Paddles, Paddles, and More Paddles

On the Elecraft mailing list, a discussion was started by a fellow who asked for information on “reasonablyy-priced” iambic paddles. A lively discussion ensued, and many different models were discussed. Some of the paddles discussed were not so reasonably priced, but it was fun to talk about them nonetheless.

Roger, WA7BOC, compiled the following list:

  • Kent TP-1. Buying the TP-1 in kit form saves you about $15. Read the eham review.
  • Vibroplex Code Warrior. This is a production version of the NORCAL K8FF KEY. This key uses magnetic action instead of springs and costs only $110.
  • K8RA P1, P2. The K8RA P1 costs only $89, while the P2 is $110. Both can be ordered with rosewood finger pieces.
  • Jackson Harbor Touch Switch Kit. You would use this $8.50 kit to build your own touch keyer. Personally, I’ve never liked this kind of keyer, but some people seem to prefer it.
  • CW Touch Keyer. This product can be ordered as a complete keyer/paddle combination or just as a touch paddle.
  • Black Widow. I have an earlier version of this $64 paddle, which I use with my KX-1 when I operate /P. It’s nicely made, but I don’t think I’d want to use this for everyday use.
  • Frattini Paddles. There are beautiful, though not cheap.
  • Paddles by ON4MAC. More beautiful paddles by a European craftsman.
  • Begali Simplex. This is my favorite paddle.
  • Chevron Morse Keys. More beautiful keys by a European.
  • Porta-Paddle. Like the Black Widow, I don’t know that I’d use this paddle for every day use, but for portable ops, this key would be great.
  • N3ZN Keys. These are very nice keys made in the U.S. I almost bought one at Dayton, but opted to get a new antenna analyzer instead.

Elecraft Wikis

Don, WB8YQJ, has set up a couple of wikis for owners and users of the Elecraft line of transceivers:

There isn’t a whole lot there right now, but the whole point of a wiki is to encourage others to contribute. I plan to contribute my experiences with antennas for the KX-1.

Moving to the Mac

A couple of years ago, I bought an iMac to use for business purposes. (I am a freelance Web developer.) It’s a great computer.

Down in the shack, though, it’s another story. I’ve been plugging along with an old Windows98 laptop that I bought used about five years ago. I’ve never done anything really fancy with it—I’ve mostly used it for logging. I was going to try PSK31 at some point, but was concerned that the sound card in it wasn’t good enough.

Recently, though, the computer has really started to show its age. The latest thing to break was a little plastic clip holding the Ethernet cable in place. The connector wouldn’t stay put, and I was in effect off the Net.

I took it in to the place where I bought the computer, Affordable Computers, and they sold me a replacement card for $30. Unfortunately, when I got it home, I found that I still couldn’t connect to the net. I took it back the next day, and it turns out that the card they sold me was bad. Fortunately for me, they found another card—this one an Ethernet-only card—that did work and only cost $15.

While I was in there, I noticed that they were selling some used iBooks for $539. How could I resist? So, now I’m the proud owner of an iBook G4, with Mac OSX. In fact, I’m writing this blog entry on it right now.

It’s in pretty good physical condition, and everything seems to be working just fine, except for perhaps the battery. I left the battery to charge over night, and this morning, it was only at 50%. I left the charger on throughout the morning, and did get it up to 100%, but it seems to be discharging very rapidly. I just went to battery power about ten minutes ago, and it’s already down to 90%.

Oh well. I guess I’ll be heading back there real soon. The one nice thing about buying the computer from a dealer is that they offer a warranty on the battery. Good thing, too. Batteries for these laptops are $100 and up.

UPDATE 10/18/07:
Great news! I took the iBook back to the store this afternoon. I told the tech that the battery didn’t seem to be holding a charge. He said, “Let me take a look at it.” He took it into the back room and returned in about ten minutes. He handed it back to me saying, “I popped a new battery into it. You’re all set.” I’m very happy. :)

Last Weekend at KB6NU

The weekend started out innocently enough. I had made arrangements with a guy to go over to his house and put up an antenna. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider that the antenna we were going to put up was a 40m dipole.

Well, we had problems right off. I had intended on using the EZ-Hang, which is basically a combination fishing reel and sling shot. The idea is that you shoot a lead weight attached to some fishing line over likely branches, then attach a rope or string, then reel it in. It is supposed to work like a charm, but I’d never used it before, and we ran into several problems.

The first problem that we had with it is that a bunch of the line had somehow gotten tangled up inside the reel and wouldn’t feed out. We tried untangling it, but after about 15 minutes, decided to just cut it off and be done with it.

After we got that working, we tied a lead sinker to the line, pointed it up into the tree, and let fly. It was a beautiful shot. The sinker sailed right over the branch we wanted it to. The only problem was that it was no longer attached to the fishing line.

After some searching, we actually managed to find the sinker. We tied it back to the fishing line, pointed, aimed, shot, and exactly the same thing happened again. Damn. We searched around, found the sinker, tied it back up, then tried another test shot. The line broke again.

At that point, we gave up on the EZ-Hang and resorted to the weighted tennis ball. Fortunately, my friend has a better arm than I do, and with only a few practice throws, we were able to get a line over a branch about 30 feet up. We duplicated this feat on another tree about 70 feet away. We now had ropes over branches, but we had consumed about half the time available for this task.

We then proceeded to build the antenna. That went pretty smoothly until we started attaching PL-259s to the coax. My friend did not have a vice to securely hold the connectors while we applied the solder, so after a botched attempt, we decided to drive over to my house to do this. We got one PL-259 on, but then basically ran out of time.

My friend had to get going, so we called it quits. After four hours, we were still only about half done with the antenna project. Chalk it up to Murphy’s Law in action.

That evening, still miffed that we didn’t get the EZ-Hang to work, I searched through my file cabinet for the documentation that came with the EZ-Hang. This is, of course, what I should have done before we tried using it.

What the instructions said was to tie the sinker to the line using a Palomar Knot. The Palomar Knot uses a double thickness of line, which should make a much stronger knot. From what I’ve read on the ‘Net, it’s a very common fishing know. Not being a fisherman, though, I had never heard of it before.

At Least I Can Still Operate
Something did go right for me Saturday. My first contact was VK6HCI on 30m. I then QSY’d to 40 and worked FM5LD. My last QSO of the day was a PA station, and we had a nice ragchew. I also worked a couple of stations doing the PA QSO Party.

On Sunday, I worked a few more stations in the PA QP, including N3BUD and W3SO, adding to my collection of stations whose callsigns spell words. Somewhere in there, I also worked WB4DAD, making it three new QSLs to add to my collection. So, while I did feel kinda bad about the antenna fiasco, the DX and new QSLs for my collection helped me get over it. :)

Cheap Batteries

Ralph, KB8ZOY, forwarded this video on how to obtain AA cells cheaply by buying a 6V lantern battery and then cracking open the case. Has anyone ever tried this? How long do the batteries last?

More Fun with the Boy Scouts

Last March, we did a good thing by hosting a radio merit badge session. At that event, more than 120 Scouts got their badge. Yesterday, we followed up on that success by participating in the Great Sauk Trail 2007 Boy Scout Camporee. Pat W8LNO, Dave N8SBE, Mark AB8ZI, yours truly, and more than 6,000 Scouts and their adult supervision attended the Camporee. This was quite an event, and I think I speak for the other guys when I say it was a lot of fun.

This was not my finest hour as far as an organizer. As late as Friday morning, I really didn’t have any idea how were were going to do this. A few phone calls later, though, and Pat had agreed to tow the ARROW trailer out to the site, and Mark volunteered his Buddipole and VHF station. Dave brought his FT-817, while I brought the club’s IC-746PRO, a code practice oscillator, and some ham radio literature. This, coupled with a cooler of bottled water brought out by Mark, proved to be quite a decent station. Thanks, guys, for stepping up.

We made about 30 contacts, mostly on 40m and mostly on phone. (I did manage to sneak in a few CW QSOs, though.) We did try operating 20m for a bit, and we did manage a contact with a German station, but for the most part, the band didn’t seem to be cooperating.

This looked like it was going to be a problem because Mark’s Buddipole doesn’t seem to like to load up on 40m phone. After a bit of goofing around on 20m, without a lot of success, Mark suggested that we try the Buddipole in a vertical configuration, using a 32-ft. counterpoise. That worked like a charm, and we began to make lots of contacts on 40m phone.

The odd thing about this configuration is that it didn’t want to load on 40m CW. So, in the dipole configuration, the antenna didn’t like 40m phone, but in the vertical configuration it didn’t like 40m CW. As it turns out, the problem was that Pat’s truck, which he parked underneath the low end of the counterpoise to prevent the kids from getting clotheslined, was detuning the antenna. When he left, the antenna would then magically tune up on CW.

We also made a bunch of VHF contacts via the LARK repeater. In particular, Pat was able to raise Ricky, KD8EYO, who’s just ten years old. He encouraged a lot of the Scouts he talked to to get their tickets.

At 4:30 pm, the action in the Midway, where we were located, started to wind down. The big inflatable playpens were deflated, and the drunk driving demo was decommissioned. We continued operating for a while, and got a few more visitors, but it was clear that this part of the Camporee was over. Just before 5 pm, we headed over for dinner.

After dinner, we decided to pack it up and go home. I was on the road about 6:45.

Overall, this was a great event. We made a lot of contacts, and demoed ham radio to quite a few campers and their parents and troop leaders. And the interest level was really quite high, measured by the number of pamphlets and other info that we passed out.

More Foreign Readers

I just got a note from Giorgio, IZ4AKS, about 1A4A, the amateur radio station of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He notes that this is “the first activity in a major contest from that little state.”

Their website is interesting to surf. One item reports that Marconi was actually a Knight of Malta. Another details their project to erect a girl’s middle school in Sudan.

More Fun at the Museum

We had a lot of fun at the museum again this weekend. I was joined by:

  • Keane, KD8AOZ;
  • Frank, KD8CHN, and his two adorable daughters;
  • Mark, W8MP, Rose, KD8EGG, and their son Greg;
  • Mark, AB8ZI; and
  • Ralph, KB8ZOY

Here are a couple of photos taken by Mark, AB8ZI:

Dan, KB6NU, and Mark, W8MP, discuss amateur radio operation in Mexico City. Photo: Mark Mueller, AB8ZI.
Keane, KD8AOZ, watches Ralph, KB8ZOY run a few stations. Photo: Mark Mueller, AB8ZI.

We made quite a few contacts, too, with W8MP, KD8AOZ, and KB8ZOY all taking turns at the mike. I also made a few CW contacts. Perhaps most notable is that under the strict guidance of W8MP and AB8ZI, Keane made his first HF contacts!

We also received our first QSL card for WA2HOM. The card was from W9MVP, who was operating /P from an island in Lake Superior.

DIY Generator

This seems like more trouble than it’s worth, now that generators seem to be so reasonably priced, this article, “Discover How To Easily Build a Portable Low Budget Power Generator,” shows you how to build your own generator from an old lawn mower. The rest of the website, The New Three Rs, deals with how to survive a “nuclear war or other world-wide catastrophe.”