Sunday, May 13, 2007

This is why we practice

It was a beautiful day today. The sun was shining with a cool breeze and it had not rained for several days so the ground was firm and dry. In other words, it was a perfect Spring day in New England.
I live in Acton, Massachusetts, a town seeped in American history and filled with trees and winding roads. The North Acton Recreation Area (NARA) is only a few minutes away and it seemed like the perfect place to set up a radio for the afternoon. I gathered together my QRP setup including:
  • Elecraft K2 and accessories in its Pelican case
  • Backpack with solar panel and charge controller
  • Small Buddipole system
  • One 17Ah battery
  • Hammac
  • Coax
  • Heil Headset

I planned on setting up for 17m and, failing to find good propagation there, would switch to 20m. Honestly, I didn't really care if I made many contacts today. I wanted to be outside and to check out the performance of the new 48 watt solar panel.

Things did not go smoothly. This is why we practice.

I have mentioned before that it is best not to cannibalize parts from one system to outfit another. Even if it means having some small amount of duplication it is better to have each system (antenna, radio, test equipment, etc.) be complete. I have tried to do this with each of the systems I have constructed: the two Buddipole systems, the Buddistick system, and the radios each in their own Pelican cases with all they need for a complete station.
The alternative, of course, is to own a large, loosely organized collection of parts from which you would coalesce bundles for a particular mission. I believe that way lies madness. The chances of omitting something important are great with this piecemeal strategy. A forgotten part like a connector or adapter might sound inconsequential but its absence might hamper or completely scuttle an operation.
I recently ordered a bundle of Buddipole parts and had carefully repacked my big and small Buddipole systems so each system was complete. Everything one would need for that particular system was in the bag. At least that was my plan. I did not do a good job in that organization. In fact, many things went wrong today. Allow me to enumerate them:
  1. Rotating Arm Kit (RAK) - I had packed the knobs for the rotating arm kit but the aluminum brackets were missing. I had forgot to pack them.
  2. Coax problems - I brought a 25 foot piece of coax to run between the bottom of the TRSB and the radio. The PL259 connector on one end of the cable must have been crushed at some point. It was no longer round and would not screw on to the SO239-BNC adapter necessary to fit either the TRSB or the K2.
  3. Solar panel problems - The panel works very well... when it is face up. Unfortunately, the panel has a great deal more surface area than the smaller (15w) panel I own. Gusty winds kept flipping the panel closed. The corners of the panel have eyelets. I will run some dacron rope through them so the panel can be staked out.
  4. Connector failure - One of the SO239-BNC adapters came apart in my hand. I used to think I had too many connectors. I now believe that I should go through my kits and ensure that there are sufficient spares for all types of connectors in each kit.
  5. RF got into my noise canceling circuitry - I brought the Heil Noise canceling headset with me today. The Buddipole was lashed to the picnic table and was only a few feet over my operating position. This was far too close for that delicate signal processing. Turning off that feature allowed me to use the headset today but I now know that this is a problem. If I want to use this headset with the noise canceling feature I'll need to move the antenna well away from the operating position.

The above description makes it sound like today's exercise was a bust. No. On the contrary, I learned a great deal and even with these distraction I was able to make a contact. Here are some things that went well:
  1. My settings for the Buddipole setup are good - I had mentioned in a previous post that my small Buddipole system had a slightly different setup than the documentation indicated. I need to tap in one coil turn and shorten the whip slightly from the documented directions for each band. My new guidelines work like a charm.
  2. The AntennaSmith works well - I used the new analyzer today and it worked superbly. The internal batteries also appears to have held the last charge I gave it well. I should probably tuck a PL259-BNC connector in with the analyzer, though.
  3. The solar panel works - I used the new panel to charge the 17 Ah battery. The panel powered the radio and kept the battery at nearly a full charge for the entire time I operated. This is very good news as I'll need every ounce of power on Georges and Lovells Islands this Summer.
  4. England could hear me - I had a QSO with GB400AA this afternoon. This is a special event station celebrating the founding of the Jamestown settlement here in America. (I worked the Jamestown station last weekend). The station was set up near the place where the ships departed on that long journey to the New World. The operator at the special event station recognized my call. He knew me! As it turns out, he is a Cab-converter user. What a small world!
  5. Calgary could (almost) hear me - I tried to call VE6AO and another station in Alberta but band conditions changed before they could work me. It was a little frustrating hearing these two stations discuss how I was there, above the noise, and then buried in the noise. Alas, that's the fortunes of operating at QRP levels.

Practice, practice, practice! Today's drill was good because it allowed me to test some new equipment (the solar panel and charge controller) and evaluate my efforts packing some existing equipment (the small Buddipole system). It was also good to get some fresh air and sunshine on this old bag of bones. {grin} Seriously, the only way to become more proficient at things is to practice. I would like to have my routine so honed and equipment organization so solid that I could just grab a few bags and know I could mount a successful portable operation. Practice, think, plan, repeat. I believe that's the way.

Speaking of packing, I will be packing for my long trip to Dayton, then Chicago tonight and tomorrow. My trip West begins Tuesday afternoon.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Scott

Great informational article. I enjoyed the good read and lesson's learned. All the best in Dayton and Chicago.

73 from the shack,
-Scot, KA3DRR

May 14, 2007 7:47 PM  

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