Lilies, Peppers, Water and Stuff

One of the lilies is finally coming into flower and it’s been worth the wait. I love these things and grin like an idiot whenever I walk past this plant.

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For some reason MrsGf went pepper crazy this year and we’ve ended up with something like 30 pepper plants of various types out in the gardens. One of the raised beds is full of them, and then they’re tucked away in odd corners all over the flower beds as well. They’re all starting to blossom now.

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This particular one is supposed to be a small, round, hot pepper called a cherry bomb if I remember right, although it’s hard to keep track of what’s actually planted where. There are at least 4 or 5 different types out there. Both of us really love peppers, especially fresh from the garden, but there’s no way we’re going to be able to use all of these this year. I think it’s a hint that the family wants me to make and can a big batch of pickled peppers this year. The pickled peppers were an experiment last year and turned out so good we’re down to one or two pints left. I certainly don’t mind, but damn, that’s a lot of pepper plants…

Now that I’m not working I’m going to blow up like a balloon if I don’t exercise, and walking around town day after day is pretty darn boring so I went and got myself a bicycle. Biked about five miles down to the old stone bridge outside of town.IMG_0391.jpgIMG_0393.jpgIMG_0389.jpg

the bridge goes over a shallow, slow little river that dries up into a mud hole by mid-summer usually. I never really paid much attention to it before because usually I’m going over the bridge in a car. I realized it’s really kind of pretty down there, especially with the sky reflecting off the water.

Four thirty in the morning? Really? Ick… Why do I keep getting up this early? I have turned into one of those most obnoxious of people, a “morning person”. As soon as the sky begins to turn light in the pre-dawn, my idiotic brain has decided I need to be up. Right now. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s annoying because I don’t want to be up at bloody 4:30 or 5 in the morning.

The cats are delighted by this, of course. Being the utterly annoying little goofballs they are, they’re generally all sitting outside of the bedroom door by 4:30 anyway because they want their breakfast. So I’m out here, bleary eyed, still half in the dark, trying to make coffee and tripping over cats, stumbling over cats, having cats butting against my legs (it’s not a sign of affection, they’re trying to trip you, you know) and having cats yelling at me. And trying to keep things quiet so MrsGF can get an extra half hour of sleep or so.

If they’re especially bored or hungry, they will drag their food bowl all the way across the room and put it directly in front of the bedroom door so I trip over it when I come stumbling out. One of them has developed the habit of going through the house, finding every cat toy she can, and depositing it in the empty food dish. Apparently she’s under the impression that if she makes some kind of offering the cat food gods will refill her bowl?

Come to think of it, it works, doesn’t it? She puts her toys in the empty food dish and like magic I show up and refill it.

Antenna Adventure and Stuff

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Like most amateur radio operators I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. I’ll find something and think ‘oh, that might be useful some day’ or ‘wow, that’s a good price I should get that because I’ll use it some day’. You know the kind of thing. The end result is I have more PL-259 connectors than I’ll ever use in my lifetime, spools of coax cable, rope, miscellaneous spools of wire, bits of this and that, oddball electronics, rather intimidating looking radios, test equipment and tools…

Making things worse is I’m fascinated with antennas and how radio waves propagate, so I have stuff used to make antennas, and even complete antenna systems that I’ve picked up along the way. Including the one in the photo, a Gap Titan DX vertical antenna that’s been laying in a box upstairs since I got it about three or more years ago.

It was intended to replace the Comet 250 vertical I’ve had since I first got my license. Now the Comet works. Sort of.  It’s dirt simple to put up, being little more than 21 foot long aluminum pole that bolts to a pipe hammered into the ground. But let’s face it, it isn’t really a very good antenna, especially at lower frequencies. It was intended to be a stop gap measure, something I could use to get on the air quickly and easily, with the intention of eventually replacing it with something else.

I eventually put up an OCFD that’s my primary antenna, but I kept the Comet up more for reasons of nostalgia than because it worked, which it pretty much didn’t. Oh, I made some contacts using it, but the intention was always to replace it with something better like the Gap Titan, or a vertical from DX Engineering that I picked up around the same time.

Eldest son showed up yesterday and said the Comet was coming down and we’re going to put that Gap Titan. Period. Okay… We worked out in the driveway during the hottest day of the year so far, gulping down water, sweating through our clothes, and finally got it put together. Mostly. It isn’t that difficult to assemble. The instructions are phrased a bit oddly, but if you take your time and pay attention to the diagrams it isn’t hard. And this is about as far as we got because now we are at the point where we have to put the counterpoise together, and that can’t really be done until it’s up because the counterpoise consists of four long aluminum rods about four feet long that are linked together with copper wire and goes around the bottom section of the antenna.

Then we realized that where we wanted to put it, where the Comet is now, isn’t going to actually work because we’d badly underestimated the size of the counterpoise. The Comet, being little more than a big stick with a can on the end containing the matching coils, takes up almost no room at all, and is bolted to a piece of pipe hammered into the ground. It has no counterpoise, no radials, nothing. Just a big stick, like I said. This, though, was going to require a space of about 8 feet across.

I wanted to keep it low to the ground despite the fact that would not help it’s performance. That would mean we wouldn’t have to guy it, it would be easy to take it down if necessary, and it would be easy to adjust. We considered putting it in different parts of the yard, and that would have worked, but that counterpoise would always be awkward to deal with and almost certainly someone would run a lawnmower or something into it. And we’d have to make a new feed line and bury it, and while I probably have about a thousand feet of coax laying around the house, none of it is rated for in-ground use so I’d have to get more, and we’d have to dig a trench and, well, this was starting to look like more work than we really wanted to get involved with.

And then there was the safety aspect of the whole thing. I rarely put more than 30 watts into the Comet, using it mostly for low power digital communications like PSK. Besides, the Comet can only handle about 200 watts anyway before the coils will melt down or something. The Gap, on the other hand is rated for a full 1,500 watts output, and I often use amplifiers putting out 600 – 1,500 watts when conditions warrant it. So getting it higher up would be advisable just in case some goof ball decided to grab the antenna just as I key a mic and dump 1,500 watts into the thing. You can get some nasty burns from RF at those frequencies and power levels.

So eldest son decided the best thing to do was go up. Keep it in the same location, but up above the roof of the garage where it would be out of the way and where it would probably work better anyway. But that meant we had to put up guy lines to keep it from falling over, so he’d have to go buy… No, you don’t, I told him, and rummaged around in my boxes and came up with a complete guying kit, including a few hundred feet of nonconductive line, tie downs and other goodies. And then he said well, it would be nice if we could put in a tip over mount so we can lower it down in case of storms and stuff so I should look into that. And, well, a trip to the famous “box o’ stuff” (well, actually many boxes) turned up a tip over mount originally intended for a DX Engineering antenna that would work… Sometimes it pays to hang onto all that stuff. So all we really had to buy was some sturdy pipe or something to get it about 10 feet up so it would clear the garage roof, and he went off with the truck in search of that.

Now I have absolutely no idea how he’s planning on doing this. As MrsGF pointed out, he’s the genius in the family and it’s best to just leave him alone and let him do it because he’s generally right. So we’ll see what’ll happen.

If we get a chance to actually do it. It looks like more storms are on the way, and working on antennas with thunder storms in the area is generally considered a bad thing to do.

Generic Stuff and Irritations

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Tumblr: Pulling the Plug At Last – I’ve had a blog over there for ages. I’ve put up with all of the nonsense they’ve pulled for far too long now. The company’s various attempts to make money off the service have done little except alienate the bloggers who made the service successful in the first place. Things have gotten much worse over the past year. Advertising is so invasive I can’t even read my dashboard without my ad blockers running full on. The service now seems to be in the process of being taken over by fake automated blogs that don’t have an actual person behind them. Most of these seem to be automated systems that “harvest”, so to speak, cute photos from Tumblr or other internet services, then offer them up on the blog, interspersed with dozens and dozens of fake posts that are links to advertising. The porn bots, the automated porn blogs that were “following” random blogs in the hopes of generating page hits were bad enough, but these new fake blogs are even worse. I’ve had about 50 new followers over there in the last couple of weeks and every single one of them has been one of these automated advertising systems.

I’ve had it with the whole mess over there. I’ll keep reading the blogs of people I follow over there, but I’m not going to be posting anything there any more.

Not sure what that means for this blog. You’ll probably see an increase in activity here. Maybe?


Amateur Radio Irritations Part One: “Contesting” or “Radio Sport” – The first time I heard someone use the term “radio sport” in amateur radio I almost fell over laughing. Until I realized they were serious. What they are trying to do is rebrand various contests as some kind of sport, and failing miserably. But I wanted to talk about contesting, didn’t I? So let’s get on with this.

Let me explain what contesting is in the amateur radio world for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. The basic idea is you have a limited amount of time, 48 hours, let us say, to contact as many other amateur radio operators as possible using a specific mode of operation; CW, SSB, digital, etc. The rules vary from one contest to another. Some are restricted to specific frequency allocations, some restricted to specific operators like the Rookie Roundup, etc. You get points for every contact, with some types of contact being points multipliers. And it’s just – well, it’s just silly. I’m sorry, but it just is.

The two print publications still catering to the amateur radio market, QST and CQ, make a Big Deal out of contesting. They claim it is wildly popular, fun, etc, etc, etc. And while it may be fun for those who enjoy that kind of thing, popular it is definitely not. One of the “big” contests was just reported on in the last QST magazine. They devoted four pages to the thing. How many participants did it actually have? About 4,500 if I remember right.

Now, there are something like three quarters of a million amateur radio operators in the US alone, so 4,500 participants world wide when there are around 750,000 operators in the US alone isn’t exactly popular by any stretch of the imagination. That’s a participation level of – what? About 0.006%?

Now don’t get me wrong. Contests are just fine and dandy if you get into that kind of thing. I can certainly see how someone might even enjoy it. But popular? I’m sorry, it just isn’t. When less than one percent of the total number of a particular group of people do an activity, it is not “popular” by any stretch of the imagination.


Amateur Radio Irritations Part Two: Own Worst Enemy – If you get on the amateur radio websites or read the letters in the magazines, there seems to be one question: Where the hell are all the new amateur radio licensees? We know they’re out there. People are getting licensed in droves. But you never hear any of them actually on the air. So where are they?

If my own experience is any indication, the biggest problem is that the amateur radio community isn’t exactly very welcoming to newcomers. I know there are many exceptions to this, but first impressions count, and when your first experiences are as difficult as mine were, well, you have to have a thick skin to deal with it.

Join a club, they tell you. Well, first of all, good luck even finding one. And if you do, chances are good you’ll have the same experience I did when I joined the Fox Valley club. I dutifully sent off my check, my email address, call sign, and all the other stuff they wanted, and heard — nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a confirmation they got the check. The only reason I know they got it was because it was cashed. No email reply, no information about membership, nothing. Meetings were scheduled when I was working so I couldn’t get to those. Emails to them asking about my status never got a response.

The local ARES group was more responsive and more helpful. But the only thing they care about is emergency communications, an area where amateur radio is increasingly irrelevant and unwelcome, only ARES hasn’t figured that out yet.

If you dare to get on the air, especially down on HF, watch out. The very first contact I made on 10 meters was to someone out in California who spent ten minutes telling me I was an idiot, I was doing everything wrong, that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, all because I hadn’t been required to learn morse code. A few days later I was talking to someone down on 75 meters when someone jumped in and launched into a long rant about how people like me were ruining amateur radio, how I was an idiot, didn’t know a resistor from a capacitor, how all us new operators couldn’t repair a piece of equipment to save our lives and had to buy everything we used. We dropped down to a different frequency and let him rant. He was still at it twenty minutes later.

I’ve been told that most newcomers don’t run into that kind of nonsense, that amateur radio is generally very welcoming. I was probably just very unlucky, at the wrong place and the wrong time. Perhaps. But it only takes one or two unsavory encounters like that to make people wonder if they should be looking at a different hobby.


The Future – So, what’s going to happen here at grouchyfarmer now that my other blog on Tumblr is no more? I’m not really sure yet. There will probably be more activity here in the future. Other than that I don’t know. yet.