Amateur Radio

Amateur Radio Station VE3NVM

First licensed in 1982. I work mainly CW, some SSB, and like DX country collecting. Also had the pleasure of operating as 7J1AJK from Japan for a couple of years. With the odd prefix it was most interesting to be a sought-after call, instead of “yet another VE”, for a change.

I operated fairly steadily from 1982 until 1998, then lost the antenna to a major freezing rain storm. Various other priorities happened, and the station went silent for a decade. I’m just now putting it back on the air, in mid- 2009.

It is now a low-power station with simple tuned wire antenna, from which I will work almost exclusively CW. I’m anticipating it will now be just a casual hobby for the winter months when other interests are difficult. I’m planning to start my log over again and work toward achieving DXCC (confirmed contact with 100 countries) with just the wire antenna and lower power.

Station Equipment

Old photo of the station, to be updated as things proceed. It consists of

  • FT-1011 transceiver
  • AL-811H amplifier (which I won’t be using in this new phase since I have no antenna that can take the power, but can’t bear to part with)
  • Homemade keyer and Bencher paddle
  • SGC-230 remote antenna coupler end-feeding an Inverted-L wire antenna.
  • Various bits

Journal of Getting Back on the Air

In the month of August 2009 I re-assembled all the above.

Antenna

  • Ran a wire from a corner of the roof to a post in the backyard (the post that used to support the vertical antenna). This involved time on the roof in very hot weather, and climbing up through a large blue spruce tree — neither were pleasant. Ended up with an “Inverted L” antenna running vertically up about 6 metres from near the shack, then turning horizontal and running about 20 metres. I’m thinking I might add another leg to this by going from the current end of the wire out to a telephone pole just outside my property — that would give another 20 metres or so of wire. However, it seems to be working quite well as is.
  • Installed the SGC230 remote coupler outdoors at the base of the wire antenna.
  • Ran a counterpoise wire at ground level through the hedge, about 20 metres long. Both ends are terminated in 6-foot ground rods driven into the ground. The near end is also coupled to the ground rod for the shack, and (just for fun) to the buried galvanized steel sheet that forms the window well. All of these connected to the SGC230 with heavy wire to act as counterpoise. All of this obsession is because the SGC coupler documentation emphasized, strongly and several times, how important the counterpoise is for the efficient operation of the coupler.
  • Built a power supply and control box for the SGC — basically a copy of what their remote control box does. It’s a trivial circuit, just providing a reset and lock signal via a control line, and a “tuning complete” indicator via a feedback line. Just used a small case and point-to-point wiring to construct this.
  • Test and results: It works, tuning all of every band 160m through 10m, with nowhere over 2:1 SWR and most areas much better than that. The areas I care about the most — CW bands on 80 and 40 — are 1:1 SWR, which is impressive. It even works on 160, which I didn’t expect, although I haven’t tried any contacts there yet.
  • Note to self: the SGC manual recommends weather-shielding it with a plastic tub or other cover. Haven’t found one that fits yet, would like to do so before winter.
    • Update: found a RubberMaid storage tub that seems to be about the right size. Some simple cutting should allow it to cover the unit and provide channels for the incoming and outgoing wires to escape.
    • Update: Installed the RubberMaid tub as weather shield. Cut the bottom out and drilled a hole for the antenna wire, then screwnailed it through the rolled lip into the wooden board holding the tuner. Seems solid and secure.

Logging Software

  • Basic Logging
    • My requirements are pretty simple, just a basic log is all I need.
    • I do care about elegance of the user interface — some PC software just makes me ill it is so ugly. But I’ve found several packages that look both functional and attractive.
    • I don’t ever expect to enter into contests at a serious level, so don’t care about software’s dedicated contest logging feature.
    • I don’t have a rotateable antenna, so features about beam headings etc aren’t of interest.
  • Mac or PC?
    • I have several of each and prefer Mac
    • However, the most “spare” is a PC. Good PC software would be my choice. But of what I’ve seen, there is nicer Mac software — I may give in and spring for an extra Mac Mini for the shack
  • Rig Control
    • This may help decide the Mac-or-PC question and also narrow the software selection
    • Absolutely not necessary, but it would be fun to be able to control the rig with the log software
    • Practically every package I’ve looked at claims to be able to do this, but there are several discussion groups implying that the FT-990 (and my FT-1011 is essentially a ‘990) can be difficult to control below a certain EPROM level. So I’m waiting for the control interface box I found on eBay to arrive, then testing with all software packages and both platforms, before settling on something.
  • Online QSL support
    • I would be interest in integration to LOTW and eQSL. Some packages have complete integration, while all offer at least the ability to export files in the correct interchange format.
  • DX Spotting
    • Most offer some kind of support for telnet DX Spotting nets, which I like.
  • Short List So Far
    • — to be continued —

RFI to Alarm System

10 through 30 metres worked well right from the start. Unfortunately I had a problem with 40 and 80 metres (and these are two bands I will use the most because of my typical free hours and the propagation conditions). From the basement, when I transmitted on 40 or 80 I could hear, from upstairs, the chime from our alarm system indicating the opening of a door or window. This happened anywhere on these bands, at any power above about 20 watts.

Testing this was a two-person operation because I needed someone upstairs in front of the alarm panel to see what zone light was triggering, so it took a while to get a complete picture. It turned out that 40 metre operation was one particular sensor, and 80 metres was tripping two more.

Over a period of about 6 weeks, I did a careful cause analysis and tried various fixes, eventually solving the problem. Some notes that may be of help to others with this problem:

  1. I put split ferrite cores from Palomar Engineers over the sensor wires near the sensors — no noticeable effect. (I didn’t expect this to work but it was easy to try.)
  2. Reasonably sure that the lengths of wire from the sensors to the alarm panel were acting as antennas for RF which then caused false triggering in the panel, I clamped several split cores over the bundle of sensor wires right where they enter the panel. (There wasn’t any slack in the wires, so I couldn’t actually wind them.) This reduced the problem on 40 metres — i.e. it raised the amount of power I could transmit before RFI happened — so I took this as confirmation of the theory that RF in the leads was a major source of the problem.
  3. I then moved inside the alarm panel box (after notifying the alarm company because the box, itself, is alarmed).
    • I ensured the ground to the panel is good and that it is well secured to the panel. (It was a bit loose).
    • I picked one of the triggered zones (the single one triggered by 40 metres), located the incoming sensor wire, and disconnected it. This made the system show that zone as in alarm state. I then put a 1K resistor across the sensor which made the system show the zone as not in alarm state (the system schematic said this is how you force a zone off). Then closed the panel and tried transmitting. No RFI at any power. I took this as evidence that the problem signal was coming in on the sensor wire I just disconnected.
    • Inside the panel cabinet, the wire had quite a bit of slack, so I wound several turns of it through a lossy ferrite bead then reconnected it. Also added a .01 mf capacitor between the lead and ground to act as a bypass for any lingering RF. (This required adding a ground wire inside the cabine to act as a good connecting point.)Why this works (for those too young to have dealt with analog circuits)? Alarm signals are DC. Capacitors and coils have no effect on DC so, as far as the alarm system was concerned, the wire was simply disconnected and reconnected — the coil is not there, and the capacitor is not there. Winding a wire in a ferrite bead has no effect on the DC current but the resulting coil acts like a resistor to any RF in the wire, reducing it. Same idea with a capacitor, in reverse: to DC, a capacitor is invisible, so there is no DC short to ground, but to RF a capacitor looks like a wire, so the remaining RF sees a nice easy path to ground and follows it.
    • That worked — full-power transmission on 40 metres no longer triggered the sensor but opening and closing the door was still detected just fine.
    • I repeated this on all the other sensors in the box — disconnected each, wound in a ferrite bead, and reconnected with a bypass capacitor. RFI gone on all bands, all power levels, all alarm zones.
  4. Finished up by tidying the connections, wrapping bypass capacitor ground connections in tape, etc.

QSL Procedures and Service

This has changed in the decade I’ve been away!

  • Signed up for ARRL LOTW
  • Signed up for eQSL (can’t believe ARRL doesn’t accept it for DXCC)
  • Sent labels etc to RAC for the incoming QSL Bureau
  • Renewed RAC membership for access to the outgoing bureau
  • Re-did graphic file for design of QSL cards.
  • Haven’t selected a printer yet (and can’t be bothered printing and trimming myself)

Richard’s Ramblings

This is the personal web site and blog of Richard McDonald, a computing professional living in Canada.

Interests

Astronomy

An amateur astronomer, I enjoy observing from home, dark sites, and especially “sidewalk astronomy” — outreach events where we give the passing public a chance to see. I’m also struggling up the learning curve for astrophotography.

Motorcycling

I’m an avid motorcyclist, commuting and especially into the countryside on weekends, but wish the season around here was longer. Want to discuss great roads in the area?

Photography

Photography, especially landscapes, portraits, and events. This link leads to a different site with publicly-shared photos.

Wood-Turning

Wood-turning, making hand-made pens. This link leads to a different site with photos of pens, a construction blog, and a store.

Science Advocacy

I enjoy participating in science outreach, taking astronomy demonstrations to the public, and participating in online groups that promote science education and critical thinking.

Web Publishing

I help several volunteer organizations with web presences, and do freelance writing, photography, and graphic art.

Contact

No Unsolicited Commercial e-Mail

If you’ve taken the time to read my pages I’d enjoy receiving e-mail from you, on whatever interests we may have in common.

Do Not Send Me Spam. Please. I will never, ever, buy anything advertised this way.

It’s really not my intent to discourage friendly letters from fellow enthusiasts. If your e-mail is not SPAM, chain letters, get-rich schemes, or miracle-cures-they-don’t-want-you-to-know-about, I’d love to receive it. Mail to “richard at themcdonalds dot net”. If you have Javascript enabled, clicking that link should work.