Monthly Archives: March 2011

How Cool is Ham Radio?

We were parked at Skidaway Island State Park for an overnight and awaiting the Carolina vs Kentucky game (boo hoo hoo). Oh well, only eight teams played this past weekend in the mens’ NCAA tournament and our team was there even if we didn’t quite beat Kentucky. Go HEELS!

Yesterday afternoon I raised our trailer’s roof-top antenna to vertical. I turned on our small ham radio and started listening. Lots and lots of hams were on all the bands. I decided to start with fifteen meters and selected 21.5 mHz, one of the highest frequencies my mobile antenna (High Sierra 1800 Pro) will tune.

Within seconds I heard DQ8N, a German club station, looking for contacts. We had a brief exchange and I tuned down a little.

DQ8N Lauscha Germany

Within only five minutes I completed an exchange with M6T, a club station in Martlesham, England.

M6T Ipswich England

Five minutes later I reached SK2T, a club station in Umea, Sweden.

SK2T Umea Sweden

Two more minutes before I connected with P40M in Minnetonka, MN, then one minute later I reached HK1R in Atlantico, Colombia.

HK1R Atlantico Colombia

And finally, only eighteen minutes after I first tuned up, I reached CR3A on Madeira, an island known as “the Pearl of the Atlantic” 2000 kilometers west of Morrocco and only 400 km north of Canary Islands.

CR3A Madeira Island

Only eighteen minutes and I made contacts with six countries, distances ranging from 1,500 to 4,700 miles. It takes longer than that to reach any of our children. I had fun looking up their stations’ locations, determining where they are. Ham radio is slowly improving my knowledge of countries, and I’m learning names of islands I never knew about.

All contacts were made with a very small Yaesu amateur radio (FT-857d) operating on batteries only while we were sitting at our dinette, on 15 meters, between 0730 and 0800 universal time. This is neither rocket science nor is it at all unusual for ham radio. It’s fun and easy and a little surprising for me because I don’t usually get such diverse international contacts in such a short time period.

Yesterday afternoon was the second day of a ham radio contest during which many many more hams than usual are active on the bands. The contacts I made were extremely short in duration and in information exchange, only enough to prove we made successful two-way information communication. Literally, we exchange call sign, signal strength, and contest contact number.

Many times I make a contact with lots of jaw-boning, sometimes lasting up to 45 minutes. More usual is a five or ten minute get-to-know you conversation with another ham. And, especially during contest periods, many contacts last less than a minute. It’s fun to see how far we can reach and still maintain clear and understandable voice, and more fun yet to do so to countries or islands we might not have reached before.

This past weekend I was surprised to have five of six consecutive contacts in Europe, South America, and Africa and to have 5/9 or clear communication reports from all of six. My radio setup is nice but small and simple, and I operated only 100 watts and with a mobile antenna. Many many stations have far more antenna “power” and some have amplifiers of up to 1,500 watts too. I was pleased to do so well with my modest setup and surprised to do it so quickly and easily.

Ham radio can be really fun when things click like they did yesterday afternoon. Even when it doesn’t work this well, you can still find neat contacts like late one night when I picked up a New Zealand station, or one early morning (0620 UTC) this past February when I had super-clear contacts with two stations in California and one in Oklahoma, all from Sarasota FL.

Every new contact I can make reduces my cost per contact, right? And my enjoyment per dollar is going up still, almost every time I turn on the radio. Unlike cellphone and data plans, all my conversations are free of any incremental cost no matter how long I talk. I might not know who is going to answer my call, but someone always does, somewhere.

I would like to break the 4,700 mile barrier though. I think it will happen this year or next, as propagation improves radio signal bouncing around the globe. How cool is that?

When all else fails, Ham Radio!

Jim n5rtg

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

Cable TV and Camping in state parks

We left Okeechobee FL this morning, heading north. Not very far north, we are forty-five minutes above Jacksonville FL at Crooked River State Park in St Marys GA. We’ve camped here a couple times previously and thought we knew what to expect. So we were very surprised to learn we would tonight be watching the NCAA sweet sixteen game between UNC and Marquette on cable tv. I mean, how many times will we run into cablevision in a state park?

All we needed was broadcast reception for any CBS affiliate so we had checked out a Jacksonville FL and an Atlanta GA CBS station, hoping they would get their digital signals into this small coastal community somehow. Debbie asked the state park volunteer, as we were checking in, “Can we pick up CBS here?”

The park volunteer responded, “We have cablevision.”

Debbie thought she meant the park hosts have cable and maybe don’t know what other campers do or don’t have. I felt like the woman was telling us the sites have cable. We asked, “You mean the sites have cablevision?” And the answer, so cool for us, is yes.

Two years ago we were through here and staked out a seat at Trolley’s downtown St Marys for the Tarheels game in NCAA tournament. Gosh, maybe we should have asked about cablevision then? We’re sitting in front of the television now watching early minutes of the Tarheels against Marquette’s Golden Eagles. It’s going well so far, we can only hope.

Our friends know we rarely even unpack our television and then usually just to watch a movie. And then to be able to hook up to cablevision for this NCAA sweet sixteen game?

This is as great as it is unusual. Who’d of thought we’d find cablevision in a state park? And to have it for this sweet sixteen game? Oh yeah, Go Tarheels!

Jim and Debbie

P.S. Sorry about the dookies against Arizona yesterday, huge loss. We’re hoping for better for us tonight.

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

Full-timers Packing and Unpacking

Last night a neighbor, Bev, asked us where we’d been and what our travel plans are. Her eyes widened as I recounted for her our past six weeks. We spent two nights with Frank and Sonja in Dunellon, a week in Orlando for Hamcation, a week in Sarasota for WBCCI Florida State Rally, three weeks in Delray Beach for a NOMADS work project and now two weeks in Okeechobee. Next we’ll head for St Marys GA for two nights at Crooked River SP, then a night at Skidaway SP before we head for Hilton Head Island for a week of tennis.

She quickly quipped, “That’s way too much packing and unpacking for us.”

Bev didn’t realize we very very rarely pack and unpack. It’s easy when you can keep your entire travel kit with you. We don’t even have a suitcase with us in the trailer or our truck. The only time in three years we’ve used a suitcase was in quarter 4 of 2010 when we flew repeatedly from Mesa AZ to Charlotte. Otherwise our only packing is when we pack dirty clothes into our hamper and pack clean clothes into our clothes totes.

The only travel mode easier for us would be to travel less, thereby reducing hitching and unhitching and setting up and breaking camp. We can break camp and hitch up to leave in as little as 1/2 hour, far less time than we would probably spend packing suitcases. We enjoy breaking camp. Hitching our truck to the trailer is effortless. And we love the engine’s hum and our tires singing as we head for another adventure. Less travel isn’t in our play book.

Packing and unpacking a suitcase wouldn’t deter us from travel. It isn’t really a big deal when we travel with a suitcase instead of the trailer. Sometimes towing and parking the trailer is much more expensive than flying somewhere, especially for shorter trips. We take a carry-on suitcase on the plane, deplane easily, and enjoy a week or two somewhere. We’re going to travel, one way or the other.

Travel is our lifestyle. The way we do it, in our 25′ Airstream International travel trailer suits us perfectly. And it’s handy we have with us, in the trailer, everything for travel we need without packing a suitcase.

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

A little work now and then

All play and no work makes Jim a dull boy. We played tennis a couple times daily in Arizona. When we weren’t playing tennis we were hiking or hanging out at the swimming pool. It just didn’t seem like there was much time for projects at Towerpoint. Lots of playing, not much working. We’re in Okeechobee FL now and Jim’s finding time and inclination to get a few projects done.

Messy bunch of wiring under the bench

So today Jim worked a little to clean up some excess coax wiring in the trailer. Yesterday he built a couple of 12″ coax jumpers for connecting antenna switches to the ham radio. Today Jim removed one of the dinette benches (the one over the wheel well and against the refrigerator chase. Since he first routed coax cables under the dinette it has been a big mess. For a while coax and power wires would slide forward and onto the floor.

That looks a lot better, no coax coils

Jim took control of the excess wires last year by coiling and tying them under the bench. Today Jim cut several feet from each of two VHF coaxes and five feet from one HF coax. Result? Not much change in signal, losses on only three feet of coax are negligible. The coils might have been doing no good, we don’t need any chokes on our antennas. Main effect is housekeeping and freeing up more scraps of coax.

An antenna switch each for HF and VHF

And, Jim installed the second antenna switch today. We bought this at Hamcation last month and waited until today with cleaning up cables routing. An antenna switch is great for alternating between two antennas without unscrewing and refastening coax to the radio.

This is particularly helpful when the radio is mounted against the underside of the table. No more sitting on his knees and trying to see and feel the coax connections — just flip the switch to #1 or #2 to alternate between the j-pole and the 1/2 wave on the trailer’s roof. This keeps things simple and clean, both great things for full-timers.

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

NOMADS, a United Methodist Committee on Relief Mission

What can nine old Methodists accomplish in a few weeks? We spent three weeks in Lake Worth and Delray Beach FL working with seven other people performing volunteer work for the community. None of our group’s members worked together before this period but we melded wonderfully. We accomplished a tremendous amount of much-needed work.

Who are NOMADS? NOMADS stands for Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service – NOMADS provide volunteer labor for United Methodist organizations. NOMADS demonstrate God’s love through our work and by listening to the people with whom we work. We do new construction, remodeling, and repairs for churches, children’s homes, camps, colleges, outreach missions and disaster recovery. Team members do maintenance, cleaning, organizing, painting, electrical, drywall, sewing, flooring. NOMADS do it all!

We work three-week sessions in a location and can choose from sessions all over the country. Some joke NOMADS are Numerous Old Methodists Avoiding Deep Snow. It’s true we can find work locations with good weather most of the year. So we prefer to think of NOMADS as Numerous Old Methodists Actually Doing Something. And NOMADS provides us retirement with a purpose!

Look at this sampling of what our team accomplished over the past three weeks in Palm Beach County at two locations:

Week 1
Painted courtyard walls and kitchen wall behind fridge
Stuffed newsletter mailings
Replaced damaged section of kitchen floor
Replaced hardware and gaskets in bathrooms
Cleaned shelves, walls, ceiling fans, lights, conduit, vent covers, floor fans
Cleaned up, mowed, pruned, weeded, edged, lawn
Prepared meals and served beverages
Cleaned and repaired commercial food warming trays
Sorted meds and first aid supplies
Painted kitchen, restrooms, pot wash room, double doors, stage floor and front
Packaged and distributed meats and produce to clients
Adjusted brakes on client’s bicycle
Replaced safety ropes by bike rack
Unloaded frozen chicken from delivery truck

Repaired stall doors and repainted
Repaired plaster at window
Painted doors, stalls, arch
Power-washed cans, mats, and cooler shelves
Painted cooler shelves
Washed storage bins and rearranged storage
Moved all chairs and tables to outside, scrubbed clean
Swept, mopped, stripped and waxed dining room
Cleaned kitchen vent
Replaced cooler shelves and restocked
Cleaned and organized paper storage closet
Inventoried and organized “flood buckets”
Sanded and second-coated double doors
Planned and estimated materials for fence and gate

Scrubbed, primed, and painted north wall of fellowship hall
Repainted large entrance sign
Set fence and gate posts
Installed braces for pan shelving
Painted second coat on stage front
Removed and replaced jalousie window with double-hung hi-impact
Emptied walk-in cooler and cleaned floor, replaced all contents
Checked and re-lamped exterior security lighting
Packaged health kits and distributed to clients
Removed damaged refrigerator to curb from client’s house

CROS Ministries (Christians Reaching Out to Society) and Caring Kitchen are wonderful agencies providing for a multitude of Palm Beach County’s needy people. We are privileged to have worked so closely with them these past three weeks doing anything the agencies asked of us. And it was a wide variety of services! We will look forward to our next mission trip with NOMADS.

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

Go HEELS! UNC 81 – Dook 67

The UNC Tarheels are outright champions of the ACC men’s basketball regular season after a decisive victory over Dook U (no longer #4 nationally) last night in Chapel Hill.

The Tarheels kept Dook from scoring in the paint last night, forcing Dook to shoot from outside.  Dook missed 21 of 27 three-pointers, shot only 35% FGs, and was out-rebounded by Carolina.


Jim and Debbie
(a couple of Tarheels)

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr