SFI > 250 or bust!

I’m in short of USB ports! When I bought this laptop I knew it hadn’t enough USB ports for Field Day. I need four but only have three. Keyboard, mouse, WinKey and CAT should find their way into and out of the laptop. I have an old USB hub that came with some other device I have already ditched. This works for the mouse and external keyboard. I have an old ‘no brand’ USB-to-serial dongle. I plugged it in and soon Win10 told me it’s good to go. Finally I plugged in a Prolific dongle, vintage 2007-2008 or so. Couldn’t get it to work. Of course, what is the fun in everything working right away without a hitch?


In the true spirit of overconsumption, the Prolific site advised to throw away a perfectly good device and buy a new one for factory support with the new Windows versions. Actually they didn’t talk about what to do with the old, they focused on trying me to buy their new products. Like hell I will! Google disclosed tons of people having had this problem. Soon I learned that the key to success is to NOT download the latest drivers which seem to be deliberately bogus – why else print a red guidance to buy a new one?  Apparently I had to install the older version. Luckily the guy offering this solution on his blog, also provided the download for these older drivers. Soon after that Windows told me the Prolific dongle is also installed and ready to use. I hope Windows is right… Testing scheduled after the coming weekend… Stay tuned (but please don’t tune on top of me).

I might have enough coax cables at hand for Field Day. But it feels like I don’t. Never enough, right? I have a long stretch of coax that needs plugs. I plan to bury it in a tube along with some other cables in a few weeks. So I soldered the PL plugs to this forty meter long stretch of Ecoflex 10 coax cable. I have another fifty meter run of RG213 in stock that has N plugs. That should do to connect the antennas to the transceiver.

I also have a presumably fifty meter length of RG217 cable. That ½” low loss HEAVY stuff. It’s hard to find plugs for that since it’s quite an obsolete cable. I purchased a complete ‘now old stock’ drum when we bought the house. I found matching N plugs from a renowned RF brand but they were ridiculously expensive in 2002-2003. So I didn’t buy those. I found a batch of used but good N plugs when attending a ham fest in 2003 and I used these for the fixed feed lines from shack to various junction boxes outside. Once I managed to make a homebrew PL style socket by modifying a regular PL plug and using brass plumbing reductions. K1TTT’s idea.

But for the 2011 edition Field Day I bought plugs for Ecoflex 15 type cable. Expensive enough but within reason. These plugs do not fit 100%. But it worked and got tested before taking it to OT1A’s field day site.

50m of RG217 with DC bias T’s (@ON5ZO 2011)

This virtually lossless cable below 10 MHz turned out to be faulty. It took some time to realize and admit that. It got tested here before hauling it to OT1A’s but antenna SWR was way up when deployed. We lost quite some time because of that. We checked everything from antenna to TRX except the part in between: this coaxial cable.

Back home I hung it on a hook where it has been for five years until two days ago. I put in on the antenna analyzer with the other end connected to a dummy load. Sure enough the screen showed SWR bumps of 4:1 and more from 1.8 MHz to 52 MHz. Visually the cable was OK, so I suspected the plugs. I removed all the PVC tape from one of both plugs and unscrewed the nut. The center pin came off too so the problem revealed itself without further inspection. True Ecoflex 15 has a much thicker center conductor than RG217. In 2011 I filled the cup with solder tin but it didn’t hold up.

I cleaned the cup with desoldering wick. Then I made a sleeve of desoldering wick. I used that as a spacer between the center conductor and the plug’s pin’s inside. I pulled and twisted the PL center pin but it didn’t release so I guess this time it’s a better connection. The antenna analyzer then showed a flat SWR plot from Top Band to Magic Band. R = 46 ohm on 30 MHz with X = 0 ohms at 0°. Not bad for a homebrew dummy load. And with low loss coax cable…

I also found two short runs of Aircell7 in my pile of junk/parts/miscellaneous stuff. Too short to be useful, too long to throw away. I made N-to-PL adapters from it, coiling them up so they will act as a current choke. I have many N-type plugs and sockets in use so these adapters always come in handy.

And along the way I discovered I have another length of what looks like 20 – 25 meter of RG213 with male and female N type plugs. I really have tons of stuff, so much I don’t always remember I have it. Or I can’t remember where I put it.

But for field day, the coax needs should be covered.

Plan A: team up with OT1A again. Use his gigantic terrain again. Use his electronics, I provide the antenna stuff again. Too bad he had to cancel his participation. There’s always…

Plan B: maybe my local club would like to do FD CW? Too bad the key members are probably out of town that weekend. There’s always…

Plan C: rent a van to haul all the stuff to my backup location. Use the van as a shack. That would eliminate the need for a tent. Too bad the terrain is inaccessible for the moment. The vegetation grows like crazy and already comes up to my knees and the owner only plans to mow it in a few weeks. There’s always…

Plan D: ask a passionate contester, who shall remain anonymous, to team up with me. That way I could look for another terrain and have an extra pair of hands to set up and to get through the slow hours. I have perfect terrain in mind, but I’m a bit reluctant to ask the owner. Don’t know why though. Having OM Anonymous join me would be an incentive to ask it anyway. Unfortunately OM Anonymous answered ‘maybe next time’ so I’m stuck with….

Plan E: do it on my own again. Here in my back yard. That has lot of benefits: you can’t forget to bring a thing, clean rest room, no need to move all the stuff away from the house etc. Major drawback: my garden is a bit too small to install the antennas that I had in mind. I cannot ‘go long’ with the ropes. And I don’t have the high supports to keep the wires off the ground. And I centainly don’t want a compromise. I’m in to win, or suffer while trying. ‘Die trying’ is a bridge too far.

So that leaves me in a sticky situation. I now need to completely rethink the antennas. And make, tune and test them. And I have spent hours over the last six weeks to get the antenna raising system (a/k/a the portable mast) to work. Plus I need to make sure the WinKey and CAT work on my Win10 laptop. And what about the generator? It hasn’t been used in two years. I just started it once last year to see if the engine worked and it did. But will it this year?

So currently the status is: I’m trying to get everything ready for Region 1 Field Day CW. If I manage to pull that off, I might participate. Then the last key factor is the WX. I don’t want a repeat of the 2014 scenario.

The field day that wasn’t

My previous post revealed that my WordPress theme was aging. It developed compatibility issues with the latest WP versions, especially on the picture gallery. I don’t use free or commercial themes. I roll my own. I have been using a commercial tool for that for many years. It’s called Artisteer btw. Because the free upgrade period for that has expired for ages too, I decided to pay for an upgrade. That decision was made in August 2015. And executed a few days ago. I don’t post many pictures so that wasn’t really an issue. But I wanted to show off my ‘wind direction indicator thingy’ and the problem became prominent.

I imported the old theme and exported it with the current version. Issues solved. And to discover the novelties in the latest release, I made up a new theme. Still very blueish, because it really is my favorite color. De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum. Period.

Now if only I could provide some ham radio content… I don’t even know what the current SFI is. 250 or bust!

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