A Blast from the Past

blastI just noticed my old Blogger account is still there; I used Blogger before I switched to WordPress in 2011.

Here’s a blast from the past: Dec 22, 2007. How times have changed!

Web 2 Dot Oh

Wow… since I last blogged here, the quantity and quality of web 2.0 tools available to us have really exploded. Just this year, I’m become a regular user of:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Grand Central
  • Tumblr
  • Jott
  • Remember the Milk
  • Iwantsandy

And then there are the new Google services I have come to rely on:

  • Gmail
  • Google Reader
  • iGoogle
  • Google Gears
  • Google Maps
  • Google Docs
  • Google services for the Blackberry
  • And the updated Blogger, of course

Firefox continues to get better and better, with some great extensions. I have also switched to Open Office and don’t miss Microsoft Office a bit.

I now back up my data over the Internet using Mozy and Quicken, and am putting my toe in the water with Open ID.

Lastly, there’s my Chumby, the first in a new breed of Internet appliance. It cycles through over 50 software widgets I’ve chosen, all the while streaming BBC.

What a great time to be online!

Posted in Internet

Moving the Ham Shack to Solar

After successfully getting my workshop solar system up and running, this fall I moved on to my next project, transitioning my ham station (what I call my “ham shack”) to emergency solar power. This turned out to be an interesting and fun project!


MC-4 connector

The solar power industry uses a unique cable connector called an MC4; after viewing a few YouTube videos, I decided to do it right and order a crimper tool specifically for that connector.  So, on to Amazon to buy the crimper, MC4 connectors and solar extension cable to add to my existing Renogy solar kit.

epic powergate

On the ham shack side, I had already purchased an Epic PWRgate power backup system from West Mountain Radio. A PWRgate device provides instant cutover to a battery backup if AC power goes down. The original PWRgate has been on the market for a decade; I’ve been very happy with mine, but couldn’t figure out how to introduce solar into the backup strategy.

This new PWRGate version introduced last summer makes that easy! It adds a solar controller that allows the backup battery to be charged by solar power during the day. At dusk, the PWRGate switches over to the shack 12-volt DC supply to keep the battery charged.

After learning the proper MC4 connector crimping technique and routing my new cable into the ham shack, I had to change the cable ends to Anderson Powerpoles. These connectors are a ham radio standard, and the PWRGate expects a Powerpole for its solar input.

powerpoleWell, the solar cable is quite large (12 AWG), and required me to use 45-amp Powerpole contacts. I’ve always used the smaller 15 and 30-amp contacts, so back to Amazon to order larger contacts.

For my battery, I chose a 100 AH battery from Universal Battery Group.

I’m happy to report that, after two months of service in the shack, the system is working fine! During the day the PWRGate keeps my battery charged via my two 100-watt Renogy solar panels on the roof, then switches my battery back to a trickle charge from my Astron 25-amp DC supply.

The PWRGate has an RS-232 port to allow real-time monitoring of the system. In this screenshot grabbed on a sunny day, it shows the power supply bypassed (13.72 VDC), the battery at 13.08 VDC, zero battery charge current (since it‘s fully charged) and the solar panel producing 20.6 VDC. The final figure is the number of minutes in this state (fully charged), which is 224 minutes.

solar WMR

This new system should keep me on the air for some time when the power goes out!

Posted in Ham Radio, Solar, Uncategorized

Adventures in Solar

I’ve been wanting to move my ham station to solar power for a long time, but the cost and feasibility have been prohibitive until recently. As the cost of home solar panels has plummeted (closing in on $1 a watt), it was time to take the plunge. My first project was to get a portable solar power system working, then move on to a workbench station.

Last month, our homeowners association president asked if I would give a presentation at our quarterly meeting. I broadened the topic to include a few useful items to have on hand when the power goes out. Perhaps you’ll find the presentation useful; here it is on Slideshare:


Posted in Emergency Planning, Ham Radio, Solar

The Wind Helps Power Texas

I’ve always been intrigued with alternative energy, especially wind and solar.  Amazingly, Texas was an early adopter of a competitive marketplace for the electricity market. This means consumers can choose from many companies that provide electricity to the Texas grid. (Yes, Texas has its own electrical grid.)  Companies have different rates powertochooseand different sources for their power generation (nuclear, coal, natural gas, wind, solar and hydroelectric). Customers can shop the various rates and plans using a well designed state run website.  A separate service company maintains the distribution network and delivers power to each user (that charge is added to each user’s bill each month).

We were early backers of Green Mountain Energy,  the first in the state to generate all its power from wind and solar in the late 90’s. Back then, we paid a penny or two more per kilowatt hour, but we felt it was worth it to support alternative power.  Since then, wind energy generation has exploded in Texas. It now provides about 10% of the state’s power needs (the same percentage as nuclear) and there is little or no price differential to users.

We’re now with Breeze Energy, another provider that is 100% wind powered.

Wind energy is cool, but I’ve had a dream to move my ham station to 100% solar. It’s always been just a dream due to cost. With the dramatic drop in solar panel cost (closing in on $1 per watt), it’s time to begin experimenting.

I’ve made some progress, which I’ll discuss next time.


Posted in Solar

Digital Ham Radio

This past year, I’ve been dabbling more in the digital voice modes for ham radio. I really like the digital audio quality and, I’ll admit, the networking aspect of it all is keeping me interested.

I’ve just added a page to keep track of helpful links and information resources as I find them. My ham readers might find them useful.


Posted in Ham Radio

My HamRadioNow Interview Part 2

Just completed Part 2 of a video interview on HamRadioNow with host and producer Gary Pearce KN4AQ. This time around, we’re talking about the Internet and ham radio.
Non-hams might also enjoy this though, as we discuss quite a few general web sites and handy applications. A full list is below…
Here’s the link to the show:
 Here are links to the sites we discussed in the interview:
 Social Media
Ham Radio
Ham Radio Clubs
Posted in Ham Radio, Internet

Get on the Air!

My recent video interview on HamRadioNow has generated a few questions on ham radio. For those folks wanting more info, I’ve just added a new Get on the Air tab on my website with links to explain what it’s all about and how to get started in this terrific hobby.

Posted in Ham Radio | Tagged

A Video Conversation Covering 50 Years

Fifty years ago, I had just gotten my ham radio license and was working local hams with my $45 Heathkit radio and homemade coat hanger antenna. One of the first guys I talked to was Gary Pearce, WN9NSO, located in a nearby suburb. We had a lot in common, so we often chatted on the radio in the evenings throughout high school and college.

Gary and I later served together on the board of directors of the Chicago FM Club and then headed in different directions. Gary went on to a career in broadcast and video production in North Carolina shortly, and my new wife and I moved to Texas.

Recently, Gary and I ran into each other on the Internet and he asked to interview me for his long running video podcast series HamRadioNow.  We had planned to chat about social media and the Internet, but veered off into swapping stories about the “old days” on ham radio.ARVN-6

Hams (especially older ones) will get a kick out of this video, but anyone wondering what it was like “growing up on the radio” in the 60’s might enjoy the video stream. There were quite a few interesting characters on the air with us back then. 


We’re planning a Part Two soon where we’ll actually talk about the Internet.


Posted in Ham Radio

Weather Stations

I just posted an article on weather stations here at Cedar Creek Lake, and of course mine is down for repairs!

Posted in News

50 Years later, Ode to a Radio

2014 marks fifty years since I passed my “beginner” ham radio license exam. The Novice class license required a Morse code send and receive test at very slow speed, and a multiple choice exam on basic electronics and ham radio rules and regs. The license was valid for only one year and could never be renewed. In that one year, you were expected to upgrade to a higher level class.

I passed the next license class up with two months to spare, and scoured ham magazines for a radio that I afford. I found it in a Heathkit catalog, a 5 watt VHF AM transceiver called the “Twoer.” Many hams jokingly named it the Benton Harbor Lunchbox, since Heath was based in Benton Harbor Michigan, and, well, it DID look like a lunchbox!

The Twoer was something even a high school kid on an allowance could afford! I was able to build the kit on my own, asked for help from my high school radio club buddies getting it tuned it up, and I was on the air.

VHF is a local-only radio band and I only used 5 watts, but I still had a ball talking to other hams around the Chicago area, and experimenting with antennas fashioned out of coat hangars. I remember the excitement of contacting a San Angelo TX ham during a rare atmospheric event. He even wanted a diagram of the antenna that I had built!

Reminiscing about that old radio recently, I couldn’t resist heading over to eBay. For $26 plus postage, I now have another Twoer here in the ham shack. I didn’t expect much when I plugged it in (and stood back) but the tubes lit up and it actually receives and transmits!

Ham radio has come a long way since the Twoer, but it’ll be here on the shelf as a fun reminder of my early days!


Posted in Ham Radio