Hungry Like the “e” in Time

In the last two hours of my day, I finally come home and sit down in my apartment, looking at all the trap around me: the projects unfinished; the media unconsumed; the radios unpowered; the music gear untouched. And I wonder what to do tonight to make it alright.

But there’s only these two hours left until I have to retire.

Where did the rest of my evening go? Why home so late? Worked late. Then Epoch. Then Workhorse. Then a walk. Then an errand on the way home. Same program nightly. And now here I am, doing less and less with my time, doing fewer things that have durability, impact, and worth. My works are crowded out.

By what? By being Out There in the World, trying to find my people, trying to figure out what works, trying to fill my life with meaning. That comes from connecting with people. All my hobbies and passions spring from one unquenchable thirst — to reach out, to belong, to be full. And yet there are fewer fulfilling connections in my life, fewer people overall in my own little world.

At the end of the night, I travel home, spent, to stare at my stuff and wonder where it all went awry. Now there’s no time left to put myself into my pursuits and speak through them to amplify my reach. Nothing left but these two hours. Nights are now empty Calories, sweet but inducing hunger.

Vee

Experiments with operating the radio at home continue.

Had a wacky idea to use the anchor in the tree over my balcony as the support for a 20m inverted-V dipole, fed with 300ohm twinlead for multi-band matching. Brainstormed a plan to use a pair of bamboo fishing poles, anchored by pole brackets on the balcony railing, to spread the bottom ends of the dipoles apart and keep them out away from the building.

The signals I got were certainly louder than what I got on the Slinky dipole. Loud enough to hear buzzing and static crashes. I think the static pops were probably from the trees blowing in the wind. Had to experiment with using a mix of noise blanker, attenuator, and turning off the receiver preamp (IPO). At least the high-current area of the antenna, where most of the signal emanates, is at the apex of the V and right at the level of my roofline for better clearance to the East. So there’s that.

Heard 40m surprisingly well. Tried to match the transmitter on 40m, couldn’t get better than 5:1 SWR, so I swapped my DIY 1:1 balun with my DIY 9:1 un-un. The result? Better than 1.5:1. Yes. Even 20m matched OK, enough to trigger my desk lamp with 35W. Twinlead is good about taking up some of the impedance slush of a bad match and not losing much signal in the process, which accounts for how I could match on several bands.

Couldn’t get any QSOs, not even on FT8 (but that’s kinda crowded anyway). I’ll try again later.

This was a proof of concept from existing parts on hand before I wasted any time trying to “build it right” with new parts. It proved it worked better than expected. I guess I’m learning.

I do have some refinements planned:

  • Build a proper center insulator for balanced feed (instead of my repurposed Plexiglass insulator with unbalanced SO-239), with UV resistant plastic and weather protection for long-term installation and protection from wind/tree static
  • Cut a new 20m dipole and return this one back to the tote in the car
  • Build another 9:1 un-un or 1:1 balun for mounting outside next to the balcony door
  • Trim the twinlead for slightly longer than 20m resonance so the entire antenna system can match on 40m, and find a way to run it from the balun out to the apex without getting near metal objects or itself. It’s currently 40ft of way-too-long and is probably causing some matching problems on its own
  • Make better insulators and clips for the ends of the dipole to attach to the bamboo poles
  • Run the dipole legs through the trees without snagging on limbs, in an effort to get them at a more obtuse angle for better SWR and efficiency
  • Insulate the dipole ends (the high-voltage section) to prevent arcing to the trees
  • Fix the riggings and poles so I can deploy and stow in minutes without snags

Incremental improvements.

Balcony Into the Sky

Getting more brazen with my antenna projects at my apartment.

Used a reshaped coat hanger with a pulley and a lead weight to hook over a tree limb over my balcony. Now I have an anchor point to hang my 10m vertical dipole (or any other antenna that’ll fit). The anchor is below the peak of my apartment roof, so it’s deaf to the East for groundwave, but at least I can get out to anybody locally with decent towers at their QTH. Can’t wait for sunspots to kick up again for 10m to open up for DX, but that might be a while yet.

I also built this crazy, screwy-looking antenna.

Slinky Dipole, mounted and ready. Just add feedline. Radio not included.

It’s a Slinky Dipole, made from a pair of Slinky™ metal spring toys attached to a custom PVC center insulator and suspended with clothesline rope. I have it slung under the eve of my balcony for protection from rain since it’s not galvanized.

I used the length = 2πr * turns formula to calculate the actual uncoiled length and determined that it would resonate somewhere around 12.8MHz if completely straight. What I got was somewhere around 9.5MHz due to the induction of the coils lowering the resonance, as well as its proximity to the metal rain gutter and balcony railing. It’s electrically too short to resonate on 40m, so I tuned the antenna to 20m by clamping turns of the spring together with twist-ties to short them out. That got me close enough. I could probably dangle some wires from the ends or add another pair of springs to lower the resonance, but that’s another battle for another day.

Slinky Dipole, from the end, showing rope and mounts

Anyway, it’s a crappy antenna. It’s kinda deaf to real signals and picks up a ton of nearby noise, but it’s better than not having an antenna at all. I was kinda let down by how badly it performs, considering all the work I put into it, but heck, I did it and now I know.

The Slinky Dipole after completed construction.

I do have some improvement ideas, though. Maybe if I built a swing-arm assembly to move it out over the yard and away from the building. I could also try using a 1:1 balun to kill some of the common-mode interference, or just connect a 300Ω twinlead or 450Ω window line with a 4:1 balun to make it more broadband so that it almost always resonates with lower feedline losses. Speaking of, with my antenna tuner, I can get a resonant match on 40m, 20m, 30m, 10m, and sometimes 15m with 1.5:1 SWR or better. I’m surprised, even. However, 17m is 2.5:1 SWR, 80m is unmatchable, and 160m is almost dead silent.

Slinky Dipole, close-up feature of center insulator, bracket, and feedline attachment.

I’m going through the ARRL Antenna Book for inspiration. I wonder if I should make an inverted V and hang it from the tree hook, or if I should attempt something more grandiose like a triangle loop antenna from the hook or some kind of antenna-and-pulley system to ascend the arch of my roof. Who knows? I certainly don’t.

And I certainly don’t want to hear my landlord complain about it, that’s for sure. I haven’t paid an antenna deposit yet. Don’t want to hear it from my neighbors, either. But so far in the past week of operations, I haven’t heard a single knock on my door, but that’s not to say the neighbors aren’t getting interference. I have a desk lamp that gets brighter when it’s touched; when I key down and speak while pushing more than 40W, every voice peak causes the lamp to change state. So it’s a reminder to be kind.

BTW, I almost had a successful QSO with a station in Cuba on 40m the other night, running at 50W with FT-8 mode while using my Slinky dipole. Would’ve worked if my timing on FT-8 was right. Amazing, considering my balcony faces East and Cuba is due West-Southwest. Radio is funny sometimes.

Here’s hoping I can figure it all out, or at least enjoy the bumbling.

Olfactory Refractory

photo of Texas Ash, Fraxinus Albicans

Texas Ash. Fraxinus albicans. There’s something about this time of year in Austin where night walks are amazing. It’s the smells, the scents, the warm, muggy breezes that carry the quixotic chemistry of life to light up my olfactory bulb, to excite my hippocampus, to carry me calmly into my strolling heaven.

It’s more than the smell of newly cut grass in this central-Austin neighborhood. It’s more than the rosebuds and tiny little chirps of night birds, the exhaust of clothes dryer vents, or fragrant honeysuckle and the weeds in the creek. It’s the Texas Ash. To be walking downwind, where it’s there and then it’s gone. It’s the hunt to get back into the thick of it, to find it again. The sudden awareness of now. Texas ash. There’s something in that flowering scent, a note of latex, a long yawn of the soul, a pungent aphrodisiac. Texas ash.

I swear, if I had land, I would plant a grove of these. When I think of moving away, I only need to smell Texas ash, and I know I’m home. This is as close as you’ll hear me rhapsodize this state, but the region gives some convincing apologies.