were the countersunk holes.  For a homebrew project, I probably would not countersink.  Or, if I did, I’d have those screws in place before the film was attached, and just glue the film right over them.  The flathead screws, when they went in, wrinkled up the film around them.

I think I’ll try the technique for my next homebrew project.  It certainly serves for what I needed to demonstrate this time.

A very nice looking front panel, Dave! I’m going to have to give this a shot. I’m a lousy mechanical engineer, but I think even I could pull this off respectably.

Antennas, Homebrewing, QRP

SEA-PAC 2009 Wrapup

Whew, I just got back from a nice day at the SEA-PAC 2009 convention in Seaside, OR. Due to the *ahem*unstable*ahem* financial situation that I have recently found myself in due to the current economic conditions, I decided a few months ago that I would skip the show this year. However, things ended up changing, as they often do. Since I’m now working for Buddipole, I figured that it would be good to make an appearance, if for nothing more than getting in some time at the booth, soaking up the feeling of the chaos, and maybe trying to learn a thing or two. The deal was sealed when Chris, W6HFP called me last night to let me know that he had an extra exhibitor’s pass that I could use. Being a ham, thus cheap by nature, I jumped on the chance.

Found: SSDRA
Found: SSDRA

The morning started a bit late for me since I was busy doing some much-needed hibernation the night before. I ended up rolling into Seaside around 1030. Surprisingly, I didn’t have much trouble finding a parking space within a few blocks of the convention center. After a quick check-in at the Buddipole booth, I started off with a first walkthrough of the convention floor. As usual, the sheer mass of stuff, along with the throngs of hams smashed together in narrow aisles kept me too distracted from finding much that I wanted to buy. However, when I was about ready to quit my first pass through the show floor, I found it: my reason for being there. The thing that I knew made the trip worth it, regardless of whether I found any other good purchases. Sitting on a lonely swap table in the middle of the main floor was two first edition copies of Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur (SSDRA). For those of you who aren’t homebrewers and don’t listen to SolderSmoke, just know that SSDRA is a long out-of-print book that can command quite high prices on eBay and other reseller sites. These two copies carried a cover price of $7.00, but the seller had marked them down to $5.00! Immediately, I snagged both of them. However, I’m not quite as greedy as it might seem. I had loaned out my 3rd printing copy to W8NF, who hadn’t had access to one for years. Since I knew he needed one, I had to save one copy for him (coincidentally enough, he had brought along my loaner copy to return to me). I know that still puts me in that club of hoarders who have more than one copy, but I don’t really care! I’ve got two copies of EMRFD (1st edition and Revised 1st edition), so it feels right to have the first and third printing copies sitting on my shelf. Don’t hate me.

After that small bit of excitement (yes, I’m a geek to the core), I went back to the Buddipole booth for a stint in helping out. What I thought would be a fairly small amount of time behind the booth turned out to be about three hours during some fairly busy periods. I was at a pretty big disadvantage because I couldn’t remember the prices on most items, and I had to bug poor Chris numerous times to ask. However, I started to get more comfortable fielding questions as the afternoon wore on, especially regarding the technical side of things. The best part was getting people pumped up about our new A123 nanophosphate battery packs and chargers. A lot of folks were interested in these things. I also ran into a few people of note while manning the booth. First off, I got to meet Randy K7AGE when he stopped by the booth. He was a really nice guy and I got to tell him how much I appreciate his YouTube videos, especially the 6 meter stuff he recently released. A bit later, Dan KK7DS and his wife (Mrs. D-RATS, according to her t-shirt, LOL) stopped by. You may remember him from our January Eggs & Coffee, where he was kind enough to stop by to demo D-RATS. Dave W8NF, came to the booth to give me my copy of SSDRA, and I had the pleasure of surprising him with a copy of his very own.

The Law
The Law

Across the way from the Buddipole booth was a vendor selling ham radio-related t-shirts. I had to do a double-take at one point because I saw someone well-known to the locals browsing the wares across the way. Paul Linnman, who used to report for KATU and now broadcasts on radio station KEX, was right there, along with who I assume was his wife. He was there to give the evening banquet speech regarding the famous Oregon Exploding Whale story, which he covered as a newbie reporter back in the day. I pretty much expect media types to kind of look down their nose at us nerds, but Paul seemed genuinely interested and amused at the hamfest. Speaking of the t-shirt vendor, I spotted a shirt that I just had to pick up. I don’t normally go for the extremely nerdy fare that you find at these things, but if you check out the photo to the left, you’ll probably appreciate why I had to have this one. Of course, I got a ton of eye-rolling from Jennifer when I brought it home, but it’s not like I plan on wearing it out everywhere we go in public. Or maybe I will, just so she’ll be embarrassed to be seen with me.

Even with all of the cool stuff that I saw, the best was still to come. After my stint at the Buddipole booth, I had a bit of time to kill before the seminar I wanted to see. When I was wandering near the front doors of the convention center, I spotted the ham homebrewer #1 rockstar, Wes W7ZOI. I’ve communicated with Wes a few times via e-mail but I’ve never met the guy in person. I almost walked up to introduce myself to him, but chickened out, figuring the poor guy didn’t want to be ambushed by some unknown geek at the front door. So I continued browsing the tables to see if I could find anything else I couldn’t live without. As fortune would have it, I ended up right next to Wes once again on the mezzanine level right by the table full of old Tek junk. Since it appeared that the universe was giving me a second chance, I got up the nerve to walk up and introduce myself. Surprisingly to me, he actually recognized my name and mentioned that he had been hoping to meet me at some point, since I’m one of the few locals who is out there homebrewing and publishing my work on the Internet. To say I was flattered is a huge understatement. He also invited me over to visit his shack some day; asking why I hadn’t come over sooner. My reply was something along the lines of “I didn’t want to be a crazy stalker”…or maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but you get the gist of the message. Wes is a really nice guy, and it was truly an honor to finally meet him. When I do get over to his shack, you can bet I will get some photos and a write-up for you.

The end of the evening was a presentation on “Construction & Design Ideas” by Jeff WA7MLH. Jeff is a protege of Wes, and it showed in his really neat presentation. He brought along a PowerPoint deck showing off his shack and many of his homebrew rigs. He discussed strategies for acquiring parts cheaply at hamfests, techniques for repurposing used chassis,  design elements for receivers, transmitters, and transceivers, as well as a bunch of other random homebrewer wisdom. After an hour-and-a-half, he still wasn’t done with the first part of his presentation, but I had to go! Which was a bummer, because I really wanted to stick around for part two, which was about building crystal filters. Alas, real life had to intrude into my geek bliss, and I needed to return home.

This was the best time that I’ve had yet at any hamfest. Even though I’m a pretty shy guy, I got a lot of socializing in this time. I’ve come away really reinvigorated to get building more stuff, but unfortunately I don’t have much time for that right now. But that’s OK, because the fire is really burning once again. Thanks to everyone who I met at SEA-PAC this year, and a special thanks to Buddipole for giving me the opportunity to get reconnected with a lot of good ham radio stuff.