The Great VHF Wasteland

Wasteland

I read articles all the time in QST and CQ magazines about how active the VHF/UHF bands are, all the radio operators hanging around up there, all the fun you can have, the hundreds and hundreds of repeaters out there. Thousands of hams are out there on simplex. Dozens and dozens and dozens are working various VHF/UHF contests.

I’m sitting right smack dab in the middle of repeater heaven. There are dozens of repeaters close enough for me to hear located in Manitowoc, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, the Fox Valley. Even a few as far away as Wausau and Suring Wisconsin. Every club and group, every ARES group, every SkyWarn group seems to have one or more repeaters on the air. I have about 27 repeaters plugged into the FDR-400 that I know I can get into with no problems at all, ranging from local ones just a few miles away, to distant ones like Wausau and Suring.

So I turn on the 400, put it in scan, and hear…

Well, nothing. I hear the occasional repeater ID. I hear the occasional kerchunk (that’s a technical radio geek speak term, btw) of someone probably testing if they can hit a repeater or if their transceiver is working.

And that’s all I hear. Repeater IDs, an occasional kerchunk… And nothing else. Literally nothing else. For hours and hours on end. Put out a call and you hear — nothing.

There are only two times I hear any activity on two meters, during regularly scheduled nets run by clubs and ARES groups, and when an ARES group is doing support for some special event. Otherwise, nothing.

Simplex? That’s even worse. You can put your transceiver in fast scan mode and sit for days scanning the simplex portions of the band and hear nothing.

Given all of the articles I’ve been reading in QST and other ham publications in print and on-line, I was thinking it was just something about this area. I don’t know. Just shy, maybe? Seems like kind of an odd hobby to get into if you don’t like talking to people.

But I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and the more I talk with other hams outside this area, the more stories I hear that are identical to mine. Unused repeaters, nothing on simplex… If you do start trying to call, there’s no response. Only activity is regularly scheduled nets, and once those conclude, it’s back to silence again.

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even bother any more. The only time the FDR400 here in the house gets turned on is when my wife participates in the local ARES net. I don’t even have a VHF rig in the car any more. My own Yaesu was transplanted into her vehicle when her aging Alinco began having problems.

So is it just area? Is this an anomaly? Just curious.

As always, comments are welcome…

KC9YGN

P.S. Now that I have the OCFD up again, I’ve been hanging around down on 75 meters, above 3900, often on 3913 during days, so if you get down there, give me a yell.

Decisions, decisions

While it’s a beautiful fall day out, crisp, cool, sunny, the weather dudes are predicting we’re going to have up to 8 inches of snow by this time tomorrow. So I should take advantage of the nice weather to get the snowblower out, prepare it, dig out the shovels and basically prepare for this early season snowfall.

But…

In the stall next to the snowblower is a 500 HP, 0-60 in under 4 seconds, slightly (slightly? Ha!) hopped up sports car with high-speed rated track tires, beefed up brakes and a suspension to match and alleged to have a top speed just north of 200 MPH. And I know every twisty, curvy backroad between here and the state border. And this might be the last time I get to drive it for the season.

Decisions, decisions…

The hell with the snow… IMG 0236

A Story of Stupidity

Screen Shot 2015 11 19 at 7 58 50 AM

I am an idiot…

I was going to fire up the rig down on 75 meters last night. I switched on the TS-990, checked all the coax connections, turned on the antenna tuner, turned on the amp in standby mode. I found an empty frequency down around 3915. I put the 990 in AM mode, turned the power down to 5 watts, double checked everything, and keyed the mic to make sure the SWR and all the fun stuff was good. The PalStar’s display told me the SWR was 1.05:1 going out to the dipole and I was putting out the right power. The amplifier didn’t start on fire, always a good sign.

So I kicked the amp into ‘operate’ mode and keyed the mic again…

Now, putting 5 watts drive into that amp in AM mode will generally result in about 107 watts output when you key the mic. I looked at the readouts on the PalStar… I was putting out a whopping 10 watts…

WTF?

I looked around. Sniffed. No smoke. That’s good. Nothing exploded. So why was I only putting out 10 watts?

I bumped the output of the Kenwood up to 15 watts in AM mode and keyed. The amplifier clicked and lots and lots of red lights came on.

Oops…

The amplifier, sensing impending doom, and done what it was supposed to do and shut itself down instead of starting the office on fire or exploding or something equally annoying.

So what was going on? It will do that if there is excessively high SWR or something abnormal going on. But it doesn’t tell me exactly what happened.

Well, first thing that comes to mind is the antenna, that it fell down and was laying on the ground. And since my dipole is held up by a combination of para-cord, bailing twine (literally), a plastic fence post and a very elderly apple tree, and we’d had some pretty good winds, the possibility that the antenna was down was highly probable. So I grabbed a flashlight and went to look. Nope. Antenna is just fine.

Now what? The jumpers connecting the transceiver, tuner and amp together? That seemed highly unlikely. They were almost brand new, ultra-low loss coax with silver plated connectors. But still, such things do happen sometimes. I got out my meter, checked all of the jumpers. All were fine. I considered just replacing them all just to be on the safe side, but I am one of the laziest people I know, and the prospect of spending a half hour or more cutting coax and soldering connectors was not very appealing, especially when the cables tested OK.

So I looked more carefully. I dialed the Kenwood back down to 5 watts output to minimize the damage if something went weird, re-set the amp and tried again. The PalStar’s meter was telling me everything was fine. Power output good, SWR damn near excellent. But a quick glance at the amp’s meters everything looked okay… Kicked the amp on, edged the Kenwood up to 20 watts AM which should have given me about 700 watts output on the AMP, and keyed the mic for half a second…

Holy shit! The meter on the amp immediately jumped halfway up the scale and it immediately tripped out.

Well, that was interesting… Why was the PalStar’s meter telling me my SWR was 1.05:1 when the amp’s meter was telling me it was closer to about 7:1??? Either something inside the amp was funky or the coax jumper from the amp was bad despite what my testing had indicated…

I turned the 990 back on and…

Oh shit

Dear Lord, how could I be that stupid? I wasn’t in AM. I was transmitting in FM. Oh for heaven’s sake. The amp can handle AM, SSB and CW. Definitely not FM. It hates FM. No wonder the poor thing had been tripping out.

But what about the difference in the readings between the PalStar’s meter and the amp? I looked…

Oh no… I felt like banging my head against the wall.

The amp’s meter wasn’t set in the SWR position. It was in the power position. What I was reading wasn’t the SWR at the amplifier, it was the amount of power it was putting out. There wasn’t an SWR of 7. I was reading an output power of 700 watts…

So I’d spent almost an hour trouble shooting a problem that was due entirely to me not bothering to read the display on the 990 and seeing I was trying to transmit in FM instead of AM, and failing to notice that I’d somehow managed to change the meter on the amp from SWR to power…

Wisconsin Farmers Say They’re Hurting From Ag Industry Consolidation | Wisconsin Public Radio

Many Wisconsin farmers reported a bumper crop this year, but it’s not translating into record profits. According to the Wisconsin Farmers Union, low commodity prices and consolidation within the agriculture industry is a big part of the problem.

Source: Wisconsin Farmers Say They’re Hurting From Ag Industry Consolidation | Wisconsin Public Radio

Back when I was farming with my father, there were about two dozen different tractor and ag equipment dealers and service centers within around 15 miles of our farm. There were dealers or service people in almost every small town and city all around us; Clark Mills, Whitelaw, Reedsville, Valders, Michicot, Keil, Forest Junction, Hilbert, Chilton… Pretty much every little town had either a dealer or an independent service facility.

Today your choices are one of four mega-dealers who have pretty much taken over the entire ag equipment market in three counties or more.

Competition basically doesn’t exist any more. If you don’t like the prices at a particular tractor dealer, think you’re getting shafted on repair bills, well, too bad, Charlie, there’s no where else you can go.

Same is true with feed companies, fertilizer sales, seed sales… Competition pretty much doesn’t exist any longer. Your choices are limited to one of an ever decreasing number of suppliers, and that’s it. If you think you’re being overcharged, think you aren’t being given a good deal, well, go somewhere else.

Only there isn’t somewhere else…

America’s obesity problem just keeps getting, well, bigger | Grist

New data from the CDC reveals that obesity rates among adults rose from roughly 35 percent in 2011 to 38 percent in 2014.

Source: America’s obesity problem just keeps getting, well, bigger | Grist

The problem isn’t fat, isn’t fast food, isn’t sugar, isn’t soft drinks. The problem is, frankly, us. We’re just plain eating too much.

The average adult in the U.S. now consumes about 500 calories a day more than the average adult did back in 1970. We don’t eat too much fast food. We eat too much of everything. Period.

Granted, we’ve had a lot of help along the way. Restaurants of all types have made portion sizes far, far larger than they used to. The quantity of food you get in a single serving at the average restaurant now is enough to adequately feed two or even three people.

But when it comes right down to it, it’s our own fault. We can’t blame corn syrup. We can’t blame carbs. We can’t blame fat. It’s us.

New Feature! Ask The Grouchy Farmer! This week, “Why Do We Use the Term ‘Horsepower’?”

Dear Grouchy,

Why do we use the term ‘horsepower’ to refer to the amount of work an engine can perform?

 

Interesting question. The use of the term goes back to the very early days of the internal combustion engine and Henry Ford. Before the development of the compact internal combustion engine, most work was performed by horses.

It wasn’t until Henry Ford came along that the engine became viable thanks to Ford’s experiments with biology and reproduction.

While the world primarily thinks of Ford as an engineer, administrator and inventor of the assembly line, Ford’s real claim to fame was in the breeding of horses. It wasn’t until Ford began to breed the ultra-miniaturized horse that small, compact power plants were available.

Ford developed a relatively compact, cast iron case in which could be installed several tiny, tiny treadmills, each powered by one of this ultra-miniaturized horses. (See Figure 1.)

Henryfordhorses

(Figure 1. Henry Ford installing his miniature horses into the seven horsepower “engine” on  his 1920 era tractor prior to a long day’s work plowing the wolverine fields of northern Michigan.)

Modern breeding technologies, genetic modification and improvements in miniaturization technology that took place over the years have permitted engineers to shrink the size of the treadmills and horses to every smaller sizes, permitting the installation of four, five or even six hundred horses into an engine hardly bigger than a suitcase.

Of course there are drawbacks to the system. Mr. Ford discovered that the miniature horses had correspondingly short lifespans, able to live only for several hundred miles. This led to the development of the now almost microscopic horses to be delivered in liquid form through pumps located in almost every town in the country. This allowed owners of these new engines to quickly replenish the horses inside of their engines, as well as proving a food source for the ravenous beasts in liquid form.

Back on HF again!

IMG 0230

I finally got one of the HF rigs running again! I had to take down the dipole antenna for the summer because it was set up low enough so it was in the way. The last thing I needed was one of the neighbor’s kids grabbing the antenna when I was dumping 1200 watts into the thing!

It’s relatively out of the way now, at least where it runs into the neighbor’s yard. I got that end anchored in his apple tree, well out of reach of seven year old kids (and people on lawnmowers). The end that runs into my own yard goes to a fence post on the corner of the property. Let’s face it, it isn’t exactly an ideal installation. It’s a sort of inverted V type arrangement with the feed point at the peek of the garage about 14 feet high, one leg ending only about 4 feet off the ground, and the other about 10 feet up. I’m almost afraid to hang an SWR meter on the thing and see what the SWR actually is. But the Plastar tuner has no trouble with it at all, bringing it down almost to 1.1:1 most of the time.

The important thing is everything seems to be working – transceiver, tuner, amplifier, etc. and I’m putting out a good signal. Was down on 75 meters last night before the storms forced everyone to shut down and was getting decent signal reports.