Friday, December 30, 2011

Rebuilding the R7000

Given the number of times that Cushcraft has re-designed it's multi-band, no radials vertical, I'm not sure it has been their most successful product. The R5 / R7 designs had problems with trap stability and mechanical complexity, so Cushcraft introduced the R7000, using enclosed traps very similar to designs they used on their very successful trapped tribander series. Later this became the R6000 / R8, where some traps were exchanged for multiple vertical elements. 

The R7000 also went through a trap re-design in mid-1998. There are three different manual available, the original from October 1996, one from June 1998, and the last from May 1999. The latter two are hardly different -- only a slight difference in assembly hardware. However, the 1996 and 1998 versions don't even share the same dimensions.

For those of us using the original version, there's at least one change from the 1998 version that might be worth adopting. When adding the R80 80m add-on kit, there are two tubes BH and BI that are inserted into the ends of the CT1 trap. This strengthened the tubes on the trap, which can help avoid fold-overs like this. The 1998 changes incorporated these tubes as part of the standard product. Since this only requires two pieces of 5/8 inch tubing about 6 inches long, it should be recommended for any rebuild. (Provided you can find 5/8 inch tubing)

First step on any rebuild is disassembly. My unit had seen 15 years out in the weather, but was actually in pretty good shape considering. No parts missing, and only a very slight bend in the bottom of the CT3 trap tube.

When I opened the MN7000, I found several spiderwebs and debris. Getting the circuit board out of the box requires unsoldering the SO239 center contact -- this requires a large soldering gun. Once I lifted the board out, I was surprised to find a very live spider who was not happy I disturbed his home. Sorry, fellow, but the eviction has been posted.

MN7000 after re-assembly.
I found the MN7000 in pretty good shape. None of the components seemed charred, cracked or damaged. Some of the connections on the circuit board showed a bit of corrosion, and I re-soldered some of the connections. 

Unfortunately, in trying to shorten the leads on the 27 pF capacitor, I ended up destroying it. In the picture, you can see my substitute -- four 100 pF 50V capacitors in series. As soon as I get the correct part, I'll swap these out.

Pay attention when disassembling the MN7000. I found some of the hardware to be slightly corroded, along the brackets. Remove as much of this as practical.

The general advice is that high SWR on all bands means an MN7000 failure of some kind -- but I couldn't find anything wrong, other than a few questionable connections.

Not sure if the MN7000 was the problem, I turned my attention to the traps. After a short debate, I decided to disassemble all the traps. 

CT3 trap disassembled. The 20m trap is on the bottom
(right) of the assembly, and the 30m trap on the top (left).
The traps consist of two nylon bobbins that are held inside the aluminum tubes by four self-tapping screws and four dimples. You have to drill out the dimples with a 1/8 inch drill bit. The top rubberized weatherproofing was removed by slitting it part way up the non-connected side (the smaller lump) and pulling it off. Try to cut as little of the weather proofing as possible. Remove the screws and pull the bobbins out, or you can tap them through (but be sure to move the aluminum wire out of the way).

CT2 trap half-way assembled. 15m trap is inside the tube,
17m trap waiting to be installed. 
The traps were in pretty decent shape. The top trap bobbins were clean, with the bottom trap showing a bit of insect debris. The bottom traps showed a bit of yellowing as well. A few checks with an ohmmeter showed the connections between the wire and inner trap tube were good. 

Re-assembly was easier than disassembly. Since the dimples were drilled out, I substituted 3/8 inch long #6 self-tapping screws. The alternative would be to cover the dimple holes with tape, but using screws seemed to add to the structure of the trap.

CT1 trap, reassembled on the antenna with a protective
layer of electrical tape.
Weatherproofing is held in place with a layer of tape, wound from the bottom to the top. I also added a layer of tape over the bottom screws, in order to keep the weather off the aluminum wire connection.

With all the components cleaned and re-assembled, it is time to assemble the antenna. Which we will do in our next installment.

R7000 Moves to Micro-Shack

Putting up the R7000 at the Micro-Shack took a bit of doing. I didn't want to leave any concrete monuments in the yard, so I had to look for something a bit more temporary. Fortunately, there's an outbuilding behind the house that appears to be made of salvaged lumber. This little shed has seen better days, but looked sturdy enough to support wall brackets. A few 2x4 reinforcements inside the framing received lag bolts for a couple of wall brackets I had on hand.

The hard question was -- what to do for a mast? The 1 1/2 inch rigid EMT I used worked ok for 15 years, but EMT isn't meant to be a mast product. Plus, it wasn't the right outside diameter to fit the mounting U-bolts for the antenna. A 12 to 15 foot piece of 2 inch galvanized, chrome-moly steel would have been ideal, but not easy to come by.

Top end of mast, showing R7000 attached. Notice the R7000
radials are not installed. They get in the way so it is easier
just to put them on just before raising the antenna.
I ended up using an different combination. First, a 10 foot piece of 1 1/4 inch steel pipe, a 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch adapter, then a 12-inch long 1 1/2 inch steel pipe nipple, and finally a pipe cap. Steel pipe is quite a bit thicker than rigid EMT, and a lot more expensive. A 10 foot 1 1/2 inch pipe would have been almost $40! The 1 1/4 inch pipe was just over $25, and the 1 1/2 inch nipple made it 11 feet total height. 

The 1 1/2 inch nipple fit the mounting U-bolts much better than the old rigid EMT did. Close, but not as perfect as a 2 inch mast would be.

It just took a warm afternoon to put up the brackets, assemble the antenna and raise the mast. Unfortunately, the antenna did not show the characteristic low SWR on the ham bands. Some work with an antenna analyzer showed relatively high SWR on every frequency from 7 to 26 MHz. Only on 10m did it show a slightly lower SWR of about 3:1. 

Uh-oh. Looks like this 15-year-old antenna needs a rebuild.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

R7000 History

After my move in November 1994, it took over a year before I put up any antennas -- I was much too busy with young kids, new job, finishing the basement, etc. In January 1996, I put up a 125 foot doublet up about 15 feet and operated the NAQP CW contest. That doublet got mounted higher by the NAQP phone, and was joined with some attic antennas.

By the fall of 1996, I was in the market for an antenna that could reasonably support several bands, including the WARC bands. The R7000 seemed like a pretty nice solution -- seven bands with an option to  add 80m as well. I bought one in November of 1996.

To mount it, I joined a 10 foot piece of 1 1/2 inch rigid EMT to a 12 inch steel pipe nipple and planted it 3 feet in the ground using two sacks of concrete. The pipe union was buried in the concrete. The resulting vertical pipe was about 1.9 inches in diameter -- almost large enough to fit the mounting U-bolts -- and nearly 8 feet tall.

While not as optimal as the specified 2 inch mast, this support worked very well for 15 years. I only stopped using the R7000 a couple of years ago when the coax to it was cut when the cable company re-buried the cable. (That one was cut by septic tank workers repairing the system)

The R7000 was not a great performer, in my opinion. I first called it the R7000 attenuator. I later discovered that it was designed to work at a height of 18 feet, not the 8 feet I had installed it. After a few years, I got the idea to add some radials at the base of the mast. Seven 20-foot radials made the antenna appear to work a lot more reasonably.

Since I wasn't using it at the old QTH, the R7000 seemed like the perfect antenna to move to the Micro-Shack. It required only one support, covered seven bands, and with a few radials seemed to work OK. A mediocre antenna seemed better than none at all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Micro-Shack

It eventually happens. You get a QTH built up with a reasonable set of antennas, then you have to move. My friend Mike used to think he lived under a curse -- two years after he put a tower up, he ended up moving. This happened to him three separate times. He solved that problem when he moved last -- he hasn't put up a tower since.

My wife was moved to a new church, and with that posting came a parsonage. The little problem with the parsonage was it was a bit smaller than the previous house. So, where could I set up some radios? No more basement shack, cause, there is no basement. And there's no spare or "bonus" room. What to do?

There was a little utility room next to the car port. This is an unheated / (cooled) storage room, that houses the water heater and the electrical box. It's about 5x7 feet, and not good for terribly much. Perfect. (Well, not perfect, but it could work....)

The storage room was pretty dismal. While it had a window, the walls were thin, unpainted plywood that had seen a fair amount of abuse in 40+ years. I removed a beat-up cabinet that apparently had been salvaged out of someone's kitchen a few decades ago. A couple of coats of white paint considerably brightened the place up.

On the wall opposite the water heater, I put some adjustable shelf brackets in place, and had enough brackets on hand for five shelves. Then there was the small matter of the operating desk. I mounted 2x4 blocks on opposite walls by screwing into the studs and placed a piece of 23/32" plywood on top of them. (Do you know that it is crazy you cannot buy 3/4" plywood any more?) A couple of 2x4 blocks along the wall hold up the back end of the desk, and two strips of 1x4 glued to the bottom give it enough reinforcement that it would probably hold up my weight. Should be good enough for any boat-anchor I choose to put on it.

The operating desk fitted the space available: 5 feet 3 3/4 inches by 29 inches deep and 30 inches above the floor. The shelves just above the desk would support some equipment to free up a little desk space. It would be small, but quite usable.

Now, it's just a small matter of getting power, ground and some antennas up.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Awarded: 6B WAS

I discussed my pursuit of WAS, and then 5B WAS before.

Well, after a couple of miscues, including a lost QSL card, cancelled and re-issued credit cards, and a few month-long delays -- I finally received my 5B WAS award with the 160m endorsement.

Thank you so much to the hard-working folks at ARRL HQ for finally straightening this out. It's nice to meet a goal after 35+ years of hamming. Something that only 3,004 hams before me have done.

WAS on 30m, 17m, and 12m will take some doing, but, with time, it may happen. Although, right now, I'm more interested in building my DXCC totals.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Retrospective - 1997 WWDC Fireside "chat"

With this week's untimely death of Steve Jobs, I was thinking of the few times my life had intersected with Steve -- this was the closest I had come.

John Gruber recently linked to a video of this very special WWDC session. The video quality is horrible, but the talk is interesting. I remember this session well.

I was there.

I was sitting somewhere on the left aisle of the audience, about 1/3 back from the front, which was my usual spot for most sessions. It was my first experience in the "reality distortion field" of Steve Jobs. I must say, there was definitely something to it.

The moment in time this talk took place is worth noting. Steve Jobs was just an "advisor" and his opinion "didn't count." A couple of weeks after this talk, Jobs would sell all but one share of his Apple stock, which would precipitate a stockholder crisis that eventually lead to the ouster of Gilbert Amelio about a month later.

Jobs would step into the resulting power vacuum and assume control. But that hadn't happened yet.

It's most interesting to look at how Jobs answered the questions from the floor. He took each one seriously, and did not try to answer right away. It was more important to give a good answer, than give a quick answer.

There was certainly controversy at this WWDC. Apple had killed off OpenDoc, which developers had been anticipating for three years. While answering questions about Newton, Jobs pointed out the difficulty companies have supporting even one application stack, much less two. Three was almost out of the question. (And Jobs would kill off Newton as soon as he gained control that summer)

Jobs discussed many of the benefits of Rhapsody, but that concept didn't last a year. By WWDC 98, Apple abandoned the Yellow Box on Windows. The development tools were good, but perhaps 5-10 times better is something of an exaggeration.

Jobs wanted Mac cloners build whatever hardware they wanted, but wanted a lot more money for the MacOS license. Even when he took control, that wouldn't happen.

And while there was no revolution with Gigibit ethernet replacing hard drives, the network certainly plays a larger and larger role today. Most interesting near the end of this talk that Jobs describes a hand-held device that has cellular networking and a hardware keyboard -- he perfectly predicts the entry of the Blackberry, which would be announced 18 months later, and would dominate its category for nearly a decade. His vision extended even to products Apple would not produce.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

AA4LR #1 Southeast Division, Low Power, ARRL 160m

View of the shunt feed wires going up the tower.
I can't believe it. Before the 2010 ARRL 160m contest, I noticed that a score over 100,000 in the Southeast division might possibly win the Low Power category. As a result, I put in a pretty full effort with 100 watts and my modest antenna. I scored over 100,000, and I hoped it would last through the judging.

When the claimed scores came out on the 3830scores mailing list, it looked like I came in second place to WA1FCN in Alabama by only a couple of thousand points. We both had 689 QSOs, but he had one more multiplier -- 79 to my 78.

Well, the results database has been published. Looks like I came out on top. While WA1FCN had more multipliers, it looks like more of his QSOs were thrown out in the adjudication. I lost nine, but he lost 24, which put me ahead almost 2,000 points.

Not my first division leader low-power win -- the other came in 1989 in the ARRL Sweepstakes Phone. That was right after hurricane Hugo, and a lot of Caribbean stations were off the air.

I still can't believe it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

40 Years of Radio

September 3rd brought forth some fond memories for me. It stands out in my mind because of the evening of September 3rd, 1971. I received my first radio, a Heathkit GR-81, Christmas 1970. My first logbook entries are from January 9th, 1971, since it took us a while to build, especially considering that the band "A" coil we got with the kit was defective.

For many months, I used the GR-81 with nothing more than a bit of magnet wire wound around my attic bedroom. This worked, but it wasn't very effective. I listened to some local AM stations, and a few shortwave stations. The GR-81 wasn't very sensitive on band "D", where most of the shortwave broadcast bands are, so I concentrated on broadcast band DXing.

With the summer ending and school about to start, I managed to take a trip to the electronics store and buy some wire. I believe at that time, I bought a 25 foot spool of very small speaker cord and completely unzipped it. In my youthful frugalness, I had computed that this resulted in a cheaper acquisition of 50 feet of wire than buying a 50 foot spool outright.

That 50 feet of wire went out the window of my attic bedroom, across the roof of the garage, and was anchored to a climbable tree on the other side of the yard. In retrospect, it couldn't have been horribly effective -- it was too low to the ground, being only 10-15 feet high for most of it's length.

However, it was outdoors -- this being my first outdoor antenna. The results were pretty dramatic, compared with the indoor magnet wire. That evening, I started at the top end of the AM broadcast band (band "B" on the old GR-81), and worked my way toward the bottom. I must have logged about 40 different stations, many of them new.

This experience made an impression on me. For the next several years, I always attempted to do this AM "countdown" around labor day weekend. In addition to signaling the start of the school year, it was also the start of the radio season.

It's hard to believe it's been 40 years. I still have that radio, and it's still in good working condition. And somewhere in my files I have that first logbook.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why Scrum Works

At work, we have been using Scrum methods for over two years. It has really been amazing how well this system works for us, at least for development. I only wish we could apply this technique more widely to our organization.

Perhaps some background would help. My employer, when I arrived here eight years ago, was one of the most disciplined software organizations I have ever seen. We produced a software release to the market every year, on time, with good quality. Every. Year. Features being cut before they were ever started, because there would be no time to finish them. It was truly amazing. 

However, this advanced waterfall process was slowly destroying our product. There were two key issues: 1) we'd never plan anything risky, so the releases were getting blander, 2) we had no flexibility should something arise, since everything was planned out. We needed to do something else.

One of the key revelations about software development is that it is, to some degree, unpredictable. Even in very disciplined organization, you reach a point where the most extensive planning process cannot pin down every possible variable. The unexpected lurks in every project -- particularly for those projects which involve something new and unique. Those very projects you need to do to stay competitive.

Classic management would dictate more precision in the planning process, more and more research up front to prevent these unexpected events. But at some point, the up-front costs outweigh the worth of the project. Shouldn't we expend our efforts on building software, rather than building perfect plans?

Scrum does not solve the unpredictability of software development. Scrum embraces that unpredictability. Scrum gives software development teams the tools to manage and control that unpredictability, so that it does not derail a project. Part of the secret is not trying to plan everything. Strictly speaking, only one sprint is planned at a time.

So, why does this work? Why does planning just 2-4 weeks at a time work better than trying to plan it all?

There are three principles that make Scrum effective:

1) Customer Focus - when writing a story, we write it from the perspective of the customer. Completing a story means delivering a concise bit of functionality to the customer. With a completed sprint, the software ought to be in a ready-to-ship state. It's actually very hard to write stories this way. In the end, this process tends to break down large features into tiny slivers of functionality. The beauty of this process is that each bit of functionality can be prioritized against the other. Instead of doing months of work to finish a feature, we're focused on the high-priority aspects every few weeks. This can result in leaving some low-priority aspects of the feature on the table, but on the whole it gets the important aspects built and finished first.

2) Narrow Scope - nothing kills a software project as bad as feature-creep. You start working, and the list of requirements gets longer as you go, until the project will never end. You can't do this with Scrum. Each sprint is fixed in time. Each team has only so many resources. The only variable is the scope. If you discover new requirements, it isn't automatically part of the work. Most likely, you write it up as a separate story to be prioritized against the other stories.

3) Vertical Delivery - the hardest aspect of Scrum is working in a vertical fashion. You can't divide stories by discipline (eg design story, coding story, QA story), you've got to do all the design, coding, testing in the same few weeks. This forces one to think very small for each story. Vertical Delivery also affects your software designs. Many software products have inter-dependent layers (eg database, business logic, user interface). You don't have the luxury of perfecting each layer before moving on to the next. Vertical Delivery means you have to do everything in each layer to deliver the bit of functionality to the customer. The big architecture in the sky is out. Instead, you must choose a more evolutionary approach, where you have just enough architecture to get the job done for the story.

While it may seem cumbersome at first, these principles are actually a very natural process. Imagine an independent software development organization of just one developer and his cat. How would he get things done? Given the very small development team, he's not going to go off for months (or years) doing major features. Instead, he'd focus on delivering something to the customer, keep the scope narrow so he doesn't get sidetracked, and deliver all the components vertically.

Once you've got those basic principles down, the real magic of Scrum happens between sprints. Each sprint, stories are getting done, and little bits of functionality are ready for the customer. The work that gets done has a major effect on the stories remaining. Maybe we've gotten enough of the value out of Feature A, and we can now focus on Feature B. Perhaps there's some new requirement that's come up, and we really need Feature C in order to compete, or comply with a new law, or support a new platform. Prioritization occurs constantly.

Scrum keeps development teams focused on the most important work, delivering working software for customers. It continues to do so even in the face of constantly changing requirements and conditions.

You couldn't plan for that.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Six-Band Worked All States

When I was a novice, I really wanted to earn the Worked All States (WAS) award. I wasn't an ARRL member at that time, but I figured I could go ahead and work the states and get the cards. Well, I did get confirmations for 30-some states, but never quite completed that award before moving to Georgia.

In the late 80s, I married, bought a house and set up a modest station, the dream of earning WAS came back. But then something happened. During SS Phone in 1988, I managed pull a sweep -- working all ARRL sections (76 at the time). I didn't just work all states, but I had worked all states in a single weekend.

Earning WAS didn't seem like enough any more. What I really wanted was five-band worked all states (5BWAS). What I'd missed though, was that you can work all the states in a weekend, but getting the cards to confirm that takes some doing. When I moved in 1994, it was far enough to reset my WAS efforts, and I hadn't even collected enough cards for basic WAS.

Logbook-of-The-World (LoTW) changed all that. Soon after signing up, the confirmations poured in. By the time the site supported the WAS award, I soon had enough to qualify for Basic and Phone WAS in march 2006. By next year, I had CW, 20m and 40m, and added RTTY in the fall of 2008, and 160m shortly thereafter.

Working all states on each band takes a little patience. The process can be accelerated by operating contests: North American QSO Party (NAQP), RTTY Round-up, and ARRL Sweepstakes (SS). It certainly helps to work all three primary modes: CW, Phone, RTTY.

Each band has its own character and challenges:

20m - easiest band to work all states. During one NAQP, I had a fabulous run on 20m, and later realized I had worked every state on 20m during that contest.

40m - certainly the second easiest. With the right conditions, 40m can be just as productive as 20m. Probably a bit of a challenge without a directional antennas.

160m - if you operate the ARRL 160m contest, as well as the CQ 160m contests, it is surprisingly easy to get 160m WAS. You don't need huge antennas. I worked all states with just a short, shunt-fed tower.

10m - if you operate the ARRL 10m contest, you can make a lot of headway on this band. The tricky part is the close-in states. Ground wave may not be effective for more than a few dozen miles, so you either have to look for backscatter opportunities, or wait for those rare conditions during the sunspot maximum where we have shorter skip.

80m - this would be easier than 160m, except that there aren't dedicated contests for this band. The hardest states are probably those farthest away. For me, this was AK and HI.

15m - short-skip makes this just as hard as 10m, but without the benefit of a dedicated contest. My last state for this one was SC.

After years of operating contests and collecting confirmations on LoTW, I just needed two to finish 5BWAS: 15m SC, 80m AK. I did some data-mining of my log books, and found I had three QSOs with SC over the years. I mailed out QSL cards with SASEs, and was lucky enough to get one station to confirm me. I'm currently waiting for 15m WAS to be awarded.

Alaska on 80m presented an interesting challenge. But, I had worked KL7RA on 160m using both CW and Phone. Seems I just had to look for AK on 80m this winter. Despite watching for spots and coming close a couple of times, I started to get worried -- spring was almost here, and it would soon become hard to work anything that far away on 80m due to summer noise.

I finally broke down an e-mailed KL7RA and asked him when he'd be on 80m. While he was QRV for the ARRL DX, I managed to miss him again. Finally, Rich agreed to a schedule.

The trick is to find a darkness path between GA and AK. The most optimum time would be right at Georgia sunrise -- but I couldn't ask Rich to get up in the middle of the night. Instead, we opted for about an hour and a half after his sunset -- which is 2:30 AM for me.

It took three tries, but we finally made the connection with readable signals. Thank you Rich!

With the confirmations in hand, I now just have to wait for the ARRL to process my 15m WAS, apply for 80m WAS and ask for the 5BWAS as well. So, very soon I will have accomplished what I set out to do over 20 years ago.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


OK, I'll admit. I have been an Apple fan for more than 25 years. I first laid hands on the Lisa and the Macintosh in the summer of 1984, and I began programming the Mac in August of 1984. I've been an Apple developer off and on since then. Virtually all my home computers are Macs, and I've encouraged my friends to buy Mac for years.

However, I 'm not what you call a raving Apple fan-boy. I thought the iPhone was interesting, but I wasn't one of those who stood in line for the original 2G, or the 3G,  or the 3GS release. My biggest problem was that I felt I already spent far too much each month for my cellular wireless service, why spring for $30 more each month for the data service?

My wife convinced me to get an iPhone 3GS Christmas 2009. I've been using it for a over and year, and I'm pretty impressed with it. However, the screen being small there's really a limit to what you can do with it. After a year, though, I'm not going back to a feature-phone.

My wife surprised me this year with a special present for my birthday: an iPad. I had tried them out at the Apple store before, but hadn't spent a lot of time with it. After a week of using this little device, I find I am way more impressed with it than with the iPhone. The iPad may well-be a game changer. I'll say something that you shouldn't take lightly from this long-time Mac user:

The iPad redefines the paradigm of computing, the same way the Macintosh did in 1984.

Your first impression may be that the iPad is just a bigger iPod Touch. But there's a profound difference. The bigger screen invites a more immersive computing experience. Touching the screen directly creates a very intimate connection with the applications. And the use of gestures dramatically reduces the visual clutter required to drive our mouse-and-keyboard machines.

It is very hard to articulate, but I am convinced that the computing experience 20 years from now will look remarkably like the iPad, and not as much like the Macintosh. I felt the same way 25 years ago, after using the Macintosh -- and that feeling was correct. The Macintosh, Windows and even Linux machines offer a roughly equivalent computing experience: a graphical user interface, driven with a mouse and keyboard.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Straight Key Night 2011

The operating desk set up for SKN 2011.
Since building the "Novice" transmitter in December 2006, I have enjoyed operating it every Straight Key Night since. It's probably the only time I have this transmitter on the air all year, which is something of a pity, I suppose. 

The transmitter is paired with an equally interesting receiver. The two work pretty well together for 40m contacts

About a week before SKN, I fired up the transmitter to confirm everything is ready and found I could get no power out. I could hear the oscillator pretty well, but there was no grid current and no plate current.

Opening up the base plate immediately showed the problem: a 2.2 k 2 watt resistor in the oscillator plate circuit had overheated, and it had unsoldered itself from the terminal strip on which it was mounted. I replaced it with a 3.3 k 2 watt resistor, mainly because it had shifted in value to over 4.5 k! After that quick fix, the transmitter worked as it should.

This year was fortunate that I had my pick of operating time for SKN. As you can see in the picture, I had merely to ignore the modern equipment on the desk and enjoy exercising the homebrew year with my 35+ year old Japanese J38 clone key.

One of the consequences of being crystal controlled in the modern era is the certainty you must call CQ. This was not a problem this year at all. With 50 or so watts out, I had no trouble getting answers on my dipole. In fact, several times, I was called after finishing up a QSO.

My biggest difficulty was my arm kept getting tired. After about an hour of QSOing, I needed to take a short break to let my arm rest. Using a straight key is a lot of work.

In all, I worked an even dozen contacts. Six of those were stations in Texas. I enjoyed working Bob, KE5LYW, who I found out was a fellow pilot. I also had a great QSO with N4HAY, who was using a homebrew single-tube 6L6 transmitter running about 2.5 watts.

Close up of the homebrew receiver and transmitter. Note the
convenient location of the crystal holder this year.
Attentive readers should notice the transmitter sports a new front panel feature -- a crystal socket. This is much easier than reaching around the back of the rig to plug in a crystal when changing frequencies.

Only glitch I had was a bit of stability problem with the receiver. On a couple of frequencies, it would drift around a bit when the headphone cable was moved. If you note the very long set of adapters I used for the headphones, that may have contributed to the problem. I'll have to sort that one out for next year. Other than that, the receiver was a real pleasure to listen to, most likely due to the addition of a few capacitors.

2011 was a great outing for this homebrew gear. SKN is always a blast, and  a dozen contacts this year beats any previous year. Join me on the air next year.