Tag Archives: ham radio

Living Together in Tiny Spaces – Hobbies and Agreements

We enjoyed a fabulous gathering of aluminized folks at John Leake’s Alumalina Rally at Palmetto Cove Park in Cleveland SC. Approx 120 Airstreams, members and non-members of the Airstream Club, didn’t matter – everyone seemed to have a great time in wonderful Fall weather.

The drive back to Ashe County was accentuated by Blue Ridge Parkway trip from Blowing Rock to Deep Gap. Whatever the experts say, this afternoon was PEAK COLOR on that stretch of the BRP! Just gorgeous.

Just returned to Woodland Ridge, our spot in Ashe County this afternoon and glad rain hasn’t started yet. We want rain, but nice to have opportunity to park the Airstream, arrange everything, get settled without dealing with rain too. Let it rain tonight!

This was a “contest” weekend for ham radio everywhere. No matter where I dial in, multiple ham radio operators from all over the world trying to connect with each other. On one hand, sort of amazing so many people are involved in ham radio. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) reports more licensed hams in USA than ever before, and something like 18K new ones each year. Sure seemed like it all this weekend, whenever I turned on the radio.

So, it didn’t matter we had relatively weak reception in Palmetto Cove, tucked down below mountains all around. I was able to check into the RV Service Net ham radio net at 8:15 Fri morning, thanks to a relay from friend Garry W8OI in Huntington WV (Garry’s been a licensed ham radio operator for 62 years!) Even in difficult conditions, ham radio always works.

This afternoon I raised my G5RVjr dipole antenna (it’s 55′ up, between a pair of trees 70′ apart) and re-installed my tuner to optimize using that antenna. Now I have choices for HF ham radio of screwdriver antenna on the Airstream’s roof, G5RVjr (oriented north to south, so strongest signal east-west,) and 74′ end-fed wire. Capable and fun!

While at the RV gathering in South Carolina this weekend there was an open house of many of the Airstreams including ours. Lots of questions asked about how we have room in a 8.5′ X 23′ cabin to live year-round. Complicating the question is our sort of full-featured ham radio station and other stuff we like in our lives. Folks naturally are curious about how we fit all our interests into a <200sf cabin and live without getting in each other's way. Many consider our space tiny, and it is smaller than many Tiny Houses. We neither feel cramped nor crowded despite supporting trappings for our varied interests.

A couple living together, with or without children, makes agreements ALL THE TIME. Another word sometimes heard is, compromises. It's what being together is about for us. We're in this together. If one of us isn't suited then something's wrong for us both. We don't look at compromises as a reduction in stock for one of us, but try to make it a win for us both. I've kidded before about the genesis of moving the ham radio station from in the truck's dash to on the dinette table. Debbie expressed reservations but I promised to make it work well for us. It did, although she's not sure if this latest iteration is fully okay.

I added the bottom component today. It's a ham radio antenna tuner with three knobs, a meter, and three buttons. It essentially doubles the ham radio footprint on the table. One, it's on my side of the dinette table, except when we share our table with friends. Then it's "our" side of the table. Two, this component IS removable. Unscrewing two cable connectors and one small power wire on the back lets me slip this tuner out and store it. Debbie's being very sporting about going along with it for now, and I'm okay with moving it out of sight if helpful.

Here's what my "big" ham radio station now looks like in this full timer's cabin:

Our HF station

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
visit our website
©2007-2015 Jim @ Dreamstreamr.com

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Troubles on the Road

There’s no perpetual motion machine, no unbreakable machine, no way to escape certain things like maintenance and repairs. We may try to avoid working on things that are still “sort of working”, but we’ll eventually get our hands dirty. Many of us are, consciously or unconsciously, aware of deferred maintenance, known more familiarly as procrastination.

Debbie and I try to keep up with all the required and advisable maintenance on our truck and Airstream trailer. In ten years, we’ve had very few problems, maybe not ten in all until our travels this summer. This story is one of my longer ones — Sometimes, like everyone else, we learn we missed something important. In this case, more than several things:

(1) Two months ago we learned our trailer brakes were broken. Fortunately we discovered the damage in Airstream’s excellent service facility in Jackson Center OH. The great folks in the service shop were going to do a quick brake adjustment. But it turned out to be more — much more.

Short story, Airstream replaced the electric brake magnets on all four wheels, turned all four drums, and put our brakes back together again for us. Ouch! We didn’t even know they were coming apart. Airstream Service DOES IT RIGHT! We’re good now, thanks to them.

(2) Both the charge converter and the solar charger quit charging the batteries on our way to the Region 2 Rally in early June. We need these to keep the trailer’s batteries up to keep our lighting, music, fans, and water pump working.

We were using the lights and fans, so we seemed to have battery power. But the battery monitor, a really cool Trimetric 2025, showed the batteries were discharging and not getting any juice from the chargers. Strange.

Finally I turned off the charge converter on the 120vac breaker panel in the trailer. The trailer’s lights and fan died immediately. I pulled the 12 volt system main (30a) fuses. They looked okay and I put them back in place. Everything turned back on and the batteries were getting a charge from the charge converter. The contacts for the two small 30 amp fuses for the 12 volt system weren’t letting juice get through the contacts until I removed and reinserted them. Okay — fixed.

(3) Next, our solar charge controller had stopped noticing sunlight. Instead of the soft amber light signaling everything is copacetic, we now had a bright red indicator light. No more charging from our solar panels, no matter how great the sunlight. We’d replaced our solar charge controller before, but only after it had a stunning smelly electrical circuit board failure.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I pulled the fuses on all the power connections to solar power system, took the solar charge controller out, and took it apart. Apparently all the smoke was still inside. This time there were no smelly surprises, no charred diodes. I carefully cleaned the contacts, board and components, reassembled the solar charge controller, and put power back to it. It works perfectly. Yep! I probably only needed to do a power reset on it in the first place. We’ll call the extra work preventive maintenance.

(4) A few days later at a rally with the Airstream club’s Region 2 folks near Penn State, we had another surprise. Thanks to John Hussar for doing a propane safety check on our trailer (and even our gas grill!) One of the hoses showed a slight leak on a crimped fitting, according to John’s very sensitive meter. During our stay in Albuquerque NM we had Randy at R and L Propane Service make us a new set of hoses to connect the propane tanks to the gas regulator.

(5) Next, our shower head stopped working. Nothing but a dribble out of it. While we were at the Airstream Service facility I felt courageous enough to tear into the shower plumbing. I’d tried cleaning the shower head but didn’t find anything in it. I wondered about the long flexible hose. Killing two birds with one stone, I replaced the kitchen faucet with the shower hose. Great flow! Years ago a friend told me he’d removed his shower’s vacuum breaker. It’s at the bottom of the hose, where the water comes through the shower wall in a nice chrome elbow. These come in all shapes, ours looked like this:

FullSizeRender-7

Okay, not the cut-off valve, not the hose, not the shower head. I took off the vacuum breaker, reconnected the shower hose and the most amazing thing happened. We have incredibly great flow and pressure, like never before. Why didn’t I do this ten years ago? Good grief!

(6) Shortly after, Debbie’s vanity lights went dim. These are pretty high tech LED super-bright (205 lumens) lights (similar to these.) They seem 1.5X brighter than 12 diode pucks, even though they’re only 3 LEDs. Expensive too, at $19 each through Camping World (you can find them cheaper but might not receive warranty replacement at on-line stores.) Fortunately there’s a Camping World next door to Randy’s Propane Service place and they stock these. Okay, another problem fixed on this trip.

(7) Then, our kitchen cabinet door just barely worked. I’d tightened the Grass hinge screws but the screws wouldn’t stay tight. The door became really sloppy. I’d tighten the two hinges and the door worked perfectly. For a few days, then loose again. I finally took the hinges off, inserted big round toothpicks in the woodwork’s screw holes, and reattached the hinges. A month later and still okay.

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(8) On our I-40 voyage into New Mexico I was blowing my horns to say HI in morse code (dit dit dit dit dah dah) to W5AOX Jim while talking on the ham radio with him as we crossed paths East and West. When I keyed the microphone, the horns died, the ham radio quit, and the GPS went blank. No power to any of these accessory loads. I’d overloaded the circuit because the new air horn compressor is a power hog and so is the ham radio when I’m talking full power. Short fix, replaced the 25 amp blade fuse for the accessory circuit and good to go. Project for later – add a dedicated fused line from the battery to the air compressor.

(9) During our stay in New Mexico, the truck’s air horn system completely died. The dash switch had power and I detected power to the relay. Oddly, the primary line only had 11.5 volts compared to the truck’s 12.5+ volts. Instead, I waited until I could get into the project mentioned at the bottom of number (8) above.

If I’d remembered how the line was connected I might sooner have figured out the problem and easily made a temporary repair (just as well I didn’t.) Here’s what I used when I had spliced the air compressor’s line power:

Solderless Wire Quick Splice Connector

Solderless Wire Quick Splice Connector

As soon as I removed the tape from the joint and saw this connector I knew why voltage was low and no current could get to the load — the inexpensive splice connector didn’t hold up. I removed the splice and installed a new (fused) wire straight to the battery. Everything is good. Many of you are probably saying, “He should have run a line direct from the battery in the first place.” You’re right. That’s what I did for the ham radio because we always do that for ham radios.

(10) On our way back from NM, I reached up to turn one of the reading lamps above our bed. It fell loose into my hand, tethered only by the 12vdc wires. Granted, the shelf it’s screwed into is a thin material but heck, I was just re-aiming it! For a long time I’ve wondered if I could, some day, get the squeak out of the ball joint that allows aiming these neat little lights.

FullSizeRender-6

I squirted a tiny spray of Boeshield T-9 onto the ball joint and the swivel. Wowzers, I should’ve done this years ago! The light head swivels and aims silently and smoothly. Just one more case where deferring maintenance probably hastened the attachment failure. Oh yeah, and I reattached the lamp to the shelf in new holes.

(11) On the way home from New Mexico two weeks ago we drove eastward through two days of hard rain on I-40. On the second day we realized neither the fridge nor the water heater would light on propane. The water heater’s never given us a minute of trouble and the control board is potted in some kind of epoxy so looks really waterproof. The fridge, on the other hand, has been troublesome off and on for all ten years of travels.

Good news, the fridge still worked on electric (110vac) and our inverter and batteries can handle the load. The drain on the batteries wouldn’t be a big issue for short drives but we were driving Farmington NM to Charlotte NC in four days, averaging 450 miles daily.

Dinosaur P-711 board

Dinosaur P-711 board

Also good news, we have Dinosaur Electronic’s P-711 control board for Dometic fridges and Dinosaur has GREAT customer and tech phone support. I talked with Chris at Dinosaur who determined the board was functioning but perhaps it’s the thermocouple?

fridge thermocouple

fridge thermocouple

On the way to Camping World the next day, the water heater and fridge both fired up perfectly. We’ve been asked a few times what spare parts we carry for our RV. Just added a (spare) thermocouple for the fridge — Chris at Dinosaur may have been right and we’ll be ready.

We had more maintenance issues in June and July this year than in the ten previous years. We should be good now, everything’s been fixed. Now, everything works perfectly and we don’t have to do any maintenance until the next thing happens — or maybe we should? I think yes we should.

Next post may be about spare parts — what else do we carry?

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
visit our website
©2007-2015 Jim @ Dreamstreamr.com

Lucky Contacts in Pennsylvania

This is our Airstream’s first time in Pennsylvania. Various interests have pulled us all over the continent except, until now, the North Atlantic regions. The Airstream Club invited us to attend a region rally in Centre Hall (it really is in the “centre” of Pennsylvania.) We stopped first for a few days in Penn Wood Airstream Park. Thanks to Rorie, the Park President, for allowing us in despite a very busy Memorial Day weekend in the Park. And thanks to the many folks we met this weekend for their friendliness. We’ve had a great stay in their home park and look forward to our next visit.

HAM RADIO
The space Rorie found for us is at the top edge of Penn Wood (maybe she was hiding us?) It is a pretty and very quiet site. Our roof-mounted ham radio antenna works well here, better than many places we’ve visited. The nearby trees are fabulously tall white pines. I couldn’t resist hanging another antenna over the top of a great tree on this hill.

Good antennas plus good atmospheric conditions provide opportunities for long range conversations on the ham radio. The last couple of nights I’ve talked to hams in Slovenia, Geneva, Aruba, San Diego, Mille Lacs Lake (MN) and Rentz (GA.) The wire antenna I was using, the site we were in, and great conditions all combined for easy and fun work on the radio.

I’ve tried a lot of different portable antennas and wasn’t thrilled with many of them. I have a favorite antenna now. I learned a couple of years ago about a simple antenna from an article on the internet. The antenna consists of one 71′ piece of 12 gauge wire and an electronic box at the bottom. The box is an auto coupler, or auto tuner, and sits on the aluminum roof of our Airstream. The wire attaches to it, and a coaxial cable (similar to cablevision for your television) connects to the radio inside our Airstream.

Sometimes the wire attracts attention, often it doesn’t. The wire’s insulation is grayish brown and the wire isn’t large. The rope pulling the wire steeply upward toward the tree is smaller than the wire. Combined they are over ninety feet long and go very high up to the tall white pine across the driveway. If you look carefully at this picture, you might see the wire sloping upward away from the trailer.

end fed antenna

Two nights ago I turned on the radio, tuned up, and bang! I heard the station in Slovenia calling for North America. A few minutes later I heard the Geneva station then the one in Aruba. Last night I was listening for a few minutes and trying to reach a Naples station I heard. The Naples station fell silent and I heard a person asking, “Is the frequency in use?”

I waited while he tuned up and answered when he called “CQ, CQ, anyone anywhere?” Gordie was visiting Mille Lacs Lake and trying out his very old radio with good luck. I don’t think the radio is quite as old as Gordie though — he’s 92 and says he’s been a ham for 75 years. I started too late to ever match that! We had an enjoyable conversation for almost a half hour. Doesn’t happen often but is nice when it does.

JACKSON CENTER OH
Last week we were at the Airstream factory and at the Airstream Club central offices, both in Jackson Center OH. Enjoyed working with other members of the Club’s leadership on budget for next FY and plans for next year’s big summer rally. Membership is rising again, no doubt helped by the prodigious increases in production and sales from the Airstream factory and dealers. This year’s Airstream Club President Joe Perryman deserves a lot of credit too. He worked collaboratively two years ago with a team of very interested members to develop an action plan for the Club.

Joe and his team have a lot of great ideas to improve the club. They arrived at a series of priority issues to accomplish during his leadership year. Under Joe’s watch the Club has implemented a digital directory (“Big Red Numbers Lookup”, some friends call it.) Joe relaxed the dress code for business meetings. He reinstated the electronic newsletter, “News and Views”; issued a survey of Club membership; hired a new Corporate Manager; has continued support for modernizing the Club’s administrative processes and has pushed for on line registration and renewals. It’s been a good year, and things are looking up for the Airstream Club!

While at the Airstream factory we asked the service center to do an annual tune-up on our trailer brakes. It turned out to be a little more than expected. The excellent service techs found a problem with two of our wheels’ brakes and quickly adjusted their work plans for the afternoon to finish this up and get us going before closing time.

Nothing is without a cost, though. I was hoping for a brake adjustment and repacking the trailer’s wheel bearings. Sometimes this work has cost us under $100. This time the techs showed us damaged drum faces and ruined brake magnets in our wheels apparently caused by a pair of lost retaining clips. They explained very well what must be done. Our bill was $1,000 to bring everything up to safe working order.

It’s a relief to have the brakes and bearings in best condition and ready for another year on the road. An interesting thing about the Airstream factory service center technicians — they work ten years in the Airstream assembly plant before eligibility for joining the service center. Pretty good credentials, we think! We try to stop by every year or two and catch up on needed repairs.

REPAIRS ON THE ROAD
This afternoon found me begging to tackle anything productive. Our solar charge controller quit working ten days ago, displaying one bright red light and doing no work at all. We don’t have specific plans for boon docking in the near future. We’ve found over the past eight years the solar power system is very convenient to keep our batteries up no matter where we go. This charge controller’s only four years old and should be good for many more years but just stopped working. I had lined up a replacement unit identical to this one (BZ Products 2500HV) and decided to take a look before I ordered the new one.

2-P1000119

Pulled the fuse from the solar panels, carefully removed all the mounting screws to release the control box from it’s mounting spot. I took the unit out into bright sunlight and Debbie and I examined it very closely for any cold solder joints or blown components on the circuit board. The circuit board was dirty but everything looked fine to our unpracticed eyes.

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I carefully dusted off the board and realized I might have gotten by with just resetting power to the board to clear the failure. It hadn’t occurred to me earlier because I expected to find a blown capacitor on the board or a loose connection. Crossing my fingers as much as I could while wielding a screwdriver, I reassembled the control box and reinstalled it with all the electrical connections.

When I reconnected the fuse the charge controller worked again. Four more years trouble-free service? I hope so. Having the solar collectors and charging is very handy and has allowed us lengthy stays in Quartzite, NC mountains, and elsewhere without any commercial power connections. Even when we’re connected to shore power, the solar charging system reduces our demand on the grid. Nice to have.

This reminds me of another problem we corrected a few days ago. We’re connected to an old park power system and apparently are on the long end of it. Voltage is low and power is almost non-existent. We can’t run the microwave without going below 108vac. The low power tends to make me hyper aware of potential problems.

I was probing around, just looking for another problem when I realized our batteries weren’t doing anything. We’re connected to shore power, the park’s 110vac system. We generally assume the batteries are ready to go too. I turned off the trailer’s main 110vac breaker, and everything turned off. Not s’posed to happen!

Hmm, did low voltage mess up our charger? Are our batteries shot? Calmly, I pulled the trailer’s 12vdc two main fuses, one at a time, and put them back in (you can see the pair of 30a main fuses in the below picture.) The second one was apparently a little corroded, because when I plugged it back in everything powered up. A little strange. . . I’ll be tightening up all the 12vdc and 120vac terminals on our power system today!

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We feel very fortunate to have everything working well so much of the time. Bouncing down the road more than 100,000 miles in ten years is what the Airstream trailer is made for, but it can’t be easy. That’s a lot of shaking and braking, and fortunately not so much breaking. We often do routine maintenance and cleaning and try to keep a sharp eye and ear out for trouble. A well-built RV helps reduce problems. A little luck helps too.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
visit our website
©2007-2015 Dreamstreamr

Red Kidney Beans and Junk Phone Calls

How many hits did I get when I looked up robocall?  Over 20 million! (And incidentally, it took .55 seconds to get the results)  Did you know you can buy a robo call plan to call all your frenemies or potential customers or whomever for as little as two cents a call?  This could cost me over a dollar if I called all my friends daily for four days in a row.  Just kidding, it would be over two dollars.

The robocall companies apparently are doing just a little more than calling their ten best friends.  One article (WSJ, FTC: Judge Orders Halt To Robocalls Selling Deceptive Warranties, May 15, 2009) reported on a little telemarketing company making 1.8 million dials per day and that he had done more than $40 million worth of dialing for extended warranty companies, including one billion dials on behalf of his largest client.

We still get junk phone calls. Can you believe they know where to call us?!!! Often we detect it is a robo call.  This despite how smooth they are and darned quick on their “feet”.  You can just barely make out the very slightly mechanized pace or lack of real inflection.  It’s just too even to be human, so sometimes we’re onto them. (Great, now they’ll fix that and we won’t know anymore!)

They’re selling dental insurance, Medicare Gap, extended warranty for our 2006 truck, gutters, satellite TV receivers, you name it.

We’ve started asking the robo caller questions like “Do you have red kidney beans?”, or “What’s the market doing today?”. You can almost hear the gears whirring and clanking as they process the unexpected responses.  They double back, ask their question again as if they had not heard our irreverent query. Okay, we’ll try it again. They hang up. Need new algorithms.

It’s a lot more fun than acting angry or just hanging up.  Besides, as my mom chided me, everyone has to work for a living and those guys are just doing their job. And won’t this provide programmers even more work as they develop and implement algorithms to address these smart alecks?

There are probably more constructive solutions you may consider.  Two include getting and keeping track of details from the caller, if possible; and contacting the Do Not Call Registry.  The former is a nice article written by a former telemarketing person who has been on both sides now.  The latter is a good thing to check, although it seems just a little fruitless at this point.  Why fruitless?

The telemarketers are sort of like the bad guys who aren’t supposed to have guns.  You know what I mean.  In the USA convicted felons are prohibited by law from owning or carrying guns.  Let’s see, this proscription resulted from them breaking a law, right?  And they’re going to pay attention to this added bother?  Don’t think so — I remember the first time, decades ago, I saw the bumper sticker, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

Okay, this does apply to some telemarketers – not all by any means, but some who operate outside the law.  If they do things the law doesn’t allow, they might profit wildly unless and until they are “caught.”  How does $40 million of calls sound, against a calculated risk of being caught, prosecuted, sentenced, and going back at it with new smarts?

Sounds like we might switch to ham radio for all our calls.  I never get a call on the radio offering dental insurance, Medicare Gap, extended warranty for our 2006 truck, gutters, or satellite TV receivers. And if the phone call is from a telemarketer, I might spin it out a bit, take some of their precious time too. It slows them down (they might not get down the list to your number then) and I might find some reportable information to report to the regulators.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey™
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©2007-2014 Dreamstreamr

Staying on the Warm Side of the Door

We’re in Kannapolis NC, home of the fabled textile giant, Cannon Mills. This morning we awoke to 11 degrees Fahrenheit!  We aren’t here for the weather, right? Very cold, dry days are great for some things, but we’re not here for those.

We have a fun backpacking book entitled Pleasure Packing.  The author, Robert Wood, strongly makes the case to daydream your way through the difficult segments of a hike by thinking of your favorite places. We’re trying just that, thinking of warmer times past and future.

I started this morning to complete posting about our nice warm sunny trip to the NC Outer Banks this past fall.  We traveled south on the Outer Banks to Ocracoke, had a neat visit, and no one has heard further about the the trip.

This cold morning seemed so appropriate to think and write of warm places I’d rather be.  Until our mail arrived.  Then I wanted to talk about the cool package from perhaps colder places than NC. I’ll get back to the warm, sunny coastline of NC another post.

We received an envelope this morning from the QSL Card Processing of American Radio Relay League.  QSL cards are the written confirmation of a radio conversation between two amateur radio operators, or hams.  We receive cards infrequently, maybe once a year, and we receive between three and five QSL cards.

QSL cards don’t describe text of the conversation, only the date, time, what radio band we used, and how well we could hear each other.  The cards are often colorful and usually from across one of the oceans although sometimes from USA or Canada.

The Bulgarian card is a special card dedicated in honor of Bulgarian Saint Kozma Zografski. It is probably the prettiest QSL card we’ve received. It also was the most enigmatic, and prompted me to try, unsuccessfully, to learn a bit about Saint Kozma Zografski.

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The special call sign LZ1323SKZ, by the Blagovestnik Radio Club in Voinyagovo, Bulgaria, (near Sofia, 43 degrees Fahrenheit today) is part of a program their club does for “All Bulgarian Saints” award and for another award as well. Here’s the map showing their location:

lz1323skz

The three cards this morning are from last March 2013 and are from some talking I (Jim) did from a county park in southwest Miami from our trailer.  The two Ukraine ones are from Alexey and Yarik, individuals I spoke with at their respective home stations.

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The icy-looking card is from UW7LL in Kharkiv Ukraine (7 degrees today).  You can see where his station is in this picture, below:

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The other Ukrainian card is from UR5GDX in Nova Kakhovka (14 degrees F)  along the  Dnieper River in southern Ukraine.

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Nova Kakhovka was built to house workers for the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant in the 1950s.  Nova Kakovka seems most similar in intent to Boulder City Nevada.  Both cities were intended to be model cities built to house workers in clean, attractive, safe communities.  Nova Kakhovka became known as The Pearl of Lower Dnieper and The Monument of Architecture.

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Full time RVing has vastly improved our knowledge of North American geography.  Amateur radio has done the same for my knowledge of places across the globe, if their amateur radio operators talk to me.  (e.g., none so far from China, Kazakhstan, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Iraq, or Egypt, among many I have not reached)  I would automatically have figured Bulgaria and Ukraine were much colder than we (in North Carolina).  Maybe it’s the “any given day” rule.  I’ll just have to check back in with these guys, see how’s the wx!

People often ask us about our Airstream trailer, “Do they still make those?”   Similarly we get the question about amateur radio, “Do people still use those?”  Two good yes answers are these: There are more licensed amateur radio operators in the USA than ever in its history; and I have spoken to amateur radio operators in every European country, several Russian countries, Israel, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, a couple in Central America, and several South American ones.

And I am a casual radio operator, often just getting on the radio a few times a month.  Yes, amateur radio is still both effective and fun.  For more info see this link about ARRL, the Amateur Radio Relay League.

As soon as we get back to “our house” I will dig out my QSL cards and mail one to each of these guys.  Hopefully it won’t take ten months for them to receive.  Ham radio, at the speed of light, is much faster than the mail, eh?

See you down the road!

Jim N5RTG and Debbie N4RTG
dreamstreamr odyssey™

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©2007-2014 Dreamstreamrs

Dear Mom

We’re still at TowerPoint Resort in Mesa AZ. Enough going on to keep us interested. Zero bugs (scorpions aren’t bugs, right?) Low humidity and dewpoint mean we can, or not, use insulated cups for our drinks — the drinks can’t sweat regardless. It’s just too dry for condensing moisture. The low temperature a few nights ago was 40 here and 7 in Flagstaff, and our daytime temp made it to 70. What a great place for winter weather.

We awoke to rain several mornings earlier this week, sort of rare for around here. Sure, we get a sprinkle now and then. But to have an entire morning of rain? There’s nowhere for it to go, the resort is probably 75 percent pavement and has no retention pond other than the tennis courts area. So a river runs down our street and down into the tennis courts. Unfortunately the rain didn’t let up before the courts filled up on the second day of rain. We ended up with between one and two inches of rain in Mesa in under two days.

Rain doesn’t interfere with much for us. My tennis team match was rained out two weeks ago and later the same day other teams were able to practice on the same courts. We rescheduled for four days later, played the match, no problems. And missed a practice this week but had clear weather for our Thursday match.

Sometimes we think we’re pretty busy before we step back and look at what’s really going on. We read the paper Sunday and after church Debbie hit the tennis courts for almost three hours of doubles. I pedaled across the street to another resort to visit with friends and help Jim KB0U get to know his Yaesu ham radio better.

Upon my return we had a visitor, Melissa, who stopped because she saw the NOMADS door signs on our truck. Melissa also is a full-timer and volunteers with NOMADS like we do but we hadn’t met before. We had a nice visit comparing some of our work projects and locations and hope to talk again.

By now it was time for me to run to the courts and practice. I had reserved court time and the ball machine for an hour. While I waited for Darren and Jan to finish their time with the ball machine I practiced serving balls on another court. Then I spent a wonderful hour hitting almost 1,000 balls, cross-court, cross-court, cross-court, cross-court, DOWN THE LINE! Rinse and repeat. . .

Backhand ten times, forehand ten times, backhand ten times, forehand ten times. Sounds repetitious, right? Finally I changed it, hit nothing but volleys for the last basketful of balls. The machine only tattooed me once, it shot a ball right at me at the net and somehow the ball avoided all my strings and the racquet frame. I usually don’t get hit by balls — gosh, it hurt!

The practice is paying off. I read somewhere, in whatever we want to learn and do well, we should work very intentionally and “over learn”. Over-learning is to practice something over and over again until it becomes almost automatic. When you need the skill you confidently let it rip, says the teacher. Last year I lacked confidence in my topspin hits. My confidence is up and now the ball sometimes even goes where it’s supposed to.

Oh yeah, I was talking about how busy we might or might not be? Sunday was pretty typical for us, visiting with friends and playing tennis and Debbie and me spending time with each other. Six days every week we can watch tennis matches in our resort’s tennis complex and we could play every day but try to give our arms and shoulders a break from the action.

Almost every week there’s some sort of street party or potluck in the resort. We spent last Thursday afternoon at the resort-sponsored party with free burgers and beverages and dance music. We line-danced, had fun with a lot of swing music, had a few slow dances. Not a lot of people were on the dance floor but we don’t care, we have fun.

Saturdays we often go hiking with tennis friends. Phoenix has great hiking in the hills all around. We’ve hiked in state and county parks on three or four Saturdays and are so fortunate to have Bill (my tennis partner) willing to lead the hikes. He knows his way around and always provides a nice five or six mile hike for the small group.

Sitting here writing I forgot all about my nine o’clock ham radio network. Rats! I have another one at ten and another one at three every afternoon, if I can just remember. Bob w7iry and I have been playing around with the club’s FLEX 3000, a really neat software-defined ham radio. It’s a challenge running ham radio without visible antennas, but we don’t want to create problems for the resort or our neighbors so we try to not call attention to ourselves.

Some mornings, according to my neighbors on one side, they’ve heard talking on their stereo radio speakers. Which is kind of odd — they say the stereo radio wasn’t turned on. I guess I’ll invite them to keep a brief log of when it happens, date and time, and I’ll compare it to my ham radio log. D’ya think the logs will match? We’ll see and experiment from there to solve it.

The resort has a sewing and quilting room, a lapidary room, a woodworking shop, a nice library, ping-pong tables, billiard tables, dance lessons, and classes in conversational Spanish. We’ve attended the Spanish classes twice weekly for six weeks and are coming along okay so far. Leslie is a great profesora, trying to drag our wild bunch of seniors along into a fun new language.

We haven’t spent much time at the pool so far. The swimming pools are gorgeous and the chaise lounges are comfortable, nice music piped in for the pool decks, lots of nice people to talk with. When the weather is best, really nice sunny days, we like to be at the tennis courts.

I guess the conflict of interest between the tennis courts and swimming pools sort of sums up our “time situation” pretty well. We aren’t so busy as just doing a lot of what we want to almost every day. The weather is generally outstanding. And there’s so much we can do. We can’t complain about being too busy — but it does seem like we don’t have time to do everything we’d like to.

We hope this finds you all well and enjoying the run-up to the holidays. We’re sorry we haven’t written before now — we do think about you and want to write. I feel like we have been dropped into funland and almost can’t get enough every day. There are no good excuses on this end and we will try to be better about staying in touch.

We’re so lucky we don’t have any more serious concerns than time management. Life is great and winter in Arizona is a blast.

Love,
Jimbo and Debbie

P.S.
Mom, you can really easily see where we are by clicking on the highlighted spot here

Jimbo

©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

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

see our ham radio page here: http://www.dreamstreamr.com/3601.html
and here: http://qrz.com/db/ (and then enter my callsign, n5rtg)
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