Wednesday, March 28, 2012

All it took was the right cable...

It's been something I've been playing with for the last week or so, but tonight all the pieces finally fell into place.

The shack today

I started by downloading a few different computer control apps for my Yaesu FT-874 and playing with them. The one I liked the most is Ham Radio Deluxe or HRD. It's got a great interface, lots of customization, a built in logger, etc. All the features I think I want (only time in this hobby will teach me what I really want or need). The first problem arose though with the CAT port on the radio and the antenna tuner.

I purchased the used Yaesu FT-847 with the matching Yaesu FC-20 auto tuner. These two units were originally sold together and in some cases the tuner was offered as a freebie bonus from Yaesu when you bought the FT-847. The FC-20 is not a great antenna tuner, but it's better than nothing (from what I've read). There is a dedicated tuner port on the back of the radio with an 8-pin DIN control cable that allows the radio to talk to the tuner, but as the original manual mentions you can't use the tuner port and the CAT port at the same time, they share some common connections inside the radio and your limited to using one or the other. I've read that their might have been firmware updates available in late models of the radio, but I had problems with both being connected at the same time. So... I had a choice, operate the radio with a tuner and no remote control software (HRD)... OR... operate the radio with HRD, and without a tuner, well you can see that doesn't work very well.
(top row left) Yaesu FT-847 Transceiver and matching FC-20 Antenna Tuner

I found a solution in the YT-847 antenna tuner from LDG Electronics. This tuner was built specifically for the FT-847 and solved the CAT port problem by not using the tuner port and offering a CAT pass through port on the back of the tuner. So you had a much better tuner, with an extra CAT port that allowed you to connect the PC to the tuner, then the tuner to the radio.

This was an unexpected expense, but I figured it was worth it to solve the problem in a manor that felt correct and not a mickey mouse solution.

The YT-847 was ordered online and arrived a few days ago. I wired everything together and encountered a problem. The remote software (HRD) would not connect to the radio? All the same cables and ports were being used, but nothing was working. I dug into the deepest corners of my office and scrounged up every serial cable I could find. Nothing worked? If I removed the new tuner HRD would connect to the radio, if I placed it back into the middle, HRD was dead?

The Yaesu FT-847 with the new LDG YT-847 antenna tuner
Digging deeper into the LDG owners manual for the YT-847 I noticed that they mentioned needing a 'straight through' serial cable from the tuner to the PC. The Yaesu manual for the FT-847 mentions needing a 'null modem' serial cable from the radio to the PC. For whatever reason, LDG uses a 'null modem' connection from the radio to the tuner, but then converts the outbound port to the PC into a 'straight through' type?

So for two days I kept trying every cable that I owned (or borrowed) and they all must have been 'null modem' cables. Correct for just the radio, but incorrect when the tuner is added. I found a 'straight through' cable online and ordered it yesterday. Today it arrived, tonight I rushed in the door and plugged it in....

POW.... YAP.... WHAM!!!!

It's all working.  

Ham Radio Deluxe controlling my Yaesu FT-847 Radio and LDG YT-847 Tuner

Ham Nation Post Show 40m Net Check In

Great fun last night watching the latest episode of Ham Nation on the TWiT network.

I finally had a chance to check in with the post show net on 40 Meters (7.268). Net controller was Mike (WT6H) and it sounds like he really enjoys doing it.

There were a ton of check-ins from all over the US and Canada. The net went on for hours and I had to wait about 90 minutes until they finally started calling for the '7's. I jumped in first I think with my callsign VA7AEJ.

I was amazed how many people are using G5RV's like myself and I really enjoyed hearing Ham Nation hosts Bob, Gordo, and George all check in as well.

More HF fun!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ham Shack Update

Wow, it's been a busy week in the realm of amateur radio for VA7AEJ (me). Licensed less than 90 days and it just keeps getting better.

Saturday - G5RV antenna installation
Sunday - First 20m HF contacts with Mexico and then the Minnesota QSO party.
Monday - First 80m contact with the BC Public Service Net
Tuesday - HF scanning and contacts, antenna tuning practice
Wednesday - HF scanning and contacts, antenna tuning practice
Thursday - Local club monthly meeting and coffee
Friday - Purchased/gifted (thanks Dad!) complete Yaesu rig from VA7PRS, built ham shack desk in my office, installed new gear
Saturday (today) - Local club breakfast and 20m contact with North Dakota QSO party.

Not a bad week I figure. I've met so many new people the names and callsigns are twirling around in my head.

Additional bench space (unpainted) was added onto the original that wraps around two other walls in the room (yellow)

Yaesu FT-847 and FC-20 (top)  --  Kenwood TS-120S and MFJ-948 (bottom)
PC, handhelds, quick chargers, license certificate, soldering iron

Molly's latest art work for the cork board on the wall

So the new bench needs to be painted to match the rest of the bench that wraps around the room and I have some ideas for a few shelves above the new desk for books, manuals, boxes, storage etc.

The new wall behind the new section of bench is turning out exactly as I planned. The grounding system under the desk is working very well and once the shelves are made and hung up the majority of the carpentry is finished. I've punched a few new holes through the cable pathway in the wall and put up a quick 2m antenna for the FT-847.

I'll need to wait a little longer before it's safe to get up on my roof and then the antenna plans will really ramp up. Horizontal loop for HF, and likely separate verticals for 6m, 2m, and 440. Currently all that is dreaming, but sometimes dreams come true.

I'll also need to put up some white vinyl siding on the exterior to cover up the new section of wall and get it matching the existing siding. My wife is wandering around that side of the house this time of year but once it's planting and yard season, she'll want that taken care of  :)



Monday, March 12, 2012

The Ham Shack Wall, Ground, and G5RV Installation

When I got back from family holidays in February I started the construction on the future ham shack space in my home office. There was a 30 year old sliding glass patio door in my office which I never used, and it was a horrible heating leak in my home. It's been sealed with a 3M weather insulation kit for a few years now plus full length drapes that I never open. The key point is I hate this patio door, never use it, and wanted to do something about it.

So, rather than drilling holes in my home to start pushing feed lines and ground lines in, I decided to remove the patio door and replace it with a solid wall. I decided to build the wall using screws so it could be torn down easily in the future if I sell the house or want to put a new patio door back in. I also decided that the new wall would have a one foot square section that would be setup as a cable pathway. The majority of the wall is built traditionally with pink insulation, vapor barrier, etc. The square section for cables is a straight through hole to the outside with a screwed on plywood cap on the exterior and interior and solid foam insulation in between. My idea was that I can drill as many holes as I want in the designated square area of the pathway. The drill bit will make a path through the solid foam and out the other side so feeding wires through will be really easy. When the pathway is full of holes or I want to start over, all I need to do is replace the inside and outside plywood caps and the solid foam core, and start again.


On the interior of my office I now have a new 6 foot section of wall to work with. I stained it to match the other wood in my office and I'm starting to build my desk and shelves right onto this section of wall. When I'm done this temporary wall will also be my ham shack desk.

It's hard to describe my grounding system but it's working well. It connects exterior grounding rods to an interior copper pipe that runs across the bottom of the new wall just below the cable pathway hole. Once the bench/desk is built it will run underneath the length of the work surface. I recycled some big hydro high voltage connectors from an old glass plant that closed down a few years ago. Three of these ceramic insulators are mounted along the wall about 15 inches from the floor. A 6' length of copper water pipe runs through each one and the insulators keep the copper about two inches from the wall. Each connector has 8 screw down wire connection points (6 small, 2 large) for attaching your individual grounding cables from my equipment. 

With the wall completed it was time for the antenna installation. I needed to get up as high as I could in two trees so I fired up the old Unimog from it's winter sleep and backed it up to each tree. I used the high roof of the truck as a staging point and extended my aluminum ladder up as far as it would go. Nervously I climbed the ladder and strung the rope that would connect to the insulators at the two ends of the G5RV. While not the optimum height of 35 feet. I'm guessing the ends of the antenna are about 30' up in the air.

Next I assembled a bunch of sections of the army surplus fiberglass poles and made a tee out of PVC to support the center of the antenna. Three support lines off the pole support it vertically and the base is attached to a wishing well over my actual drilled well.

I built an air core choke 'ugly' balun (another first) out of an old bucket and about 100' of RG-8 coax that runs from the bottom of the G5RV's ladder line to the house and through my new cable pathway.

I should add that I did my best to make, build, all the components myself whenever possible. The grounding system, all the feedlines, etc. My soldering iron was working overtime, and I sourced the raw coax cable and connectors locally.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

QSL Cards

I just completed my first order of QSL cards. I think they look great and they feature great photos of the immediate area around my home.

500 are being printed and I hope to have them in a week. They were done by which is Vancouver based and local to my BC economy. Nice to order and buy online, even better when the money stays in BC.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Aaren vs Sponge Bob - Battle of the Belly Bumps

He pulled me out of the crowd and challenged me to a belly bump.

I approached at 50% power, I didn't want to kill him or knock him on his ass.

He faked me out and went for horny leg grab, I was defeated.

He was man enough to pose with the whole family.