Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Cove Antenna Installation: Part 1

I started the installation of my antenna at the new house this weekend.  A kind member of the DFW Contest group gave me a GAP Titan DX vertical for the great price of free.  (as payment, I gave away my fiberglass mast kit to another local ham!)  The antenna isn't in the best of shape, at least one of the elements is in serious need of repair and the coax was pretty roached at the connector end.  Oh well, free is free!  

I started out by digging the hole for the mast, and quickly learned what this "Texas soil" was all about. I knew it was full of clay, but I did not expect this!  Basically 4 inches down, the earth turns unto black tar.  The clay is thick, heavy and it sticks to everything.  I spent as much time digging as I did cleaning my tools.  None the less, I got a hole big enough and deep enough to plant the mast in, albeit a little shallower than the instructions call for.  Filled it up with 4 bags of concrete and that's curing at the moment.  The initial idea was to bury a section of pipe that the mast could slide into but I couldn't find anything the appropriate inner diameter so I just said to hell with it and used the mast as is.  This will put the bottom of the antenna at about 6.5'. It'll be interesting to see how difficult it will be to put the antenna on it.  At 25' long and 25 lbs heavy, it can be a bit unwieldy once its vertical.

While that was curing,  I put the antenna together from the pieces I had and luckily everything seemed to go together OK, but it is a pretty simple antenna structurally.  We'll see if I got all the connections right once its on the mast. I'm not sure of a better way to test it beforehand.

Sunday, I decided, would be the day of no return; I would cut a whole in the wall of the house.  I'm sure we've all been there, trying to decide exactly how we'd go about getting coax into our homes.  I decided this time I'd "do it right."  I got a really nice aluminum NEMA enclosure on eBay for a song and I was very surprised to see it when it got in, it was way bigger than expected!  Yes, there were measurements but you don't know what 12" really looks like until you see it in person.

First thing I did was find the studs in the wall beside my operating desk.  I picked a spot in between and slightly higher than where the outlets sit, hoping to miss any wiring.  My stud finder has a wire detection mode and I didn't see any indications so I just dove in head first and cut the 2" hole through the drywall straight away.  Then the radiant barrier.  Then I saw that I was going to have a problem.

If you don't know, many of the homes in Texas are built with brick exteriors.  I don't know about in the past, but these newer homes are actually built with a brick facade. That is to say that there is an air gap between the outside of the structure and the inside of the brick, and the brick merely floats out on its own, cosmetically.  What this means practically, is that the wall from interior to exterior face, is nearly 8 inches thick!  Naturally my 2" masonry hole saw was not going to be long enough, by about the thickness of a brick.  I had to figure out where I was inside and translate that to the outside, so I could drill from there.  It took a bit of trial and error trying to break through from the inside with a very long screw driver until I figured out a way to get pretty close by measuring from my window frame to my hole.  I could see I was drilling into a T intersection in the brick about 27" from the window, so all I had to do was find that area, poke a hole from outside to see and sure enough, I hit it dead on center.

All was not as well as it could have been though.  The hole saw I bought was not really doing much good with my standard rotary drill so I quickly gave up on that idea and went the brute force direction: drill a bunch of small holes and chisel away until you have a hole big enough to fit the 1.5" PVC pipe.  This made quick (and quiet) work of the job and I was through the brick in no time.  I quickly drilled out the holes for the mounting screws for the NEMA box and bam, I was pretty much done with that.  A little expanding foam stuff and some caulk was all I needed to finish up the job.

I'll have to add a little paint to the opening on the inside and you won't even notice the hole probably. I'll also have to fashion a piece of foam that'll plug the hole up nicely.  I'm ready to get back on HF though, I can tell you that!

Friday, June 17, 2016

SOTABEAMS FT-817 digital audio filter

Last night I got around to installing my own LASERBEAM filter into my FT-817 and it works like a champ!  This will be a great addition to the radio, especially now that the stock filters are becoming hard to come by.  In case you missed it, I'll be offering an installation service for these filters, you can see more info about it by clicking the link on the right side of this page. (I also pasted it below for the lazier ones)

The SOTABEAMS LASERBEAM-817 is a digital audio filter that you can place inside an FT-817 that drastically improves the receive audio of this great little radio.  The filter works in SSB and CW modes.  While the installation is not very difficult, it does require opening the radio and working in close proximity to very very small components.  If you find this challenging, that is where I come in!  I have extensive experience building kits of all kinds, especially Steve Webber's MTR.  You can be sure my LASERBEAM-817 installation will be clean and professional. 

The LASERBEAM-817 will work in any FT-817, even if the OEM filters are installed.

Customers who would like to have a LASERBEAM-817 filter fitted in their 817 will need to send me their radio, preferably using an insured shipping carrier (UPS/DHL/Fedex/USPS).  I will install the filter from my stock and return the radio via USPS Priority mail. The price for this service is $110 which includes the filter, installation, and return shipping. 

To arrange installation of your LASERBEAM-817 filter, please email me directly at and I will issue a Paypal invoice. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Settling in

We've finally begun to settle into the new QTH.  Every day I unearth something I thought was lost forever to the black hole of the storage unit.  Let me tell you, I am done with this moving stuff!

Last night I got my workbench set up and operational, I even fired up the soldering iron a bit and wired up a cable so I could charge a battery.  Feels good man!

I'm still working on particulars of my operating position and I have not got my ground system set up or hole drilled for cable passthrough or....  There's still a lot of work to be done.

Here's a reminder of what I'm shooting for

And here is where we sit today (pardon the weird stitching - click on the picture for the 3D photosphere)

So things are coming along pretty well and I'm really happy with it so far.  I decided to lower the bench top so I could use one chair and just roll between desks rather than have another chair to clutter the space.  I think this setup will be really ergonomic and comfortable.

I suppose that is about it for now!  Hamcom is next week here in Dallas so I will probably have a post on that as well as look for an upcoming post on my ground installation and cable passthrough and all the other fun stuff on the list!  Thanks for reading and as always, 73 for now.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

KX2 Order form is live!

Here's the KX2 order form:

Things can get a little pricey with all options configured (~$1200)

And here's a shot of the datasheet with the important specs:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Elecraft KX2: The end of kits for Elecraft? UPDATE: WITH VIDEO!

Elecraft has always offered kit versions of just about everything they make, until now.  The newly announced KX2 (not a successor to the KX3 or the K2 interestingly) is their first offering to come in factory built ONLY.

Expected to be priced at about $750, it seems they will be targeting the more mainstream ham market.

I'm sure they'll get a lot of gruff for leaving out 6m or 160m but I think those are reasonable to leave out.  The idea of a rechargeable lithium option sure sounds nice too.  Maybe this is the secondary radio I would want from Elecraft - something I won't ever use on my desk but is destined to be carried in the field.  At the $750 price tag, that option seems far more likely than it did with the KX3 at nearly 2x the cost.  We will see how it compares from a performance standpoint though if you're comparing it to just about any other radio (save KX3) it doesn't need to be a stunner in the RX department to be a winner.

I'm going to be keeping my eyes out for more details, so be sure to check back!

UPDATE: WG0AT posted this video to YouTube:

And another:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New shack planning begins!

I spent some of the evening trying to learn Google Sketchup in an attempt to model the room that will become my new shack at our new QTH.

If you have ever worked in any 3D environments, Sketchup shouldn't be too hard to learn, but if you have zero experience, have no fear, there's a lot of tutorials out there on youtube and the like.  None the less, it had been a while since I looked at it and it took me a while to get reacquainted.

One thing that amazed me about the app now, is the incredible number of models available in the model warehouse.  They had models of my monitor, a Kent CW paddle, and even models of my audio interface!  Almost all of the models in the warehouse are made by people just like me: amateurs just sharing their hard work for nothing but fun!

I think the model came out pretty well anyway.  Enjoy the video!  If you have any suggestions for a better setup, please share!

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.