Me and Furniture

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We’ve been doing upgrades to the house. Well, to be honest it seems that all we ever do is do upgrades to the house since we bought the place. It’s sort of a running joke between my wife and I. I wanted a new ranch house, all sleek and modern and brand new. She wanted a house with ‘character’. Well, she got her wish with this place. It’s got ‘character’ all right, as I remind her every opportunity I get when she complains about the uneven floors, out of plumb door frames, etc. Great fun!

We’ve decided that now that the dog is too old to climb up on chairs and shed all over them and rip fabrics with his toenails, and that the cats have turned out to be reasonably well behaved and aren’t going to shred our furniture, we need to get some new furniture. I hate to say it, but all of the commercial stuff we’ve looked at has been either way, way too expensive, or, frankly, crap.

So, what does this have to do with the two photos? Well, the table and the chair are mine. I made the table — must be 10, 11 years ago. It’s made from white ash harvested from trees that went down on my father-in-law’s farm decades ago and which were stored up in a shed until I got my hands on the stuff. Most of it went into a wardrobe I made for my wife’s sister and her husband as an anniversary present, and what I had left over went into this table. I liked the design, with the kind of quirky way the table top is cut out around the tops of the pyramid topped legs.

The Morris chair is made from white oak and is the most comfortable chair in the house. The extra-wide, flat arms were designed deliberately so people can set things on them when they’re sitting. They’re also made extra strong, thanks to the corbels that support the arms and the fact the bottom of the arms are mortised their entire length and fit into the top rail. I made them extra strong because I knew people would be tempted to perch on the chair arms.

Anyway, ‘she who must be obeyed’ has decided there is going to be no crap commercial furniture. It has been decided that I am going to make a mission style sofa to match the chair and table.

Well, we’ll see.

Still More Ham Stuff: PSK31

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I’m new to amateur radio. Just got my license in February when I passed my Tech and General tests. So a lot of this stuff is still new to me and I still find it a bit amazing, like this set-up. This is an ordinary iPad running a program called PSKer, available on the App Store. Using no additional hardware at all, just the iPad, with it’s internal microphone and speakers, it will decode and send text in PSK31. Now I’ve been working with computers, radios and electronics for ages, but sometimes modern technology still surprises me. I haven’t tried transmitting with it yet. That’s a bit awkward, but decoding works pretty well, although you do need a very clear signal with little or no interference, which is sometimes hard to do.

And look at that nifty waterfall display! Heck, it was worth the $3 just for that!

First Look at the Kenwood TS-2000

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I wanted to talk a bit about the Kenwood TS-2000 now that I’ve spent a couple of weeks actually using it. This isn’t a formal review, you’ll find enough of those out on the net, along with specifications and all that other fun stuff. I want to talk about what it’s like to actually use it, something that gets lost in the mix in formal reviews.

The 2000 is an impressive piece of equipment straight out of the box. I’m used to consumer grade electronics which are generally so badly made that it’s lucky if they survive being unpacked. The build quality of the 2000 is so far beyond what I’m used to that I am still impressed by it. The knobs and keys are rock solid. The knobs are silky smooth in action, with no side play at all. The keys are extremely well fitted and solid as well, with positive tactile feedback. Everything about this radio is extremely well made with tight tolerances, with excellent attention to detail.

The display is reasonably well laid out, if a bit cramped. It’s generally easy to read, although a bit intimidating and confusing at first as all of the different functions come into play. Fortunately the manual has several pages devoted to just explaining what in the world pops up on the display. Although a bit confusing at first, it doesn’t take long to get used to.

There is an SWR meter built into the unit, but you can’t see it here. It appears over on the left side of the display with the other meters and seems to only appear when you hit the button to activate the internal antenna tuner (yes, it has a built in antenna tuner). Unless I’m missing something (which I admit is entirely possible), the SWR meter appears only at that time, and is only active during the actual process of tuning for the antenna. Considering that this takes all of about 2 seconds, during which time the meter jumps around all over the place as the unit works on acquiring the best SWR reading for the antenna, you’d better keep an eye on that thing when you hit the antenna tuner button or you’re going to miss it.

By the way, the antenna tuner and SWR meter only work on HF.

Once I got used to the control configuration, the radio isn’t hard to use. It can be a bit intimidating, though, because all of the keys have multiple functions. A quick press does one thing. Press the key and hold it down, and it activates yet another function. Press the FUNC button, and the keys now activate an entire different group of functions. It may seem confusing at first, but I got used to it quickly, although I found it necessary to keep the manual handy. But once I started to use it seriously, everything started to make sense with control groups laid out in a logical fashion.

There are 2 HF antenna connectors on the back and 1 VHF, both 259 style connectors for standard coax. The UHF antenna is an N style connector (which means that to use UHF I’m either going to have to get a separate UHF antenna or cobble together adaptors to feed my multi-band VHF/UHF antenna). There is also an antenna jack for HF receive only if you want to go that route. (There is a lot of other stuff back there that I’m ignoring because I don’t use any of it, except for the CW key jack).

On the VHF side the transceiver is being fed with a Comet VHF/UHF vertical antenna that seems to work pretty well. On HF it’s hooked to a Comet 250B vertical because a) I’m really lazy and the 250 is real easy to put up, and b) it’s the middle of winter and trying to put up complex antenna systems with 3 feet of snow on the ground and -10 wind chills is no fun at all.

Actually using the 2000 is pretty straightforward, with no glitches or nasty surprises. Everything works exactly the way it’s supposed to and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.

I did replace the included hand held mobile mike with a desktop model.

There are some minor irritations, like the numeric keypad. I find the buttons too small for my short, stubby farmer fingers. I also question why I have to press the ENTer button before I can enter a frequency directly. I understand the need to have multiple functions for keys, but the thing most users are going to use that numeric keypad for is entering frequencies (or at least that’s the case with me), not using the functions associated with the keys. But the ENT button has to be pressed first or you’ll end up selecting various functions you don’t want. Even after having used the radio for a couple of weeks I still find myself trying to punch in frequencies without hitting that blasted ENT button first.

Having the dual receivers is fantastic. It lets me monitor my favorite repeater frequencies up on VHF while I work on HF on the other side. In the photo you can see that the main receiver on the left is down on 14.27 mHz while the sub receiver is on 144 mHz. Since the photo was taken, I’ve programmed the memories in the radio with a dozen or so of the repeaters I use on a regular basis, and generally I keep the ‘B’ receiver on the left scanning those frequencies for activity while I’m down on HF with the main receiver. If I hear someone I want to talk to on VHF I just hit the ‘SUB’ button to the right of the main tuning dial to transfer the transmit functions over to the sub-receiver and away I go.

VHF-wise, the radio has been fantastic. Even with transmit power dialed down I can hit the local repeaters with no trouble at all. 

On HF the results have been mixed. Not because of the 2000, but because of the antenna I’m using. I’m not going to go into detail about the drawbacks of a multi-band HF vertical antenna because you can read those anywhere. Let’s just say that the Comet 250 isn’t the most efficient antenna in the world and leave it at that. At best it is a compromise for someone like me who wants to get on the air on HF fast and easy. 

It’s South Dakota Day at Grouchy Farmer

It’s South Dakota Day here at grouchyfarmer. Why? Why not? I’ve managed to get out to western South Dakota almost every year since 2007, and whenever I get out there I stop at the Badlands.

As always, photos are copyrighted by the photographer and should not be used without written permission.

It’s Alive!

Eldest son Steve and I spent Friday getting the temporary mount for the VHF antenna set up and the cables run, and then spent Saturday getting the Comet HF antenna assembled and attached to a temporary mount and the cables run for that.

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Here’s the temporary grounding rod with the lightening arrestors installed. Trying to drive a 6 foot long grounding rod through the frost layer was entertaining, to say the least, but we got the thing in at last.

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Here’s the temporary mount for the VHF/UHF antenna. Basically it’s just screwed to the side of the garage. With the weather the way it’s been recently there’s no way we can get up on the roofs to do anything, so we have to settle for temporary mounting until the snow and ice melts and we can do more permanent mounting systems.

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Another temporary mounting, this one for the Comet multi-band vertical. Basically it’s just an 8 foot pipe driven into the ground for a temporary mounting mast. Not exactly an ideal setup, but it will work until we can get a permanent antenna system installed this spring.

Ore Dock at Ashland, Wisconsin

This is the old iron ore dock at Ashland, Wisconsin. Wish I had taken more photos of it the last time I was up there because I heard it was recently demolished, which is kind of a shame but understandable. I’ve been in Ashland many times and the dock was always an amazing sight to see.

The dock was built back around 1915 or 1916. It was enlarged in 1925. It was 1,800 feet long, 85 feet tall and 75 feet wide. Ore from iron mines in the area was hauled by rail where it would be dumped down the chutes you can see on the side of the dock down into freighters which would take the ore out through the Great Lakes.

The dock was shut down in 1965, and has been badly deteriorating ever since. In 2009 Ashland gave the Canadian National railroad permission to take the dock down because it was in such bad shape that it was downright dangerous.

As usual, all photos are copyright by the author and should not be used without permission.