Archive for March 2007

Dusty Miller

March 27, 2007

About five years ago I bought fifteen dusty miller plants. I was very proud of my purchase because each pot seemed to contain three plants. Well, maybe not, but I was still able to separate the plants in each pot into three small dusty millers.

I planted them around the border of a new garden area that had previously been occupied by an multi-trunked boise’d Arc tree of considerable age. The thing must have been at least seventy-five years old. Old timers remember it being here when the subdivision was first established about 50 years ago.

Anyway, I let the dusty miller grow. A few years ago I transplanted about half of it. It did very well and was starting to crowd out other plants in the garden.

Today I dug up two huge dusty miller bushes in preparation for a spring upgrade to the garden. Going to see about planting some red flowering ground cover in place of the dusty miller. The red color should go well with the dusty miller remaining.

The point of this post is to warn prospective users of the dusty miller plant. It is pretty. Nice and greenish gray in color. Compliments nearly any decor. It also grows into bushes if you don’t trim it out on a regular basis. It likes to send out shoots of pretty yellow flowers that attract bees by the dozens. The flowers are not nearly as nice as the gray colored leaves and it takes a lot of pruning to keep them under control.

Over all, I guess the dusty miller is a good investment. The plants were certainly cheap enough. They are drought hardy and do well even in the recent reduced rainfall in north Texas. Low maintenance but not ‘no’ maintenance. They do require some pruning to keep them looking good.

More Multi-Band Antenna Experiences

March 27, 2007

The present setup is a 44 foot dipole (44 feet, non-resonant, per leg). A 27 foot vertical (also non-resonant). A tri-band beam and a two meter antenna.

Both non-resonant antennas are fed with 300 ohm twin lead and matched with an antenna tuner. A Johnson KW matchbox for the vertical, a homebrew Z-match for the dipole.

Evidently the dipole is a high impedance antenna when used on 75 meters. I can get a very good match but the tuner arcs at the 200 watt power level. Arcing is not at the capacitors but between the high impedance coil and its pickup loop. Better spacing or insulated wire should solve the problem.

Actual experience while running on 75 meters at the 200 watt level indicate a signal level from s-6 to s-9 with a contact 200 miles to the north. This contact is an old friend and we have had a weekly schedule on 75 meters for the last 15+ years.

Prior to using the non-resonant dipole, I was running about 500 watts to an 80/40 meter trap dipole and the signal was mostly 10db over 9. It cannot just be the reduced power. Appears the non-resonant dipole is not as good as the previous antenna on 75 meters.

I like the non-resonant dipole because it can cover any frequency from 80 thru 10 meters. Okay, so it is not a super good antenna, but it does work and I want to keep it.

So now the plan is to install a special, full sized, resonant dipole for 75 meters. Also, a special full sized, resonant dipole will be installed for 40 meters. The feed lines are already in place. It will simply be a matter of connecting enough wire to the insulators to get to resonance.

Once that is done, I will have all the antenna capability I think I will need for some time to come. Five feedlines to five antennas, three of them multi-band. Looks like I just might have enough to service the three rigs I have available. Now to figure out how to use all three rigs at the same time. Will probably end up with two rigs monitoring seperate bands while using the third rig to work a different band.

Philly Cheese Steak

March 21, 2007

I have never been to Pennsylvania to have a cheese steak, so I cannot comment on how good they are. I have had the IHOP style of cheese steak sandwich and I have to admit it is very good.

Not being one to eat out on a regular basis I decided to see if I could duplicate the IHOP sandwich.

I started off by baking some bread. I needed a couple of fairly soft rolls formed into submarine sandwich buns. The trick to making them soft is to bake them at high heat (400 degrees F) for a short amount of time. Just long enough to get them done. Stick them with a toothpick or fork to check doneness. If the toothpick or fork comes out without dough sticking to it, the baking is done. Also, I found that using two packets of yeast makes for a lighter dough. More bubbles in the mixture and it rises faster and farther. Use a couple of tablespoons of sugar when blooming the yeast in warm water. Let it bloom until it has a well established head before adding flour. The sugar allows the yeast to make alcohol and adds flavor to the bread.

Once cool, split the bun lengthwise and dig out shallow troughs in both halves. Butter both halves and broil them in the oven, buttered side up to get just barely toasty. I like to use a mixture of olive oil and roasted garlic instead of butter. The roasted garlic is homemade, and mashed to a paste before it is mixed with the oil. I like lots of roasted garlic. Your tastes might differ.

Keep an eye on the toasting buns. You want them just barely toasted. Golden brown is too dark. We are looking for a golden yellow.

Now sautee some onion in a skillet. The sandwich is just fine without the onion but if you like onion this is how to do it. Sautee in butter or oil until the onion is soft. We are not making onion rings here. Just soften so they won’t fall out of the sandwich. Onion cut into rings is fine. I like white onion but red onion works fine too. Pile the onion into both troughs in both halves of the bun but leave enough room for the steak.

You don’t need to use steak to make this sandwich. Good quality roasting meat will also work. Once the meat is roasted to your liking, cut it into thin strips (like you might get on an Arby’s sandwich) and pile it onto the bun. The thinner you can cut the meat, the lesser quality of meat you can use, while still making it edible. Brisket is a little greasy, but flank steak and roast work well. Of course there is nothing preventing you from using real steak.

Now pile the meat into both troughs of both halves of one bun. Use at least enough to fill the troughs. It does not have to look like an overstuffed Quiznos as shown on the TV ad.

Slice some swiss cheese into strips that are as wide as the bun. Lay these strips onto the meat on one of the bun halves. A single layer of cheese is fine. Use more if you like cheese or are shy on the meat.

Put the two bun halves together, put on a microwave safe plate, and set it in a microwave. Microwave on high for about one minute. Maybe less. We do not want to toast the cheese or have it melt to the point of running down the sides. We just want the cheese to melt and glue the two bun halves together.

Steak sauce can be added as a side. This sandwich is consumed with knife and fork as though it were a real steak. You may find it is too good to doctor with steak sauce.

The IHOP version I had came with a side of home fried potatoes. You can make home fried potatoes very easily at home. Cut a large (or small) potato into strips about one-quarter inch thick, one inch wide and three inches long. cover the bottom of a baking pan with a thin layer of oil (cannola or olive) and add the potato strips. Move the strips around so each has a full coating of oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are half way cooked. Leave the oven at 350 but shift it to broil and let the potatoes cook for another 15 minutes or until they turn a light golden brown. No need to turn them over to broil the bottom side. They will be sufficiently brown all over if they are done. These are not french fries, so don’t try to turn them into fries. Light golden brown is fine. If they end up crunchy, they are overcooked. Remove from oven and lightly salt.

Antenna Tuners

March 16, 2007

I finally got a chance to check out my two new antennas. The vertical works fine using 300 twin lead to a Johnson KW matchbox. Good performance on 30 meters and up.

The homebrew Z-Match also works great on the 88 foot dipole using 300 ohm twin lead for feedline. Works great on all bands including WARC from 80 thru 10. This particular Z-match will handle up to 500 watts.

I was running out of room for all the equipment and it seemed that the Z-match might be better off sitting on a different part of the station shelf. The relocation was going to mean I would have to swap out the Z-match with the Johnson Matchbox but either tuner should work with either antenna.

Not so. Seems the Johnson Matchbox is not at all happy with the 88 foot dipole. 75 meters, 20 meters, and 10 meters seem to work just fine but it did not do well on the other bands. I am sure I could have corrected the situation by trimming the feedline but I have never been one to start cutting (or adding to) feedlines. I figure if they reach from antenna to rig they must be just the right length. Any matching issues need to be taken care of in the tuner.

So, it is back to the vertical with the Johnson Matchbox and the Z-match will be used on the 88 foot dipole.

Trip to IHOP

March 13, 2007

On a recent trip to OKC we stayed at a Hampton Inn. Nothing special. Fair service, clean, convenient. They provided WIFI internet service which was appreciated but I am pretty sure the cost was included in the basic price for the room. Nothing is free anymore and probably never was.

Within walking distance of the Hampton was an IHOP. I have seen IHOPs before and have written them off as a place where I would like to dine. They look like a Denny’s specializing in pancakes. I don’t consider pancakes as food qualifying as a meal and don’t need them as a snack either.

Since it was within walking distance of the hotel, we went to the IHOP. I was impressed. Very much like a Denny’s with a pancake fetish. However, if you were not interested in pancakes, there were lots of other choices available.

The menu seemed to sport some reasonable prices as well. Turns out the prices were more than reasonable. Large servings and plenty of food for under seven dollars on average.

I had the cheese steak sandwich. The menu cautioned that it was served with only french fries but I decided to risk possible disappointment.

Turns out the french fries were more like home fries and there were plenty of them. At least one whole potato worth. I was half expecting a kids order of greasy, stale, McDonnald’s shoe string potatoes. I was pleasently surprized.

The sandwich was also better than expected. A six inch sour dough bun with lots of meat. The meat was not super high quality steak but it was tasty, edible, and there was lots of it.

It was covered with melted cheese that was definately NOT velveeta like you get at Arby’s. Appeared to be swiss cheese. Very tasty and very good.

Well worth the seven dollar cost. We will be checking out other IHOPs to make sure this was not a single exception.

Just so I don’t leave you with the wrong impression, I have no quarrel with Arby’s. Decent prices and decent food. I just prefer melted swiss cheese to velveeta.

Too Many Antennas

March 11, 2007

I have always been of the mind that you cannot have too many antennas. This is particularly true if you have more than one radio. The happy ham has antennas to serve all his radios.

I have three radios so I guess that means I am not completely happy yet but I did progress toward that end this weekend.

Back to ATUs and balanced line. One ATU is attached to a vertical L style antenna with 300 ohm twin lead. This particular vertical works well on all bands from 20 meters up. After next weekend it should also work well on 40.

A second ATU is attached to an 88 foot non-resonant dipole. This dipole has its center up at 50 feet with one end at 30 feet and the other end at 20 feet. Not exactly an inverted vee but starting to approximate that shape. This antenna is driven with 300 ohm twin lead too and works well on all bands 80 thru 10 meters.

A third antenna is the beam up at 55 feet. It is a KLM KT-34. A nice triband four element affair that works wonders on 20, 15, and 10 meters.

A fourth antenna is a simple 40 meter inverted vee. Center up about 40 feet. Ends at 15 feet. This thing will soon be converted to a two element wire beam with switchable directivity favoring either east or west.

A fifth antenna is a two meter full wave vertical. Useful for local repeaters all the way to Fort Worth.

That leaves two coaxial transmission lines unused.

All these antennas are managed through a five position coaxial antenna switch that quickly selects beam, vertical, dipole, dummy load, or 40 meter inverted vee. This will not be the final setup but it is useful in evaluating the various antennas. Now I can get some useful comparisons between the vertical, beam, and dipole.

Later the all band dipole will be used with the TS-120 and homebrew 811 amp primarily on 75 meters.

The vertical and the beam will be used with the ICOM 737 and a Yeasu FL 2000B linear.

The 40 meter antenna will be used with a Drake C-line primarily for CW work.

More Antenna Stuff

March 11, 2007

This entry is more a note to myself an anything else but it should be of interest to anyone interested in antennas. Realize that all of these comparisons are heavily influenced by what I can do physically with the yard I have and the effort I want to invest. Your situation may be different.

This is a comparison of several antenna types both single band and multiple band listing disadvantages of each approach.

The main disadvantage with a ATU free multiband antenna approach is lack of harmonic filtering. Normally a single band dipole is the equivalent of a very narrow tuned filter. This is not the case for dipoles that have been tweaked to perform on multiple bands. Not that I am particularly concerned about harmonics from the commercial gear, but I also have homebrew stuff that may not be as harmonic free.

A secondary disadvantage of ATU free multiband antenna systems is a lack of adjustment in the shack and relatively narrow bandwidth compared to operating with an ATU. Antenna systems characteristics change when it rains and snows as compared to when it is dry. If you can’t tune out those changes, you have to live with the mismatches. Besides, it always seems that I want to operate on a frequency that will not give me a decent swr when I use a no-tune antenna system.

DIPOLE – This is an excellent antenna all by itself but it requires proper installation. Meaning it should be installed as a flat topped antenna at a height not less than 1/4wavelength. I can do that on 20 meters but I have a four element beam for 20 so I am not about to rush outside and put up a 20 meter dipole.

INVERTED VEE – This is a dipole that has a high center support and is allowed to have its ends droop. I can manage a center support of about 50 feet and allow the ends to be up at around 15 feet. Not good for 80 and barely sufficient for 40. Also, with those dimensions, the included angle between legs is such that the antenna ends up being a cloud burner on ALL bands. Take off angle at 90 degrees.

G5RV – This is a 20 meter antenna. I already have and excellent beam for that band. I am not sure what form of mythology considers this to be an all band antenna. Oh sure, it could be all band with an ATU but then nearly anything could be all band with an ATU.

80/40 TRAP DIPOLE – Nearly all band but narrow (100khz) bandwidth on 80 meters. For my location it can only be installed as a cloud burning inverted vee. A poor solution.

WINDOM – Actually just an off-center fed dipole for 80 meters. The idea is to find a feed point that remains fairly constant over frequency, match to it, and enjoy ATU free operation. The main problem with this is that I can’t get this thing up high enough to do any good on 80 and 40 meters. Also, the low swr points shift when it rains.

DELTA LOOP – Works great on 40 meters but does not make a very good all band antenna even with an ATU.

INVERTED L – I can run a wire 50 feet up and 60 feet out but the end will only be 15 feet off the ground. Height problem.

SLOPING DIPOLES – Not enough yard to accomodate them on 40. Forget using them on 80.

SHUNT FEEDING TOWER – I did that for a while. It worked. Did an EZNEC analysis on the setup and found it had a -2.0 DBi gain. Close-in signal strength to a weekly sked dropped from 10 over 9 to 9.

88 FOOT NON-RESONANT DIPOLE – This needs an ATU to be able to work and requires open wire line of sorts to be able to run high swr with low loss, but it can be installed here as an almost flat-topped dipole, can be tuned for very low swr on nearly every ham band from 80 to 10 meters, will not limit me to any range of frequencies. I have been avoiding this antenna because it requires open wire line and there are installation requirements that I cannot meet. However, it can also be made to work with 300 twin lead and I can meet the installation requirements for twin lead.

So now I am back to the 88 foot dipole I was using back in November of 2006. Since then I have also added an L antenna. A 27 foot vertical with 27 foot counterpoise also driven with 300 ohm twin lead and a second balanced antenna tuner. All balanced line and tuners. No baluns. Seems to work fine. It is at least as good as what I was using before and has the advantage of offering operation at any frequency on any band.

If you have the ATUs, use them. If you don’t have the ATUs get some.