Monday, April 18, 2016

Moving yet again!

We're finally putting down roots here in Texas.

A week or so ago, we had an offer accepted for an awesome house in the Dallas suburb of Wylie.  Let me tell you, buying a home in the Dallas area is NOTHING like buying one in Iowa!  With 3 or more major corporations moving into the NE Dallas area in the next year or two, the housing market has exploded and it is most definitely a seller's market.  I can't count how many times I've been told horror stories about people being outbid by 10% over asking with cash offers!

We were super lucky to spot this particular listing as it went up, on a Friday, before pictures had hit the MLS or internet sites.  The way things go down here, there's just no waiting until pictures are up.  If there's even a slim chance that the house will work for you, you had better go check it out!

Of course one major challenge for us was finding something that wasn't in an HOA.  Unfortunately, the city of Plano (where we live now) is almost completely built out, and while its a great city to live in, any new construction will be in an HOA and the existing homes are so expensive, there's just no way we could make it work, so we started looking outside the area.

Lots of the little towns to the East of the metro are especially appealing; they're close to major roads so not too far from the action closer to downtown, but they're far enough out to be quiet and more importantly, cheaper.  Also, some of the towns are pretty old so there's a lot more options that are not constrained by our HOA requirements.

Anyway, back to the house in Wylie.  We saw this listing and we were shocked because it said it was built in 2015 and in a neighborhood we have driven through many times called Watermark.  Other Watermark branded neighborhoods are your typical HOA havens with huge lake features and pools and so-on, but this one is out in the sticks, right on Lake Ray Hubbard.  Intriguing but how is this place not in an HOA?

We drove out a few minutes before our Realtors arrived and while we were peaking around the lot, admiring the amazing houses on the block (all new within the last couple years mind you), the neighbor came over to say hello.  As we talked, he revealed that there were 10 lots in the neighborhood that were not subject to the HOA, and that we were standing on one!  We were shocked.  A brand new house, surrounded by an HOA, but not in the HOA.  A new home is something we had never expected to find, but there we were, looking at one.

And sure enough, this was the one.  We put in an offer that day.

Then we had to wait for the title company to do their thing and pull all the restrictions and stuff.  I thought for sure something would come back "NO ANTENNAS" but our fears were lifted as I read through the 202 page HOA documentation.  Sure enough, there's the 46 lots that the document applies to, and ours isn't there!  Of course they make sure to tell you that there's a formal way to join the HOA if you wanted to.... but who would do that?!?!   I couldn't believe we were in the clear.  (something interesting to note, the HOA CC&Rs do actually allow for an antenna, as long as it is not visible from the street, which is far less restrictive than I've seen in similar write ups before!)  The only restrictions I'll have to deal with are the city of Wylie which has a 75' limit for towers and a special use permit requirement.  I was only hoping to do about 40' anyway so the height limit is no issue though I suppose we will see how the permitting goes.  In the mean time, I think I'm going to try to go with a vertical while I gather up the pieces for a respectable tower over the next year.

We don't close for a few more weeks but baring anything extreme, we'll be moved in before Summer and I'll be back on the air in no time!  In the mean time, its planning and more planning, and waiting.  I've got some great ideas for the new shack and I'm eager to get back into building and tinkering and all that stuff.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

New station stuff

Hey all!  It pains me to say I have not been operating much (or at all...) lately.  I've just had such crummy luck from the apartment that the radio is rarely on anymore but to check JT65 a time or two.  There will be time for that soon though!  Our current lease is up in June so in March we're going to be getting serious about buying a house again.  This time there will be nothing keeping us from buying, we're going to do it.  Wish us luck!

I have been playing a lot with my shack setup though.  A few months ago I built my first computer.  I know, how could I, with all my kit building experience, have never built my own computer?  I don't have much of an excuse except that my affinity for OS X has made it kind of a non-starter but I figured it was about time.  I knew hackintoshing had come a long way in the last few years so I set out to build one. 

The biggest thing is to remember to use  known-good components and the rest is pretty straightforward.  My system is based on the Intel i5-4590 processor and ASRock H97m-ITX/ac motherboard.  My graphics card is an EVGA GTX-960. The whole thing is packaged in a Phanteks Enthoo EVOLV ITX case.  The whole thing looks amazing and performs just as well.  I've even got it set up to dual boot with Windows when I need that extra bet of gaming performance, and with both OS's on SSDs, it only takes a few seconds to swap between them.  Building a computer is so amazingly easy and fulfilling, I would really suggest you try it if you have not yet!

While researching all the components for my build, I came across a new trend that has been growing in computing: ultrawide monitors.  Your typical monitor theses days is 16:9 aspect ratio.  An ultrawide is 21:9!  I've been running two 24" 1080p monitors for several years as you've seen in my shack photos, but with this new machine, I thought it was about time to join the ultrawide army too, so I picked up an LG 34um94 from newegg on a lightning deal I couldn't pass up, and man, am I happy I did.  The monitor is 34" diagonal and 3440x1440 resolution.  It is a huge improvement over the dual monitor setup for productivity and gaming is so immersive.  Can't suggest it enough!

That's all for now. Keep an eye on the blog for house hunting updates!   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Has it been that long?!

It sure looks like it. August 3rd was my last post. Sheesh! No excuses!

Well some excuses maybe...

After I figured out the RFI debacle, I started playing radio a bit and then I got into another nearly pointless hobby: mechanical keyboards.  If you don't want another money pit hobby, turn away now! (it really isn't that bad)

Needless to say, I have been playing with that stuff a lot in my free time and I have taken up video gaming again, Portal 2 at the beginning and now Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

These have been keeping me busy, and I don't feel too bad about neglecting radio.  I mean, lets face it, the bands have been pretty crummy in the last few months and my little antenna isn't going to make that any better.  I also managed to screw something up when I upgraded my computer to the latest (beta) OS X version so  WSJT-X doesn't work anymore so I can't even run JT-65.  Yeah. Lots of excuses after I said none. (I tried the latest update, it still doesn't work)

I DID get some operating in for Sweepstakes though, so I can be redeemed right?  I posted to the Dallas/Fort Worth contest group reflector to see if anybody was going to be running a multi op station and Eric, NM5M stepped up to the plate and offered his station for the contest.  I gladly took him up on that and set myself up at his place on Saturday afternoon for a few hours.

I think many of you are aware of my operating habits for this contest.  In IA I would normally spend Saturday at N0MA until we swept then go home and run the rest of the contest from there, usually earning my wallpaper on my own, in addition to the N0MA one.  This year I pretty much stuck to my guns and operated at Eric's until about 8pm then went home.  I didn't really bother to turn on the radio at home though.

Operating at Eric's place was interesting.  He is not what anybody would call a big gun.  He has 2 verticals, an R5 and a homebrew 40m vertical with only 2 radials.  No beverages... No beams... But, Eric has spent a ton of time tracking down noise sources and managed to have a nearly zero noise QTH, in the middle of suburbia!  There is hope for everyone!

One thing that this meager station demanded was a search and pounce style operation.  Coming from big gun operations like N0MA, this was a really hard thing to adjust to. In fact, I don't think I really did adjust at all.  It was a rough 5 hours of operating.  The bands were not that great and while I could work most stations on the first or second call, the Sweeps exchange meant a lot of waiting to be next in line.  I have no idea how to handle that. Should I move on and come back? I don't know?!?! Clearly I need a lot more practice.  Last time I did S&P from IA I had my hex beam so it was a whole lot easier and the bands were in a lot better shape.

Regardless of my bad performance, once Eric sat down at the radio, he made up for my extreme shortcomings. I didn't stick around too long but it was really impressive watching him work the guys.  He's a far better operator than me, but hey, he's also been doing it since 1977!

So no, we didn't sweep, and we didn't break any records, but it was great to be on a radio, in a contest again.  Next time I will spend more time preparing and practicing.  Well, realistically, I should have my station up at a real house with my hex beam and....

Monday, August 3, 2015

The War on RFI: Mission Accomplished

I am happy to report, I have quashed the RFI enemy, and we have entered a peace keeping role!

After completing the video and post yesterday regarding my new balun, I still was having some thumping in my powered speakers.  I thought it was coming from my mixer as the issue went away when I unplugged the speakers from the mixer.

In all of my attempts to fix the problem, I took apart the subwoofer/amplifier of the speaker system and found a grounding point that I used to tie to the station ground (ground lug on my power supply). After all, all the wisdom is "ground everything to a single point."  Well it turns out, this was bad advice in this case!  I was about to give up when I just ripped the wire out and sure enough, that cleared up the last bit of RFI!

Such a great relief to know I don't have to mess with that anymore after all the hours I've spent routing and re-routing wires.

Moral of the story? Take your time, attack the problem one step at a time, and eventually you'll figure it out!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A coaxial air-core balun

Today I posted a video describing an air core balun I built:

I wanted to post it here so that you guys could see it as well in case you don't subscribe to my Youtube channel (you should be!).

It is made of 25 feet of RG-6 coiled around a 5 1/8" form.  The form is a 4" PVC pipe coupling (it measures 5.125" on the outer diameter) and the coax is the "fancy" quad shielded coax.  I got both at Lowes but you can find them at Home Depot or whatever your local big home improvement store is.  The coax was from bulk and 25 feet was only $7.25 (29 cents a foot) and the coupling was $2.10.  Of course cost to put it together depends on your junk box - I had a pair of Amphenol PL-259s on hand so that's what I put on.  I followed the method I showed in a previous post for connectorizing RG-6.

Initial results seem to show a reduction of RF in the shack but I'm still having problems with my powered Logitech speakers making thumping noises when I key and unkey the radio.  It must be coming from the mixer board because when I have the speaker input unplugged, there's no noise.  Tackling RFI is no fun.

So if you guys have any suggestions aside from ferrite beads - already have those everywhere - let me know!

Monday, June 22, 2015

What did you do this weekend?

Well I made APRS contact with the space station so.... That's cool right!
I also tried for a few other satellite passes on SO-50 and FO-29 but they were all bust. In fact, the last FO-29 pass, my lithium battery I use for my 817 took a huge dump on me and completely died.  I wasn't sure it would even recover during charging but eventually it took the power and charged back up, but I'm sure its on its last legs.  That makes 3 LiPo batteries I've killed off now.  I should probably be more careful.

6 Meters was also open a bit on Sunday and I made quite a few QSOs on CW, SSB, and JT65.  It really is something when 6 is open.  No noise at all, and even with a wonky antenna (like a 20m hamstick) the contacts come pretty easily.  I might have to look at putting up something more suitable for the band if it keeps opening up like this!

Fun weekend anyway, hope yours was good too!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Proof is in the pudding - or the logbook in this case

I woke up this morning and grabbed my phone as usual to read my emails I got over night and all that jazz and decided to check the satellite passes for the day.  I checked FO-29: nothing today wort trying, AO-7: probably not worth trying either, mode J is far easier, SO-50: OH DANG! there's a pass in progress!  She was about 1/4 of the way through the pass so I jumped out of bed, threw on some pants and grabbed the Elk, TH-D72 and dumped my connector adapters out, found the SMA-UHF connector and wham, bam, thank you ma'am I was ready to go.

I got out to the balcony, found the sat and worked a guy in TN in no time flat!  Oh if I had only known working SO-50 could be that easy!  It sure helps when you have an antenna that is put together right.  Its hard to believe I managed any contacts at all now that I know what I do!