Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Amateur Radio: My First Net Check-In

Tonight I managed to successfully check into the 2m net for the Nevada County Amateur Radio Club. Originally I just intended to listen in and check in on the later 10m net. I figured I had a better chance of getting in to that, since VHF hasn't worked well for me previously.

So I tried to monitor the 2m net from inside next to my HF rig. First with my Yaesu FT-250R handie-talkie and its rubber duck antenna, then with my old Kenwood TS-700A and a ground plane antenna. The Kenwood's S-meter was seeing a signal, but I wasn't getting any audio.

So I disconnected the ground plane from the Kenwood, hunted up a short length of decent coax, and a broom handle. Yes, an actual broom handle. Or a mop, it's pretty universal.

Two large broccoli-bunch rubber bands later, I had the ground plane antenna mounted on the broom handle and with a nice little BNC adapter I had that hooked up to my Yaesu HT. Then I went out in the driveway and walked around.

Me with the amazing 2m broomstick antenna boom.
How I Did It. 40m dipole strung from tree to mast on roof, 2m Yagi 20' above garage roof, two Kenwood base stations. First net check in: 5W HT with a ground plane on a broom stick handheld in the driveway.

Now, I've tried to do this before to get in to the Grass Valley repeater, but it hasn't worked. In the past I had always looked for the strongest signal on the S-meter from the repeater while someone is talking. This time I figured I was just going to listen, so I went looking for the lowest noise level. I was getting the signal pretty well, with some cutting out here and there as I walked around. Once I found a spot with a pretty good signal, I'd walk around and see how much I could cut out the noise.

After a bit, as the check-ins went on, I had narrowed it down to two spots. I tried out each and decided it was pretty much even, so I stayed at the one closest to the house, figuring I'd be a bit less likely to kick a skunk where I had a bit of light. The HT and broomstick antenna was a two-handed affair, so there was no room left for a flashlight (besides, I was hoping there might be some aurora showing in the north tonight.)

I listened in on the check-ins, wondering why I was standing out in the dark and cold, wishing I'd worn the jacket with the gloves in the pocket as my hands got colder and number with each call sign that went by. I tried to help myself along by trying to figure out how long it might be until they got to the end of the list, but the list order appeared to be "the order they're written in", since there didn't seem to be the usual order by suffix or anything that I've heard used on the daytime 40m nets I've listened in on.

Checking In

Finally, the net control called for late check-ins and other club members. I decided to give it a try, someone else keyed up just as I was pressing PTT, so I let up and listened through their check-in. Another call for late club member check-ins, I gave it a try.

Net control couldn't make my call on the first go, but asked for me to repeat it with phonetics. I did so, he asked for a report on what I've been up to on HF, and I did that and turned it back over again. He got my call and my report and noted my check-in. I'd done it! Freezing in the dark with a wire ground plane on a broomstick and a 1.1 meter cable to my HT, with two adapters in the line (PL-259 to BNC, BNC to SMC.)

Now I've made my first contact outside the driveway, not counting a prior attempt to contact this repeater where they could hear me but couldn't copy.

10m Net: Good Thing I Didn't Wait

Once the 2m net was over, I went inside to see if I could check in on a second net on 10m. I had the HF rig already set up, but didn't hear anyone come on. After a while W6PD started calling CQ Grass Valley. I waited, after a bit he called CQ anyone and I tried to answer. He heard me calling, but couldn't pull me out of the noise even after I turned my power up all the way (100 watts.) I'm sure my 40m antenna, its orientation (Grass Valley is end-on, pretty much), its location and its poor parentage all contributed to the unsuccessful contact.

Which I why I'm hoping to get something else up soon. Nobody's answered my CQs on 40m, perhaps I'm not getting a signal out there to speak of, either. I might send my kid (KJ6TFT) out with my HT and my short wave radio, perhaps, and see if she can hear me then report back on 2m (I'll have the Kenwood here, which should be able to work FM simplex across town. Maybe.)

So, almost 2 months from license to first net check-in. With some wires on the end of a broomstick. :D

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Received My First Radiogram Today

telegram boy drawingA short while ago I got a telephone call from a nearby radio amateur named Bill, call sign W6WEM, to tell me that he had a radiogram to deliver to me.

The message was from Pat, WB5NKD of Oklahoma City. I don't know Pat, but she sent me a nice message encouraging me to check out getting on the amateur radio nets and to learn to handle traffic. It's a standard message, and I appreciate getting it. Thanks, Pat!

As it happens, at the time the call came I was looking up various nets on the internet (you know, that thing that's like a radio net but it uses wires instead of radio waves. Apparently it's pretty well known these days.) Specifically, I was learning about a couple of nets called the Triple H net and the OMISS net, which both came up on a search for 40 meter nets. While I recognise these are not traffic nets, that is nets whose purpose is passing messages over the radio waves, I've also been looking in to and listening to those.

I have a 40m dipole antenna up right now, and daytime 40m radio comes in very nicely. During my mid-day breaks from classes I've been hearing some daily nets on 40m that are traffic nets. I've also listened in on some 2m nets, but since these are on repeaters I haven't been able to participate, as I don't have PL tones on my old 2m transceiver.

Bill, who delivered my radiogram, told me that he's on the California Traffic Net. They meet nightly on 80m, I'm planning on listening in on the first available evening and checking in if my antenna allows.

I talked to Bill a bit about what I'm up to here amateur-radio-wise, and asked about his station set up. He's got a skywire loop antenna, a type of antenna I've been thinking seriously about since I got some negative comments about my idea of possibly putting up a G5RV antenna at one of the local radio clubs. I'm planning to go by his place and have a look, and learn some of the details of putting up such an antenna myself. Bill's offered to give me a hand, apparently tree work was his business in the past, which is really neat since about all I know about trees is how to prune them or cut them down. ;)

Once I get a chance to learn a few things, I'll pull together the bits to put one of my own up. Bill commented that loops give a really low noise level, which I've learned to appreciate as a really good thing. 40m is fairly quiet on my current dipole at times, but at other times it's really noisy. And it's never really quiet.

Tonight I'm going to take a another look at what I've got for feedline, and at least know what I've got so that I can hopefully ask intelligent enough questions to figure out whether I can work with what I've got, or pick up some new feedline to go with the wire I buy for the skywire antenna.

Getting a Start in Amateur Radio--After the License
All this relates to the subject of what do you do to get going in amateur radio after passing the test. I've been trying to document a lot of what I've been doing, hopefully giving others some idea of what the process is like.

You pass the test, wait a few days to show up in the FCC's database. Then...

Then it's pretty easy to take a few basic steps. Get a VHF or UHF band handie-talkie or mobile rig and find the local repeater. I tried that, and have managed it when I leave the house. That seems easy, but it only gets you so far.

On my first go at amateur radio about 20 years ago I joined a local club and attended the meetings, but this didn't lead to as much in the way of contacts or learning how to operate as I hoped. In part it was because I didn't quite get the thing about nets. That there are different nets for different purposes, aside from the traffic-handling nets. Like the nets that help you make contacts in different areas for awards while you're learning the basics of operating on the air.

That first club also didn't have technical people like me. They were mostly focused on search and rescue, and did a great job of that. But when I had questions about antennas or projects to build gear, they weren't really in that part of the hobby and couldn't help me much. There was one fellow, Joe Sanches, AA6FT, who came occasionally and gave a great presentation on Amateur TV who was very encouraging to me. He urged me to get an Extra class license (I've done it now, Joe!), and seemed to be doing a lot of things that I was interested in. But I was distracted by being a new father at the time, having less money for hobbies all of a sudden (as a result of fatherhood), and just not making a lot of connections in the hobby in the time I did spend on it. After a while I felt like I was doing someone else's version of the hobby, not my own, and it sort of slipped to the wayside.

This time I'm trying to focus a bit more, learn some more, and get more involved so that it doesn't happen that way again.

I've joined two local clubs. While there's no club here in my own community, I happen to live about midway between two nearby communities with radio clubs. Between the two clubs I've attended three meetings since I got my license, and had a chance to meet quite a lot of local amateurs. I'm even starting to recognise some of them, and I'm trying to memorize some names and call signs. At one of the meetings, my daughter (KJ6TFT) and I got invited to a post-meeting get together at a local Denny's, which was really neat. It gave us both a chance to get to know some people better and learn some more about both amateur radio and the other folks' other interests.

One of the things I've noticed about hams is that when you catch them off the air, they often don't talk about their amateur radio stations or operations. You have to ask about it. I expect it's for a number of reasons. One being that hams are pretty much ordinary people in spite of their hobby (hihi), and it's not normal social discourse to walk up to someone and say things like "Hi, I'm WX6XYZ and I've got a Whammidyne 2300 putting out a kilowatt on a 123 foot inverted vee plus a 200 watt four bander in the pickup driving a screwdriver with a bug catcher. How about you?"

Another part of it is that once the station is established and operating more or less normally, there doesn't feel like much to say until something unusual happens like wind bringing down an antenna or a power surge blowing part of the radio.

So, if you're a new ham, here's my advice to you when talking to more established hams--be prepared to interview the other hams about their stuff if you want to learn about it. Ask if you can go to their place and see their station, antenna, or whatever and ask them detailed questions to draw them out. It's how I've started to learn.

Another factor that affects me is that I'm pretty darn technical. Probably more technical than the average ham, in fact. So when they get that sense, they may get the impression that I already know anything that they might tell me, or be sensitive about possibly telling me stuff I may already know. But when it comes to amateur radio, while I know all sorts of electronic theory and such, I'm really not very knowledgeable about anything else yet. And even where I know a lot of theory, I know very little about the practical realities. I'm not very experienced.

So while I can calculate the effects of using, say, 50 ohm feedline versus 75 ohm, I don't know the practical effects of how big a deal it really is, and whether there are some frequencies where it matters and others it doesn't. While a ham who's had a bit of experience, but doesn't know a Smith Chart from a travelling wave tube, knows more than I do about whether to just hook up the wire I've got and not sweat it, or whether to go down to the shop and buy a cable made of the right stuff.

At any rate, I'm persisting and learning. I've also got a little more money to put into things this time around and I'm not trying to be quite as hairshirt about it all, which is helping, too.

73 de W8BIT

Monday, January 16, 2012

8085 Resurgent: Back to the MAG-85

I took a look at my own website the other day and realized it's been far too long since I have updated certain items there. Most noticeable to me was my MAG-85 project, an 8085-based micro trainer. There are a bunch of things I thought I'd posted over a year ago, but the information isn't there.

Obviously I never did it. Sorry about that.

The front page image for the 8085 project is was a really ugly thing I took at a very interim stage while I was doing regular updates on the project. If I wanted to scare someone off the project, I think that picture is what I'd use. What a rat's nest!

8085 microprocessor computer project SDK-85
A Very Ugly Looking 8085 Computer

Shortly after that picture was taken I built a real front panel and enclosure. It's been happily living in that enclosure for well over a year, but I never posted the info on it. In fact, I've just started taking it apart in preparation for making some improvements. Since I like to take pictures of my work for documentation purposes (like getting the right connectors back in the right places), I took some photos of the partially-disassembled unit as it is before I make the updates. Here's one:

MAG-85 8085 computer project in (and partially out of) its enclosure.
A bit ugly with the top and bottom panels off, connectors and wires trailing out, but not so bad at the first photo.

Here you can see that it's not so ugly as before. The LED to the left of the LCD display is controlled by the 8085's SOD output. The eight LEDs below the display are controlled by the 8085's OUT 01 command and held in their state by a register. The eight switches below that are on the 8085's IN 01 port.

The program that's running currently reads the position of the switches and outputs a byte to the LED bank to match what it sees on the input. It also reads the keyboard and sends the ASCII + 0x30 character to the screen that it reads from the keyboard (which is in IN 00). The LCD display is on the OUT 00 port.

The four push buttons above the keyboard are, from left (red) to right:

In the crude OS/monitor I have running on the MAG-85 now, TRAP acts as an "Escape" key that returns control to the OS. This allows miscreant programs to be stopped and memory examined any time, since TRAP isn't maskable.

RST7.5 is used as the user vector to the start of the application program in memory. In essence, this is the "GO" or "Execute" button.

RST5.5 is also a user vector that should point to a subroutine that does something and returns. Either the application program should initialize it, or it has to be initialized by hand in the monitor.

The keyboard itself uses RST6.5 to read a key value into a buffer, where an OS routine can pick it up/translate it, etc. The keycap legends allow for several uses of the keys. The typical use of the yellow keys is hexadecimal number entry. But they can also be used as arrow keys and fire button (9) for games.

The top row has the IN or Enter key in red, the backspace (BK) in blue, the (M) mode and edit/view (e/v) keys in gray. The edit/view key toggles a flag in the OS that switches between a memory protecting mode (view) and editing mode in the various modes. The mode key modifies the mode variable in the system to switch between Memory, Register, and I/O port viewing or editing. It's possible to change from editing to viewing and back again while in any of the modes.

Current Rework
My current plans for reworking the MAG-85 have to do with replacing the buttons used for RESET, TRAP and the RSTs, plus improving the ergonomics of the unit a bit by replacing the top and bottom panels, which were hand-made on hardboard, with some nicer CNC'd panels that reposition some of the controls (I switched off the unit more than once when I meant to switch on or off the backlight for the LCD.)

The four pushbuttons above the keyboard are some really awful buttons. They ring like bells, causing all sorts of debounce problems. I have both hardware and software debouncing on them right now, and it *mostly* works. I think part of why I stopped posting before was that I wanted to kill this problem before I posted, so as to avoid causing anyone else the headaches I've had with these switches. And, as you can see, those switches are still in there.

A sideline on the current work is also preparing for a couple of improvements that have been planned since the beginning, but haven't happened yet. One is to put a nice little door in so that the NOVRAM/EEPROM/EPROM memory can be swapped out without opening the whole unit. Right now I unscrew the end pieces then pop out the face panel to get at the memory socket. Which is not clean, quick, or easy. I have to get the cables all to go back to their places each time I put it back together. A couple of times I've pulled out one of the input cables by accident, then wondered why the keyboard or switches aren't talking when I get it back together.

The other is preparing to mount a battery pack inside, so that I can go cordless with this thing. A lot of what I've been doing in design tweaks is reducing the power used by the system. Finding a good brightness for the backlight, putting a switch on the backlight so that I can turn it off when I'm in good light, reducing the brightness of the power LED and the I/O LEDs, that sort of thing. As well as looking at my nascent OS to see if there are things I can do there that will reduce power while staying out of the way of the user's programs.

I'm also planning on adding another memory socket for an EPROM. It won't have a ZIF socket in it like the one that's there now, but I'm getting to the point of wanting a more permanent memory for the OS, with the NOVRAM left for user space programs. This may involve some rejiggering of the memory map, since for mechanical reasons I'd like to have the removable memory in the center of the PCB side to side.

I'm also looking at adding an expansion port or two on the new end plates, which begs the question of whether to use a standard connector with a more or less standard wiring for the port (like a PC's bidirectional parallel port) or whether to roll my own for the sake of less constraint on how the lines are used. Basically just bringing the lines from the I/O buffer registers straight out of the box along with power and ground. This is my preference for a number of reasons, but there's an appeal to letting the MAG-85 drive standard I/O devices, too.

The addition of a serial port, either at TTL levels or a standard RS-232C port is another possibility I keep playing with. I've kept SID available for this possibility, though I was tempted to use it as either a user digital I/O or a memory bankswitch I/O or something of the sort. Being able to connect the MAG-85 straight to a terminal would be really nice, so I'm leaning toward an RS-232C port.

But if I do that, I'll need a separate set of I/O routines for that port that allow it to be the primary user I/O for the OS. So if I do that, it'll probably be deferred until some other things happen first.

Like finishing the OS well enough to post it.

Finishing the MAG-85 Operating System
I haven't posted the OS yet because it's still in a fairly yucky developmental state. That and my test hardware still has the crummy switches that do nasty things to me at times, and there's lots of code in the OS just to try to deal with them that can probably come out once I've got decent switches in.

So my present software objective is to clean up the OS and put a bow on it so that I can "ship" it to a download on my site. I may end up cutting some of the features, but there's also the possibility that I'll end up cleaning them up because I've already got too much other code running around that uses them. The core basics are the ability to view and edit the system's memory, and execute a program starting at some given address. I'll guarantee that much.

I think the ability to view and edit register values is pretty well sewn, too. It's possible to bork the OS by doing something stupid here, but I'm not trying to protect the user from being stupid. Press TRAP (probably to be labelled ESC) and the OS will restart and reset any values it needs to function (I hope!)

The ability to view inputs and edit outputs interactively shouldn't be a problem, either, but it's not an immediate priority. If it happens effortlessly, it'll be in the initial release. Otherwise, I won't hold up the release for it.

I've also got another mode that is enabled in some versions for viewing/setting user variables in the OS, such as the RST5.5 and RST7.5 vectors, selecting different display formats, setting the size of the LCD, and so on. I can pretty well guarantee that the full-up version of this will not be in the initial release, though a cut-rate version of it may be. That would mean that you would set these variables yourself when putting the code on your own MAG-85.

If I do go to a design that uses two memories, one rewritable in system and the other not, I'll have to put these variables in RAM, or expect that they be set once and for all in the firmware. I'd like to be able to provide an EPROM at some point for people who want to build a MAG-85 and get up and running without having to put the OS in themselves. But if I do, I either need to put some system information in the NOVRAM memory space (like the height/width of the LCD display) or require that only one size of LCD be used with a specific version of the OS. Since I'm looking forward to building another MAG-85 with a larger display (perhaps 32 characters wide by 4 lines high), I'd like to keep the OS flexible. The initial display routines will only use a portion of displays larger than 20x2, but the user programs can use the larger displays and the OS can be updated later to have multiple display formats that the user can select.

But right now, I just need to drive a stake through its heart and get a workable version out the door. :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Call Sign, New QSL Card

I'm afraid I didn't care much for the Extra class call sign I got from the sequential call sign assignment. It was AG6HU. Before it was assigned, I saw on AE7Q's site that I was likely to get a call from the range AG6HT through AG6HV. I would have been OK with HT or HV, but I was hoping I wouldn't get HU. The call sign is funky enough with the AG prefix, but with an HU suffix there's just nothing there to love.

I tried, I really did. I tried coming up with interesting phoney phonetics for it ("higher up", "hugely unpopular", "hic up", etc.) What really sealed that call's fate for me was when I tried telling it to people. It took a minimum of three tried to get it across, even when using the International Phonetic Alphabet. That's bad.

So I applied for a vanity call sign. I didn't rush right out, though I didn't dilly-dally, either. Knowing that I wasn't going to stick with AG6HU meant that I wanted to get a new call before establishing much of an identity with that call. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I'd want that'd still be fun to have 20 plus years from now.

Since retrocomputing and microcontrollers are both hobbies of mine, the call W8BIT seemed appropriate. That's what I put at the top of the list, and that's what I got. W6CPU and W6TTY were high on my list. I didn't realize it when I applied, but another ham applied for W6TTY a few days before I did, and got that assigned during the 18 day waiting period for my new call (not that it mattered, since my first choice was available, but an example of a good reason to have more than one choice and be prepared to not get your first choice.)

Another one that would have been a lot of fun is KO5MAC, since I'm a fan of the COSMAC microprocessor (the RCA 1802.) It's a bit more specialized than simply "8BIT", so it ended up as a lower preference. Beyond the first three choices I listed, I didn't worry much about the order of the other calls I put on the list relative to my preferences. Any of them were better than AG6HU, and I pretty well expected that things weren't very likely at all to go past the top three. KO5MAC would probably have been my fourth choice if I had arranged them. It's an awfully fun call sign, just like the 1802 is a really fun chip.

I considered having a call with my current favorite microcontroller referenced, the Atmel AVR, like, say K6AVR or W6AVR (no idea if these are in use or not.) But that seemed potentially even a bit more narrow than the COSMAC reference, especially when viewed from the perspective of 20 years from now.

I got my new call sign on the 4th, I'd already figured out what I wanted to do for my QSL card. I got 100 of them printed up today. Here's what it looks like:

QSL card for W8BIT, lots of 8-bit processors in the background, and one video chip that I mistook for a 6502 processor.

Ready to Go, Almost
On the more practical side of amateur radio--making actual radio contacts--I'm still moving things forward. Yesterday afternoon I replaced the towels stuffed in the window where the antenna cable comes through with a purpose-made wooden feedthrough. It looks a lot less "redneck" than the towels stuffed in a window casement.

Unfortunately, I don't have a good ground to the transceiver in its temporary home yet. I'd hoped to have time to pull that in yesterday but time ran short. But that's next. I'm not too worried about the ground when I'm just listening in, but before I key the mike I want to have a good ground on the radio's chassis. Then I'll be ready to jump into 40 meters, and possibly 15 meters.

I've been listening in a lot on 40 meters over the past week, and I'm starting to get a pretty good feel for the band. Like what frequencies folks are using pretty commonly, what sort of traffic is going on when (daily nets, some of the weekly nets, and so on.) So I'm pretty confident I won't seem to be a complete and total lid when I do key up. Though I'm prepared to make _some_ mistakes, it's part of the learning process.

Then the next major step is to clear out my corner of the garage, put in an AC/heater unit in the wall, a raised floor, and a bit of insulation. A few more touches like a mecca ground plate and feedthrough panel then I'm ready to put in shelves and furniture.

Somewhere in there I want to get or build a decent morse key or keyer. All I have on hand right now are a couple of ones of about the quality that were in kid's science kits 30-40 years ago.

So long as my current antenna keeps me going, I'll just go with it until the new radio shack is done before hanging up a new multiband antenna. A G5RV has been highly recommended to me by at least two hams. I've got a good idea of where a full size one would go on my property, and I'm looking to see if I can fit in a double-size one at right angles, more or less, to the first. That'd (hopefully) get me on the 160m band, too.

Lots to do, lots to do. In the meanwhile I'm going to grab my HT and make some contacts on 2m simplex.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Got a Rig, Got an Antenna

I've got an HF rig for amateur radio now. I've been trying to figure out how to get started since working with the VHF equipment I already have on hand hasn't been working out well for me so far. Based on what I picked up on my short wave radio it looked like the high frequency bands should do well here where I live.

Last week I got a used Kenwood TS-450SAT. It's a really nice older rig, the set-up I bought included the antenna tuner (thus the "AT" in the model number) and a good power supply (Astron RS-35M). It's capable of 100W out on all the HF bands (less in AM, 40W if I recall correctly.)

Next I needed an antenna.

Two days ago I fashioned up a quickie dipole out of some 3/8" cable shielding I had on hand. It was the end of a spool, I had about 80 feet. I cut two pieces about 35 feet long to make a dipole about 67 feet long overall once all was said and done. My time was short, I soldered some 12 guage solid wire on to an SO-239 bulkhead connector, soldered that to ends of each piece of braid, put loops in the 12 guage and tied a piece of rope between them as strain relief, then make a couple of end insulators out of short chunks of PVC pipe.

More 12ga solid wire went into the outer ends of the PVC insulators to finish the antenna's first incarnation.

The light was already failing, but I managed to go outside and run the antenna from a manzanita bush on a hill next to my home, about 20 feet higher than my roof. The other end went to an old bicycle inner tube looped around one of the vents on my roof. A poor installation, but all I had time for as it was about full dark by the time I came back inside.

A sixty foot piece of RG-8 with PL-259s on the ends ran from the center connector, through a cracked window, to my rig. I stuffed the crack with ratty garage towels.

My MFJ-259B reported that the SWR was out of bounds on 160m, good on the high end of 80m, so-so across 40m, worse on 20 and 17m, good in 15m band, decent in 12m, and barely usable in 10m. What the heck. I hooked it up to the TS-450S.

I didn't know if I was going to try sending anything when I hooked it up, but once I got started I realized I had my hands full just figuring out how to listen on my new rig for the first evening. I managed to listen in on a net on 40 meters and hear a few QSOs. The antenna brought in more than I get with the whip on my short wave radio (whew!), but is still wasn't all that great.

I'd noticed that the MFJ-259B said that the best frequencies on my antenna were all just above or at the high end of the ham bands I most expected it to perform at.

So yesterday I went out with my ham daughter (KJ6TFT) and we did a re-do on the antenna. I shortened it up a bit (between stretching and poor quality control in the initial build it measured out as a bit over 68 feet), did some mechanical touch-up, and installed it in a better location.

I was limited by the length of my RG-8 feeder line, the only one to my name at present as another length of Belden duo-foil cable turned out to have a kink in it where the center conductor pushed through the inner insulation to touch the shield. So we ran around the steep end of my property with a 100' tape measure for a while and came up with an idea we hoped would work.

We picked an oak tree at about the right distance at the top of the property (still below the hilltop, which my neighbor owns) to attach a 12 foot board with one end of the antenna. The antenna then slopes down to another 12 foot board with a 2x3 reinforcing board that's attached to the edge of my garage roof and the garage wall through a T. We were planning to use nails at some points, but went to screws when it became apparent during the hand-held test-fit that tension was going to be a lot higher than we originally thought.

How is it that antennas weigh ten times as much in the air as when you carry them in your hands? ;)

We spent almost the full day working out the niggling details of this "temporary" antenna installation. Besides getting on the air quick, this antenna is also intended to give me some idea of what I can expect to catch off the air here, let me know how the orientation it's at will work (it's north-south), and otherwise just give me some practical experience before I start any elaborate plans for a permanent antenna.

I learned a lot before I even got to the point of hooking it back up to my rig. Which is good. I can see several mistakes I would have made if I'd tried to dive into a permanent antenna design right off the bat. I've heard it said that a quick and dirty antenna takes just as much work as a full-fledged proper job, so why bother with the quick and dirty at all? In my case I can say that by using available materials and not expecting too much I've managed to learn a lot that will make the "real" antenna a much better antenna than it would have been otherwise, and I'll have a much better idea of what to expect without making too many guesses.

Once hooked back up to the rig, the extra altitude of the new installation showed its effect. I was hearing a lot more across all bands. The difference was huge. When I later disconnected the cable and checked the antenna on the MFJ-259B the numbers looked only marginally better, but then an antenna analyzer doesn't evaluate the location of an antenna, except as it affects the antenna's electrical characteristics. At any rate, the SWR is better across most bands (some got just a little bit worse), but the real story is in the reception. Which is much improved.

So now I just need to do a little more reading in my transceiver's manual to make sure I have the least clue about what I'm doing when I hit the PTT button. So I'd better close out this post and get to it.