I’m Not Mad – He Did A Great Job

…but it was not bargain.

As you probably know, I’m an introvert, and don’t really like talking to people. Once I get started, sometimes, it’s like someone put a nickel in me, and I won’t stop talking. And I know, to non-introverts, that looks like someone who likes talking to people. No, that’s the mental/verbal equivalent of starting to jog just a little too fast down a hill, and you’re just desperately trying to keep your feet under you.

We had the first tiny part of a kitchen remodel project to have done – removing the filthy, not-sponge-wash-able popcorn ceiling removed, and something else put in its place. We were thinking we’d prefer smooth, but every contractor we talked to had some variation of the same story:

“Well, we can do that, but often what you’ll find is the original builder did a popcorn ceiling because it’s cheaper, and hides a multitude of imperfections. Might have to skim-coat it 2 or 3 times. Yadda yadda yadda …a couple hundred more expensive. What most people are going with nowadays is Knockdown Texture on their ceilings.”

Having been reassured at least twice that a Knockdown ceiling can be painted with a semi-gloss or satin, and can be sponge-wash-able, we’d decided (from phone conversations with contractors) that we were going to go with Knockdown before the first of them even made it out to look at the job in person and give us an estimate/quote.

The first guy to come out, we liked. Easy-going, friendly, and had that right flavor of confidence.

The 2nd guy to stop by was also confident, but with his other mannerisms, and facial expressions, I got the feeling that doing our little job on a non-lake-shore property, he would be sort of “slumming it”. Like – he’s too good to be working on this shit-hole.

The 3rd guy (who, early on, I was pulling for and hoping would be the guy) missed the appointment completely, then when I texted him to ask if he was coming, had a lame excuse, but suddenly sounded super interested in getting the business again. I blocked him on my iPhone.

So we went with the first guy. Nice guy. Here’s his quote…

IMG_8110

Yes, we’d talked about two different ways of doing the ceiling – Smooth or Knockdown. But since that decision had been settled in my mind, I was no longer thinking about the Smooth ceiling option anymore.

Couple days later, after we’d actually chosen which dude, I un-folded this on my desktop, looked at the bottom line (because the price is always the bottom line… always) and did not re-read the whole thing. The numbers that stuck out to me were $750 check, $650 cash. So I stopped by the ATM and got out max cash withdrawal several times over the next several days to be sure that I’d have enough on hand to pay him, plus any cash that I needed for other things, plus any wiggle-room for “I didn’t know I’d have to work around these ceiling fixture screws” or “a big chunk of drywall fell down – it was held in place by the popcorn ceiling and paint.” You know – it’s an estimate, not an absolute fact yet.

A Month Later – Two Days

It was the Independence Day Holiday Weekend when he came out to do the actual work, July 5-6 (Fri-Sat). I kinda prefer to be here when workmen are going to be in my home. Not that I’m naturally distrustful, but if I have misplaced anything (and I do that a lot), I hate having that “maybe so-and-so stole it” thing creep into my head at all. So it worked out great that I was WFH that Friday, and wasn’t going anywhere on Saturday either.

Mid-day Saturday rolls around, I’m getting multiple Nest Cam notifications that the front door camera “spotted a person” and when I check I can see it’s the guy hauling stuff back to his truck. Then I hear the loud squeak of his truck tailgate. He’s packing up. It’s time to go in and talk to him. In person. Using my mouth and words and shit. My heart starts to race a little. Stupid, right?

See, I’d been thinking all along, that a $100 discount for paying cash is pretty steep. I’m sure he only does that because some other motherfuckers have given him a check, then cancelled it, and then it’s been a whole thing where he has to decide if it’s worth going to Small Claims Court, or whatever. It’s tough to stay above board, slingin’ mud on people’s ceilings, I’m sure.

Also, I had already been super impressed with how meticulously he had taped and plastic-barrier’d our kitchen and entryway area, such that we were getting no dust flitting throughout the house… which we had been dreading. He was only half-way done with the job, and we were already thrilled. So my plan had been to split-the-difference on that cash discount. I mean seriously, this was such a small job, it didn’t seem to me to be worth extending such a deep discount.

I come in to verify that he’s wrapping it up. He is. I extemporaneously ask a question I had been rehearsing repeatedly in my head: “So I suppose this is the time I hand you fistfulls of cash. What’s the damage?” See how adorable I am when I’ve had time to rehearse my witty extemporaneous-ness?

He says, “Uh, I don’t remember… I think it was four-fifty?”

I mock-bluster, “Oh, that doesn’t sound like enough.” and start heading downstairs to grab the estimate (pictured above), which was folded in half and full of $100 stacks of $20 bills, each stack turned 90-degrees from the previous one, to save doing a lot of adding aloud. I come back upstairs, estimate in one hand, and cash in the other, and lay the estimate down, and point at the $650 number… the bottom-line-est number on the page. The number that has been in my head for several weeks.

“It was six-fifty.” and I start pulling off stacks of bills, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.” I believe I have split-the-difference and tipped our friendly, conscientious contractor $50 for having done such a fine and tidy job.

His response, naturally, expectedly, was, “Oh, thank you!”

I figure, nobody ever pays him more than asked. Ever. But I’ve already said more words than I want to, and I didn’t further explain that I thought $100 was too much of a discount, and I was meeting him in the middle. If I had, perhaps he would have noticed that I had looked at the wrong number in the first place, and correct me. Nope. I gave him no opportunity. He was thanking me for a 47.4% tip. And, of course, that sounds exactly the same as thanking me for a $50 tip.

IMG_8102

But see? It turned out great.

I’m a fucking buffoon, but it turned out just great.

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13 Colonies

…is a Ham Radio Special Event running all this week. I forgot that it started before the 4th, so I wasn’t paying attention until today. Derp.

One of the things I’d noticed during and just after Field Day is that although my long-wire antenna should tune up well on 80-meters (it’s more than long enough, and 80M is why I bought it), getting it matched up with the knobs of the MFJ-949E was super fussy on 80. Like, I’d get the SWR down to near 1.1:1, but then when I let go of the knob, it would jump back up to 2.5:1. Grr. None of this fussiness was noticeable while I was only tuning for the best receive performance, so as to listen up and down to the net total of nothing on the bands during not-Field Day. LOL

It was probably Wednesday or Thursday of the following week that I was walking by the place on the exterior wall where the bulkhead connector passes through, and the A/B switch goes to the two antennas – suddenly it struck me. The feedpoint of the long-wire is just at the top of my reach (8′), and the bulkhead is pretty near glory-hole level. The feed-line drops to the ground, has a little bit of slack, then runs up the wall to the feed-point. So – that’s probably a 12′ section, give or take.

Inside the house, the jumper from the bulkhead to the tuner is 3′, then a 1.5′ section to the Transceiver. Anybody adding this up, yet?

Yeah… the feed-line might’ve been long enough for 20M, and probably OK for 40M, but was far too short for 80M. Apparently there’s some extra magic going on if you’re transmitting, and not just listening. I grabbed another 20′ or so section of coax and a double-female connector, and inserted it betwixt, then tried tuning up again on 80M. Holy cats, much better.

So I’m going to put in a half-hearted effort to log all 13 of the Special Event 13 Colonies stations during the remainder of the week. Last year, I didn’t hear about this event until the last day, if I remember correctly. Then I did an absolutely horrible job of taking note of it to remember for this year.

Hear ye, hear ye… Derp!

Field Day 2019 – Follow-Up

I did not do great in the contest, from a points perspective. It will be very easy to improve upon, especially as my CQ-ear tunes in further.

But – Field Day is only somewhat of a contest. Depending on whom you ask (or watch, or operate with), it might be slightly more, or significantly more, or almost completely, a Disaster Preparedness Exercise.

Given that I was operating from my permanent station, permanent antennas, and commercial power, I was really only drilling on being the “other station”… the guy who was not just hit with a disaster, but who might be handling some traffic for/from someone who was.

Anyway, here’s where it went well: if you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve been tweaking this and adjusting that, and fiddling around with the things needed to be dialed in so as to be ready for Field Day. The day before the event, I spent over an hour just going to all the bands, using each of my 2 antennas, tuning to the center of the CW sub-band, and writing down the approximate dial positions (two variable capacitors and a 12-position inductor switch) which achieved my best SWR… so that when I decided to switch bands during the contest, I could save some time getting set up on the next band.

What I had not done, was ever run this radio above 5 watts on several of the bands… had only cranked it up to the maximum 25W (for CW, or 100W on SSB) on 40-meters. Once the contest got rolling, in the early afternoon, it was clear that the hottest action was on 20-meters. So I got tuned up, cranked it up to max output power, and called the other guy. And all the software seized up! Shut it all off, reboot, start it up, try again. Same thing. Clearly, I had some RF-into-PC problem at moderate power which I had not experienced way down in the QRP neighborhood.

So my Disaster Preparedness Exercise was changing to an entirely different PC, which only had a couple of the software packages on it, outdated, not configured for Field Day. I basically re-did all the things I had done over the past week, in just under 90 minutes. Lucky for me, I had put all the latest installation downloads into my Dropbox HAM/Win10/ folder, so I didn’t have to go hunting for them all.

And it all worked. Even at max power. That’s a success.

Field Day Station Setup About Dialed In

Video Station Tour

I’d seen many mentions in many forums/groups/etc. of people using Serial Port sharing, splitting, virtualization, or whatever. I tried to do the things they were doing, using the software packages they were using, and I couldn’t get it to work. Repeatedly failed. Quite frustrating.

Then, whilst a-googling the interwebs, I found some guy mention that “some softwares don’t like to use COM ports numbered 10 or above.” Could that be it? Every time I had tried (VSPE, LP-Bridge, at least two others), I had been setting up the Virtual ports at COM10 and COM11. So I tried again using COM5 and COM6… and it worked!

Here’s the stuff that’s all running, in order to take a crack at my Field Day intentions next weekend:

  • Long-wire antenna, running mostly E-W at about 28′. It’s long enough to get down to 80m (no idea on performance down there yet), works well on 40m, and “tunes” up reasonably on 30m, 20m, 15m, 12m, & 10m (haven’t actually tried to operate on any of these bands either, yet).
  • Off-Center-Fed 40m dipole, running mostly N-S, sloping from 27′ at the N end to about 12′ at the S end. Works decent at 40m and 20m, tunes up OK (but has not had much use yet) on 30m, 17m, 15m, 12m, & 10m. “Tunes” so-so on 6m, and I probably won’t even try any 6m on Field Day.
  • MFJ-949E antenna transmatch. It says “Tuner” but that’s a marketing lie, that most of the hobby/industry has agreed to ignore. It does not tune the antenna. It uses inductors and capacitors (etc.) to force a bad impedance match to appear as though it is a reasonable match. In so doing, it converts some RF energy into heat in some external box, rather than the heat being generated in the transmitter’s output transistors. Better for sparks and smoke in a cheap external box, than magic smoke coming out of the radio.
  • Yaesu FTdx3000 transceiver.
  • RSPlay RSP2Pro SDR using SDRuno software, which uses OmniRig to communicate with the FTdx3000.
  • FabulaTech Serial Port Splitter.
  • N1MM Logger+.
  • fldigi for PSK31 & CW.
  • WSJT-X for FT8.
  • MultChaser for showing what states I have/haven’t worked in the contest.

Of that, the only thing I haven’t yet re-tested AFTER getting the Serial Port Splitter thing to work, is the WSJT-X bit. I’ll be testing that very soon.

I’m early into this, so I’ll definitely come back with a follow-up, but I am so very impressed by the groups.io forums for FT8 and N1MM, and with all of the software involved. It’s mind-boggling that all these disparate parts can come together, and I’m quite enthusiastic about this coming Field Day being the most fun I’ve had in any Amateur Radio Contest so far. Pardon the pun, but “stay tuned”.

Another Weekend, Another Contest

I didn’t even look online at first. I just turned on the radio, because based upon past experience, if there’s no CW contest active, the bands will be dead quiet, aside from the typical QRM, because, as you know, the sun-spot cycle is set to crappy propagation mode. Lo and behold, turned on the radio, and there were closely packed, loud and clear CW signals! And they’re FAST. And they’re all sending “TEST” as their CQ message.

Here’s a hint: they’re not testing. They are not implying that you shouldn’t contact them because they are merely sending a “TEST” message for purposes of tuning their antenna or other adjustment to equipment.

Anyway, it turns out it’s the CQ World-Wide WPX CW Contest this weekend.

I made ONE contact. It was clumsy as hell. I think annoyed some member of the Radio Ridge Contect Club in Berea, KY.

It’s not done yet, so I might make a 2nd contact, but boy howdy, this is an intimidating bunch. I can’t find anybody on the band SLOW enough for me to make out anything by ear. Software CW decoding makes this possible, but it is assumed that the purpose of the software in a contest is to improve efficiency and reduce the tedium, but not to do the lion’s share of the actual WORK of decoding CW. That’s the wetware’s job.

So yeah, I’m an obnoxious noob poser, and should leave my transmitter off.

Sometimes one can find the RF equivalent of “the kids’ table”… where the inexperienced and less-seasoned operators can get used to this stuff more gradually, without irritating the adults at the main table.

How About log4om?

Had experimented quite a bit with N1MM’s super big contesting logger, which I believe I will still be using for Field Day next month. But I still wanted to find something that…

  • integrates with fldigi (and a couple other digital-mode programs I’d want to use)
  • is designed for regular day-to-day (i.e. non-contest) logging
  • is good for managing logs (e.g. fixing things after the fact)
  • integrates with LoTW from the ARRL

…and log4om appears to be exactly that. I (mostly) like how it looks, how it’s designed and laid out, and the incredible flexibility.

Yes, there was frustration and swearing involved in getting it to work.

The YouTube videos from the software’s author are very informative and helpful, but boy howdy does that guy need a lesson in what to drink before recording his voice. He clears his throat very loudly right into the microphone. A lot. It’s deafening. It was almost enough to make me throw in the towel and search for something else.

Well anyway, after a few hours of reading the forums and re-watching a couple videos, and applying some I-can-do-my-own-IT-support efforts, I finally got fldigi and log4om working together nicely. Manage to receive some PSK31, and enter a fake log entry (and watch the fldigi log line get picked up automatically by log4om).

Then switched to CW, did a little more wrangling and swearing, then suddenly remembered that when fldigi is doing CW, it does not send “keying” info to the radio. Rather, it transmits tones from the soundcard (same as it does for all its other digital modes). Well, duh. That means the radio should NOT be in CW mode at all. It should still be in [DATA][USB] mode.

And doggone it if I didn’t make an actual CW contact with a fella in Michigan.

In so doing, now I have a real log entry that I can highlight and see if log4om will successfully leverage TQSL and sign and upload that contact to LoTW.

Wish me luck, and 73, OM de N0MQL SK

 

Dipped My Toe Into CW Contesting

For a long while, N1MM seems to have been the standard for contest logging software. I’m not absolutely sure, but I think it may have been what the Twin Cities Repeater Club used for Field Day way back in the ’90s when I would participate at their Field Day event, the last full weekend (of rain) in June.

Last summer, I visited the Field Day operation of the Anoka County Amateur Radio Club, not because I’m a member, but because the park where they do Field Day is about a mile from my house.

Anyway – I have done ham radio contesting before. Not a lot. And I’ve sat in the 2nd chair at a CW station, wherein the primary CW operator calls out or writes down the callsign and exchange, and the other guy types into the logging software. Usually, this is a one-man thing, but at the TCRC Field Day, they had at least one older gentleman with a great ear and fist, but who did NOT like dealing with the computer.

It is also my recollection that sometimes someone at one of the computers would click the wrong thing, or something would go amiss, and “the expert” on the logging software would be called over to get things back to where they needed to be. While I don’t want to be that guy, I figured it’d be in my best interest to learn how N1MM is set up and run for a contest. Maybe for me, for operating Field Day solo at home. Maybe in case I’m operating at a club’s Field Day.

Florida QSO Party

It was mere coincidence, but then, there’s some contest running somewhere almost every weekend anyway. I spent hours getting N1MM and my FTDX3000

FTDX3000

…working with each other. And once all the menu items (both software and hardware) are properly aligned, and the cables go where they need to go, they work together very well indeed. Then I was all, “Now what?” So I looked to see if there was a contest going on or coming up for which I could practice the set-up-a-new-contest-log-in-this-database thing. Sure enough, at that moment the Florida QSO Party was a mere few hours into it. Funnily enough, that contest started probably right around the same time I began installing N1MM.

The setting up of a new contest log was among the easier things I’d done in N1MM. It was becoming clear why it’s so popular.

I Can’t Copy That Fast Yet

Many of these serious contesters do fast CW. Really fast. I’m working on learning Morse Code, and building up speed, but I’m a long way from being able to hear the other guy’s callsign at 30wpm and having any clue beyond the first letter. But N1MM cleverly works together with fldigi, which I’ve been using for quite a while to decode a variety of digital modes, and CW.

Here’s the thing: I can send my own callsign easily at 25wpm. And I can recognize my own callsign at 30wpm. And as it happens (and this is the part I had not expected)… you can operate in a contest in search-and-pounce mode without ever needing to send the other guy’s callsign. Here’s how it worked…

I’d listen to a guy calling CQ (he’s in “run mode”). He’ll send something like this…

CQ FQP W4ABC W4ABC

…and then he will pause, listening for responses. The other stations respond by merely sending their own callsign, like “N9XYZ”.

Then the guy running will send “N9XYZ W4ABC 5NN SEM”. That’s CW shorthand for 599 Seminole County, which is to say “You are easily readable on a 1-to-5 scale, your signal strength is full-quieting S9 units on the meter, and the quality of your tone is excellent on a 1-to-9 scale, as received here in Seminole County, FL.” That might all be a lie. He may have had some difficulty copying, the signal may not have moved his meter at all above the noise, and the tone might be rough or chirpy. Doesn’t matter. In a contest, all reports are 599. And since “N” is merely dah-dit while 9 is dah-dah-dah-dah-dit, they also abbreviate the “9” with “N”.

The guy who just got a report from the CQ-er replies something like “RRR TU 5NN IL IL”. That’s “Roger, thank you, you’re also 599 in Illinois.”

It closes off with the CQ-er with something like “TU W4ABC QRZ”.

Notice: the guy in Illinois never sent the W4 callsign, only his own, and a few other characters he could memorize, or send from software.

This is when it dawned on me… all I have to do is listen long enough to clearly decode the CQ-er sending his own callsign and 3-letter county abbreviation. Copy-n-paste (or just retype) those two bits into N1MM and now the whole conversation can be done with Function-key presses. I was nervous at first, but it actually went pretty easily. I made 7 CW contacts over the next hour.

Came back after a break, and band conditions had worsened. The only stations I could hear were ones I’d already worked, or were too fast or too weak for fldigi to decode. Meh, so be it.

I think I’ll do a few more of these contests, such that I can be ready to take a shot at maybe doing some CW during Field Day this coming June.